The complete text of Essays on Life, Art and Science

Artists and Scientists: More Alike Than Different

Art and science. To those who practice neither, they seem like polar opposites, one data-driven, the other driven by emotion. One dominated by technical introverts, the other by expressive eccentrics. For those of us involved in either field today (and many of us have a hand in both), we know that the similarities between how artists and scientists work far outweigh their stereotypical differences. Both are dedicated to asking the big questions placed before us: “What is true? Why does it matter? How can we move society forward?” Both search deeply, and often wanderingly, for these answers. We know that the scientist’s laboratory and the artist’s studio are two of the last places reserved for open-ended inquiry, for failure to be a welcome part of the process, for learning to occur by a continuous feedback loop between thinking and doing.
I have always bridged art and design, science and technology, navigating both poles and the space that lies between them, with degrees in EECS from MIT and a PhD in classical design from Tsukuba University in Japan. In elementary school, my parents were told at a parent-teacher conference that I was “good at math and art” (but went on to tell their friends I was good at math). My work combining computer codes and traditional artistic technique was one attempt to carve out a space in the middle, and I find I’m always trying to find others in my tribe, hybrids who seek to marry disparate fields as a way of life.
In DaVinci’s time when expertise in art and science had not yet matured to the polarized state in which they exist today, they coexisted naturally. Of course, science’s level of sophistication back then was quite different. But from where I sit as the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, it is clear to me that even current practices in scientific research have much to gain by involving artists in the process early and often. Artists serve as great partners in the communication of scientific research; moreover, they can serve as great partners in the navigation of the scientific unknown.

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