What No One Tells You About Science and Art

Our world is a Venn diagram with three components.

Photo by Monica Silva on Unsplash

Have you ever felt like a Venn diagram? I do.

When we use the expression “Science and Art of XYZ” to describe a concept, I feel like we are missing fundamental knowledge of these powerful spheres of life. I’m on a mission to clarify what it means to better understand and respect our reality.

The representation of the perfect mathematical union between Science and Art is well known. If we look carefully at the diagram, we can appreciate that the system already provides the best of both worlds: an equation (science) and an illustration (art). The relationship is shown at the intersection between the two sets. This is the key, encapsulated with two simple curves.

Venn diagram by the author

Science and Art (S&A) are the foundation of human life which provide a framework around the existential questions: where do we come from, and where are we going? S&A are both in the quest of finding answers, but with different methodologies and audiences. They are intimately related.

S&A gives birth to the fruit of our existence on Earth.

Art has always represented, in my eyes, a passport to free my mind. At the same time, it scares me. Its unstructured format generates the fear of the unknown. To express my vision as an artist, I expose my vulnerabilities and allow people to judge me. And it hurts because Art is linked to the heart.

On the other hand, even in Science, I often feel like I don’t belong entirely to this world. People can have strong opinions. If they don’t understand your thesis, they tend to demolish it. Some others are so attached to their school of thought that they don’t realize it is possible to see the problem from another angle. It doesn’t hurt; it makes me angry.

Imagine two planets. I’m sitting on mine. Thanks to my telescope, I’m contemplating the planet Art with all its beauty. I can feel the magnetic field.

I’m attracted to her.

As a scientist, I’m able to build a machine to get there. But I’m nervous. How will she receive me? I would love to spend at least one night with her. Feel my heartbeat, in symbiosis with a completely different state of mind. I see vehicles travelling between the two worlds. I study the options and quietly prepare myself to travel.

Let’s define Science in our terms. It allows us to explore, go the extra mile, discover things, and improve our lives. Yet it can destroy everything as well. Science is the activity to describe, with rigorous methods, our world, based on evidence and facts that can be verified. And of course, it helps to create new technologies.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. — Albert Einstein

Now, let’s have a look at Art. What is your definition? For this one, I’m under the impression that we underestimate its value. It is too quickly associated with the work of hippie artists or an alternative society. Art goes much further. It’s like saying science is useless: it’s nonsense.

The author of “What Is Art For?”, Ellen Dissanayake, has done phenomenal research while contrasting Western and Eastern cultures. She was interested in “the evolution and development of behavior in the human animal — specifically whether one can identify a general behavior of art that is as characteristic of humankind as toolmaking, symbolization, language, and the development of culture.”

Art is a way of survival. -Yoko Ono

If we know something about civilizations that no longer exist, it’s because they left traces. These traces all have one thing in common: Art. Ellen Dissanayake draws a parallel with Darwin’s theory suggesting that Art has selective values. “In evolutionary theory it is a generally accepted postulate that if a characteristic such as anatomical feature or behavioral tendency is widely found in an animal population, there is an evolutionary reason for its persistence: it has contributed in some way to the evolutionary fitness of the members of that species.”

Based on the Dissanayake research, the following three characteristics which suggest “that art has had selective value.” The arts are:

  1. “ubiquitous” in all groups of humans: “dancing, singing, carving, dramatizing, decorating, poeticizing speech, image making.”;
  2. “integral to many activities of life.” According to Darwin, since there is so much effort in the arts, it would be of survival value (by adopting a particular behaviour, you augment your chance of survival);
  3. “source of pleasure.”

The author responds to skeptics, who might argue that they can survive without the arts. Therefore, she provides an inventory of keywords to define art with a capital A: skill, beauty and pleasure, the sensual quality of things, the immediate fullness of sense experience, harmonizing, innovatory tendencies, urge to beautify, self-expression, communication, serious and important concerns, make-believe, heightened existence.

“The evolution of Homo sapiens in the past million years is not just a history of how we came to have acute color vision, a taste for sweets, and an upright gait. It is also a story of how we became a species obsessed with creating artistic experiences with which to amuse, shock, titillate, and enrapture ourselves, from children’s games to the quartets of Beethoven, from firelit caves to the continuous worldwide glow of television screens.” — Ellen Dissanayake, “What Is Art For?”

The union of the two worlds represents our existence on Earth and the evolution of our species.

In that scheme, we need to be careful of our thoughts and behaviours when manipulating these powerful spheres. The goal is to bring our society forward, in a peaceful way.

In the Art world, can you imagine how many artworks we didn’t have the honour to savour because the artist (even a person who doesn’t know he/she is an artist) was afraid of judgment? Also, we should not reject a piece of art because we don’t understand it. Remember, art has survival value.

Respect should also be applied to the Science world. Don’t forget we are the type of species that puts the man — Galileo Galilei — who discovered that Earth moves around the sun in jail. The idea was against some individuals’ beliefs. He died there.

Let’s take care of our scientists and artists.

Nota bene: As humans, we all fall either in one of these categories or both.

S&A

I write, so I don’t forget the fundamental principles of life. I believe we should make the most of the opportunity to be a human on Earth.