STEAM > STEM: The Symbiosis of Science and Art
Written by: Bea Alexa Rondon
In a world that defines success and value by numbers, neglecting the arts is becoming an unfortunate norm. But art goes beyond just drawing and dancing. Art is not just a luxury or means of entertainment. Art encompasses a vast amount of fields that focus on developing innovation, imagination, and self-expression.
Science and art are often distinguished as polar opposites of each other. But the two are actually intrinsically linked. Those in non-arts related fields, such as STEM fields, show more creativity, curiosity, and aptitude if they have significant engagement with the arts. Fifteen researchers from Michigan State University studied every single Nobel Prize winning scientist from 1901 to 2005, finding that they were seventeen times more likely to be a painter, twelve times more likely to be a poet, and four times more likely to be a musician compared to an average scientist.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, 50% of Americans of low socio-economic status with a background in the arts work in law, medicine, education, or management, while only 21% of those with little to no arts background work in such professional careers. Even Galileo Galilei and Leonardo Da Vinci were scientific innovators and artists!
So how does art benefit someone working in the STEM field or someone aspiring to pursue a career in STEM?
We can turn to Stanford’s medical students to give us an answer. It’s a common misconception that all STEM students willingly forgo the arts, given their cramped schedules and rigorous courses, but Stanford recently added a new course, “The Art of Observation: Enhancing Clinical Skills Through Visual Analysis,” which proves otherwise. Guided by medical school faculty and art history experts, students are given the opportunity to enhance their perception and communication skills by analyzing artworks in Stanford museums. “Describing what we saw objectively, without commentary, really forced me to slow down and really see what was in front of me, without jumping to conclusions or interpretation,” said Sam Cartmell, one of the medical students. When diagnosing a patient or relaying the results of an experiment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture or miss details hiding in plain sight. If you fail to see even the smallest detail in a scientific observation, you might miss an anomaly or something that can prove a theory! This course teaches students to take a step back to examine the entire situation before focusing on specific elements that may narrow their thinking. Visual art analysis helps students realize the importance of considering information both present and absent in observations to prevent incorrect assumptions. This integration of art in science teaches students how their perceptions may be affected by prior knowledge or bias, resulting in different perspectives that can be compared to prove the accuracy of claims.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to go to Stanford to develop these skills! But what if your school doesn’t offer arts courses, or what if you don’t have vacancy on your schedule to add an arts class?
This is a problem many senior high STEM students face today. Having creative outlets amongst the academically rigorous courses of STEM can help you think outside the box, even if they’re just hobbies. Without the boundaries of right and wrong, you can develop the creating, imagining, and designing right side of your brain to its fullest extent. Such is useful in asking new questions, devising unique experiments, and inventing innovative formulas to find answers to some of the world’s biggest unknowns. But answering questions and proving theories are just one aspect of science—knowing what to do with such information is another. Creating art encourages students to ponder on how their knowledge can affect the community, the average civilian. Understanding why various people react differently to the same art forms helps us understand how our values, beliefs, and emotions shape our opinions. Considering that people may treat information from new discoveries differently is vital in the real-world applications of STEM.
From engagement with art and science, students can learn how to construct grand schemes step-by-step while foreseeing what goal they want to reach, how they will achieve this, and what impact their intelligence can have on their community. Science and art may be interwoven, but they are still different. Science focuses on acquiring information from the physical world through data collection, while art is more concerned with producing new information from context and imagination. If science is knowledge, then art is understanding. One is meaningless without the other, which is why both are important in giving students a holistic education. This is why STEAM > STEM.