Art and science: a love story

I got a chance to visit the inspiring Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at MOSI recently.

He believed, absolutely, that there is no art without science – and turned his prodigious talent to being a painter, engineer, inventor, musician, scientist and mathematician. 

I think that’s more difficult today. A few hundred years ago, different branches of science, arts and philosophy were more closely intertwined, and scholars often crossed over between what we would now consider to be disparate branches of knowledge.  As world knowledge grew, specialisms developed – and the sciences grew apart from each other and from the arts and humanities.

With this came culture change, and not in a good way. In the national mindset, arts and sciences became two foreign lands: arts people would perfectly happily confess their ignorance of scientific matters, and scientists would do likewise with art and philosophy. It became OK to be selectively ignorant.

This led to the novelist and scientist CP Snow to give his famous “Two Cultures” lecture in 1959, out of pure frustration with the way that otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable people would put up imaginary barriers to their wider learning. 

Innovation often happens ‘at the edges’ – the interface between different groups or sectors or disciplines – but we often have to achieve this despite of our standard school curriculum and national culture.  I generalise of course. But there’s much more we could do to bring different arts and sciences together.

In the classic love story of arts and sciences, we’ve had Act 1 where they were happy together; and more recently we’ve had Act 2 where they drifted apart and argued, and ended up living separate lives.  In this century we need the final Act – the one where they get together again and live happily ever after, so we can all go home with a smile on our faces.

Let’s make the two cultures become one again.  It’ll be fun, educational and productive – what more could you ask?

Are you working at the interface of art and science?  What more can we do to stop them being seen as an ‘either/or’ choice, instead of ‘both’?

This is based on a post that first appeared in the Manchester: Knowledge Capital blog

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