Opportunities and Obstacles Facing Scientists, Mathematicians, and Engineers Deeply Engaged in the Arts and Design
“Collaborations among scientists and artists inevitably challenge biases about ethics and aesthetics, in addition to inspiring debate about big questions such as the natures of truth and beauty.”
Efforts to combine distinct entities, such as knowledge disciplines and organizational structures that have grown to pervade them, suffer from a seemingly inescapable dilemma: the terms of discussion inevitably invoke the very entities and mindsets we attempt to surpass. We try to move toward a new paradigm, yet speak in terms acculturated by the current state of things. Rooted in habits of thought and action, these terms have a stubborn tendency to recur and persist. They can inhibit the desired synthesis, ironically serving instead to reinforce the customary separation.
An imagined new reality is difficult to grasp. Once achieved, it would have its own terminology based on an evolved set of assumptions. How could our innovative predecessors have predicted proliferation of the "car" when all they could see was a "horseless carriage" – not even yet an "automobile"? We are limited by currently available concepts and terms.
So it is with discussions of "art/sci" and our attempts to leverage, through synthesis, knowledge from realms conventionally kept apart. The stakes are high and separations run deep, constituting personal and professional identities, forging career trajectories, and shaping destinies among professional generations to come.
This issue is inherent in the entire collection of SEAD White Papers. Nevertheless, we strive at least to ensure thoroughness in the discourse by including views and vocabularies from many relevant perspectives. In this particular paper, we turn from education, arts, and technology to perspectives of researchers working in realms traditionally designated as scientific, or pertaining more broadly to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. These areas are increasingly characterized by interdisciplinary studies, many involving fields commonly associated with arts and design.
We approached individuals who have become known for working in this cross-cutting way and asked them to participate in focused discussions based on a given set of interview questions. These questions appear in the Appendix. We conducted some of the interviews through face-to-face meetings in person or online, some through telephone, and some through email correspondence. We addressed the same 27 questions in all the interviews.
Altogether, 20 scientists participated: 7 women and 13 men. One of the women says she may be more artist than scientist, having started her career as a concert music composer and in the visual arts – yet, through many years of collaboration with scientists, she has developed sophisticated knowledge in materials science, quantum equations, and knot theory. One woman and two men say that as individuals they embody both the artist and the scientist for a significant amount of their work. However, the majority of respondents educated in traditional silos of scientific theory and practice, and for some of their work now collaborate with self-identifying artists and/or designers.
The respondents represent a wide range of disciplines, their chosen fields reflecting individual inclinations and interpretations of the meanings of science and work. Idiosyncrasies abound. Despite our attempt to maximize comparability of the responses through consistent interview questions, the scientists responded selectively and with varying degrees of detail. At times the responses flow from one category to the next and at times they become free-form, as respondents added their own spins on the material.
Nevertheless, through the participants' reflection on motivations, methods, and results of their work, we have amassed a rich and informative body of information. The respondents spoke generously, informally, and from direct experience. The views they express are unabashedly personal and perhaps all the more informative for their frankness.
To read the full White Paper please visit: Opportunities and Obstacles Facing Scientists, Mathematicians, and Engineers Deeply Engaged in the Arts and Design
Acknowledgements & Credits
Authors: Carol Strohecker, Roger Malina, Wendy Silk
Coordinator: Carol Strohecker
White Papers Steering Committee
SEAD White Paper Curatorial Committee Chair: Roger Malina
Committee; Carol LaFayette, Carol Strohecker, Lucinda Presley
Photo Credit: Laser scan and reconstruction by Nickolay I. Hristov and Richard Phillips, Center for Design Innovation
This paper is part of a 2012-2013 SEAD network initiative to identify opportunities and challenges for research and creative work integrating disciplines of sciences, engineering, arts and design. White Papers were first posted at http://seadnetwork.wordpress.com. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1142510, Collaborative Research: EAGER: Network for Science, Engineering, Arts and Design (NSEAD) IIS, Human Centered Computing. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.