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!