Putting STEM into the Arts

I thought I was done talking about the whole STEM vs. STEAM debate, but then it occurred to me that there’s one point that nobody seemed to be talking about.  This debate is often framed in terms of how the arts can benefit STEM.  No one ever seems to mention how STEM can benefit the arts.

About a month ago, SpaceX announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be going on a tourist trip around the Moon. Maezawa is an art collector, and he’s decided to take six to eight artists with him on a mission called “Dear Moon.”  According to the Dear Moon website, “A painter, musician, film director, fashion designer… Some of Earth’s greatest talents will board a spacecraft and be inspired in a way they never have been before.”

Art is meant to reflect the world we live in. Therefore artists have a responsibility to understand, as best they can, our increasingly scientific and increasingly technological world.  It sounds to me like Maezawa gets this.  But aside from seeking out new sources of inspiration, there are also craft-related reasons why artists might want to be exposed to sciency stuff.

As an artist, when you’re thinking about how light and shadow play off a three-dimensional form, you’re sort of thinking about physics. When you’re mixing paints, trying to make sure they’ll adhere to your canvass, or trying to make sure the colors won’t fade over time, you’re dabbling in chemistry.  And obviously when you’re drawing a figure study (nude or otherwise), knowing a little about anatomy and biology will help you a lot.

None of the art teachers I had in school, and none of the art tutors my parents hired for me outside of school, really made this clear to me.  As I said in my post on Friday, young me came to understand that the arts and sciences were totally different, unrelated things.  There was a long period of time in my life when I felt artistically stuck. I was unable to improve, and I didn’t understand why.

It wasn’t until I attended a seminar taught by James Gurney, the author and artist behind Dinotopia, that my art began to thrive again.  Why?  Because Mr. Gurney got me to start thinking scientifically about my art. I guess you could say he got me to stop thinking of myself as a left-brain-only kind of guy.

I can’t speak for every artist out there, but I know for me personally a more interdisciplinary approach to education would have done me a world of good.  And with that, I think I’ve said my peace about STEM and STEAM.  In my next post, I’ll move on to some other topic.

P.S.: While drawing that artist in space cartoon for today’s post, I thought of several reasons why painting in space like that would not work.  For one thing, I imagine those paints would do the whole freezing-and-boiling-at-the-same-time thing that other liquids tend to do in space.  If you can think of other challenges my artist/astronaut would have to deal with, please share in the comments!

17 Responses to Putting STEM into the Arts

  1. Ry Yelcho says:

    Maybe too obvious but if you did not tether the easel to the astronaut, applying the paint to canvas would induce an equal but opposite force that would push the two apart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The difficulty of the artist makes me wonder, how would spaceships assembled in space be painted?

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      That’s a really good question. I don’t know. At a guess, I’d think you’d have to use something like an airbrush or spray paint.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought about that. It seems like the paint would have to be heated to avoid just having frozen paint particles bounce off the metal. But how fast would the paint freeze? (The movies all have stuff freezing instantly.) And we have to remember that the paint wouldn’t come out in the narrow stream it does in a pressurized atmosphere, but likely in a more diffuse cone, which might make detail work difficult.

        It seems like you’d have to have a sprayer that “kisses” the surface, never giving the paint a chance to spread or freeze. And it would have to stay attached until the paint dried. No doubt it’s all solvable, but it seems like painting in space would be complicated and time consuming.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        So in general, paint has three components: a pigment, a binder, and a solvent. I think the solvent is the key issue here, because the pigment and binder are supposed to turn solid (a.k.a. frozen) in the end anyway. It’s the solvent (turpentine, for example) that makes paints liquid, and that’s the part we want to have evaporate away.

        So it may be as simple as finding new chemicals to use as solvents, or maybe we’d have to find some way to apply paint without a solvent. I saw something last night on Reddit about using an electrostatic effect to apply paint particles to the hull of a spaceship. Since I got that from Reddit, I’m not sure if I can take that idea too seriously, but it sort of makes sense to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! I totally didn’t know that about paint.

        It seems like there was a scene in the TV show, The Expanse, where someone was painting a space ship, in space. Given that show’s proclivities, I would expect the logistics of it to have been carefully researched. I might have to see if I can find that scene again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        I didn’t know it either until I went to that James Gurney seminar. And getting back to the original point of this post, that seems like something art students really should know.

        I’d be interested in how The Expanse handled that. From what I’ve seen of that show, it seems like they’re doing their best, though I feel like their budget probably holds them back with a lot of stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Their budget does hold them back, but that’s still a major improvement over typical TV sci-fi. They at least acknowledge Newtonian mechanics, even if they have to have people using magnetic boots all the time to avoid the cost of everyone constantly swinging around on wires.

        I actually don’t fault shows who compromise due to budget. For example, I give the original Star Trek a pass on the transporter because it was a budget saving gimmick. I’m a lot less forgiving when a show contradicts science through laziness, ignorance, or indifference.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        I agree with you there. I’ve heard some people argue that viewers (or readers) don’t really care if the science isn’t right in science fiction. But I think Sci-Fi fans tend to be a little better informed about science than the general public, and it is frustrating when creators don’t bother to put in the effort.

        Liked by 1 person

    • @breakerofthings says:

      Why would it need to be painted?

      Liked by 2 people

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        You have to get the “NCC-1701” on there somehow, right?

        I don’t know. I guess painting your spaceship is more decorative than anything else, unless there’s some other consideration I’m not thinking about.

        Liked by 2 people

      • @breakerofthings says:

        I was being slightly facetious, if I’m honest. I think if it is purely for aesthetics then a new standard for aesthetics would arise. If it was for labelling then you could just scorch the hull with your plasma torch, but I think you’d be more likely to rely just on the transponder. BUT…maybe you need the paint/coating for a functional reason? Possibly to keep the hull/ship at the right temperature by absorbing/reflecting the right amount of passing photons. Perhaps you also need it to balance out electrical charging or something. In that case, if you’re not precoating the parts there are a couple of ways that you could go, including self-assembling mono-layers, and ferro-fluid delivery systems (you use a magnet to drag it around).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I guess it depends whether anyone can ever see it. If the sci-fi space stations of the movies with large windows showing nearby spaceships never happen, then you probably don’t.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. CareSA says:

    Lovely post. I agree with you ‘a more interdisciplinary approach to education’ – or even applied to our own thinking, would allow us to become more whole, and so opens up more possibilities, and creativity. There is not only physics in art, but also wisdom in art. I discovered this when I took a few basic drawing classes, and wrote about it on my blog. Art teaches you to see things, that are already there, but not seen before ! And so our observations become more in depth, and our thinking expands. Keep up your art, a picture paints a thousand words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Yes! I’ve had that same experience. I’ve had a hard time getting non-artists to understand this, but when you draw something from direct observation you notice things you never would have noticed before. It’s been a long while since I’ve done this, but I used to take sketch pads with me to museums. I feel like I understand the exhibits so much more if I try to draw them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] S. Pailly made this compelling case for why art, and writing, need science. Ray Bradbury would be […]

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