It seems that Art will date anyone lately, we are so desperate not to become extinct. Art and Technology was/is all the rage, Art and Science become an item and even want to have their own term to add to the synthesis of STEM to STEAM. I have some thoughts on this that might seem fairly plain spoken to this esteemed group of academics but feel it is important to give them some air since I’m not reading about this anywhere else.

I am becoming skeptical about the shotgun marriage of Art and Science because I think there are some larger issues at stake here that might be overlooked (sequestered or even obfuscated?) by academia and/or the scientific/engineering/quantitative worldview.

To begin with, I am skeptical that the introduction of digital technologies to the field of Art constitutes a relationship to Science. Sure, digital technologies are spawn of Science, but using tech does not make one closer to the scientific method, or in any way more aware of Science at large. I think a lot of people use this argument to draw a kinship where none exists. Art has always used technology and always will. We artists are agnostic about it and are more likely to perpetrate interventions and bastardizations of any tool, including Science, which of course might be construed as one of our contributions to the field.

So just because artists are attracted to tech tools, does not mean they are interested or involved in Science. I say this matter of factly, not intending to conjure up the history of anti-science alleged to exist in the old school Art world. Artists by and large I think are mostly agnostic about Science. (my working hypothesis)

Where Science and Art DO have overlap conceptually is in the area of pure research. To me, this is the number one area of kinship for many reasons. It is generally understood that “pure” Science is all about research without the pressure to produce products for the marketplace. I have no idea whether the statistics indicate whether pure research or market drive science is more productive or better for humanity. My guess would be that market driven research is probably more likely to get funded and that pure research somewhat less likely. (today’s SETI news not withstanding!)

The same might be said about Art. Market driven Art, commercial or otherwise Art created for a sales channel is much more likely to be funded and indeed, respected as “real” Art. I mention the idea of respect, because unlike Science, everyone seems to want to claim to be an Artist, when so many people remind us so often in the media (politicians etc. ) that they are NOT scientists. 🙂

So in some ways it is a matter of validation. Somewhere along the line there was a conflation between Art and creativity. Two things that are related, but not the same at all. Creativity can happen in any discipline, in any part of life, and if you are “doing it right” it should. However not everyone who is creative has dedicated their lives to the ways of seeing, keen insights, craft and rigor to be called an Artist. It would be silly for me to simply declare today that I was a Scientist without a lifetime of work to deserve the title. It is equally silly to do the same disservice to Art and Artists.

Circling back to the idea of pure Science and pure Art research though is my key point. Mixing Science with market driven motivation diminishes Science in a way that removes it from the category of pure scientific research. The same thing also goes for Art. Art in many ways, does not benefit from dating Science and being added to the STEM to STEAM movement. In fact it is critically important for Art to stand apart, beholden to no master save itself. Art does not and should not be required to graft a discipline on simply to appease funders or gain quantitative validation. Art has proven its worth time and time again qualitatively.

Art is being systematically “optimized out” of contemporary life and Artists are caught betwixt and between the left who require them to embody activism, education and now even Science and the right who would understand art only in economic, commercial and market terms. I would have Art transcend the bickering of polemic and serve its own devices. If you want to be a business person, be one and call it commerce. If you want to be a scientist, study hard and become a great one. If you want to be an activist, serve selflessly and do not aggrandize yourself on the backs of other people’s suffering. Art does not need the validation of STEAM, and I think there is an argument that shows it is actually deleterious to Art to add that little letter “a” to STEM.

For me, Art is a noble path and aspirational, a thing equally attainable by someone from any station if they are willing to pay the price for defying the yoke of commerce and pulling water from a different well. Temporal/quantitative forces seek to press Art into service and enslave the Artist to serve some practical agenda. When this happens, art becomes base and worthless, simply another form of dissipation and cheap decoration. Art’s open heart makes it a dumping ground for any movement that wants validation. Does Science really need to glam itself up with Art to attract new recruits? I wonder.

Art is not Science, and while there are areas of overlap, this misses the point of Art I think. Art is the act of will, it is defiance of expectations. Art asks questions, it does not answer them like Science does, and in asking questions, Art revises reality, Art reframes. Art is the only real thing we can do by choice in this life. Herein lies its power. Art’s veracity stems from this autonomy. To remove autonomy and make art beholden is to remove humanity’s soul, to make us no better than automata.

With respect and humility.

One thought on “STEM to STEAM?”

  1. Thank you for your analysis and commentary on Roger Malina’s paper, both of which are provocative and extremely interesting.

Comments are closed.