Are the Sciences Better Than the Arts?

Mega-bank Wells Fargo recently put out an advertisement for their upcoming “Teen Day.” In it, the wording appears to suggest that the sciences are a higher calling in life than the arts. Many celebrities in the arts took to Twitter to make the case that we should not send a message to teens that makes them think STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is necessarily superior to the arts.

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The ad could be perceived to be saying that the young woman and man were once artists (ballerina and actor, respectively), but then chose a more meaningful path in life such as one of an engineer or botanist. Celebrity Donna Lynn Champlin pointed out that the highest salary of an actor for 2016 is $64,000,000 versus the highest-paid botanist: just over $165,000. She asked Wells Fargo, “u sure ur a bank?”

In their defense, Wells Fargo apologized for the misunderstanding and removed the ad campaign.

As someone whose full-time vocation is in the arts and humanities (juggling, entertainment, and education), I have to say that I have no regrets in life for choosing the arts over the sciences. Do I think that one is more important than the other? No. In fact, I don’t think we should create such a dichotomy between the two. Life is both an art and a science. Have you ever seen great architecture? That is the blending of the arts and the sciences. In fact, what I do (juggling), is taking the physics of motion and materializing it in the form of a movement art.

But if someone (especially an aspiring teen) is dreaming of a life in the arts, we do them a disservice by trying to make them think that being a botanist is a better use of their life. The same can be said in the opposite direction. If a child wants to grow up and be a chemist, by all means we should not tell them that it would be better for them to join the circus.

I’ve been studying philosophy for a class recently and read that Aristotle made the case that though many vocations in life are clearly useful for a productive society (such as the sciences), there are other disciplines that seem less utilitarian but are just as important and “should be valued for their own sake,” such as music (the arts). Why? He said that “leisure” was a vital part of the human existence and argued that it was “noble” and contributed to the wholeness of life. He said, “To be always seeking after the useful does not become free and exalted souls” (Ozmon, Howard A. and Samuel M. Craver. Philosophical foundations of education. Eighth edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. 2008, pp. 73-74).

I’m not anti-STEM. I am simply bothered when people think that STEM is all there is in life and education (or that it is inherently better than the arts and humanities). Life is both STEM and Art. We need both. And we should expose our children towards both and communicate to them the importance of both. And as they grow, they will each discover the unique blend of science and art that may exist in their life calling and career.

 

The Power of Collaboration

We visited the Auguste Rodin special exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts yesterday. We learned something interesting that caught my attention: at lot of Rodin’s work as a sculptor was done collaboratively by “the school” of Rodin. In other words, while Rodin was the creative genius behind the design of his works, there were dozens of people involved in actually creating the sculptures.

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Rodin’s most iconic piece is The Thinker. This is a plaster cast in the traveling exhibit. When looking at it, you realize the man is not only thinking with his mind, but with his whole being – mind, body, and spirit.

The same can be said of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained glass works. There were scores of people behind these individuals who brought their creations to fruition. Modern Western culture usually celebrates the triumph of the individual, but there is so much more to be gained from appreciating the collective work of many.

While we give credit to Rodin, Wright, and Tiffany, it is important to understand that without the help of their “schools” of artists, they simply would not have been able to produce as much art as they all did in their lifetimes.

I am a person who likes to do things on my own, but when I stop and realize that the result can be exponentially better when I collaborate with other people, I am reminded that two (or a thousand) heads really are better than one. It takes humility. It takes patience. It takes time. But fly over any city in an airplane and ask yourself, “could that have been built by one person?”

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I just read a great book on this for my PhD class called Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation by Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback. Check it out and enjoy the journey of creative collaboration!

Below is Linda A. Hill’s superb TED talk:

Alone with Michelangelo

IMG_2750 IMG_1990There is a lesser known Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo in the Duomo’s Museo in Florence, Italy (also known as The Deposition or The Florentine Pieta). His famous one is the Pieta with Mary and Jesus on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican City.

The one in Florence depicts Nicodemus (whose face is a self-portrait of Michelangelo), Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus. Jesus falls limp towards the ground as Nicodemus and the Marys hold his corpse from falling completely. It is a masterpiece that only Michelangelo can make.

When Sarah and I went to Italy last month, we were there at the lowest tourist season all year – mid-January. Who wants to go anywhere in mid-January?…We do! Because there are no crowds (the hotels are cheaper too).

The crowds were so low that we had this entire Michelangelo masterpiece to ourselves. Instead of large tour groups cramming the space around the sculpture, we had the freedom to walk around it, gaze upon it, ponder it, and appreciate the moment without feeling rushed.