The Art of Inquiry: Hard Science, Soft Art panel review


i love that there’s the Periodic Table there high on the wall…

World Affairs Conference Panel Review #2: Hard Science, Soft Art

As I feared, lovely lurkers, I wasn’t able to catch nearly as much of this year’s Conference on World Affairs as I would have liked. But hey. Something’s better than nothing, right?

The second and last panel I observed was entitled: “Hard Science, Soft Art,” and most of the discussion on said panel centered around how problematic the title actually was. The discussion began with musings on the nature of science as a measure of truth and falsehood, and that paradox of the unmeasurable/unquantifiable aspects of life being the most important. Also that proofs (like, mathematical proofs) aren’t applicable to 90% of life.

Then they moved on to discuss how art and science are both learned/taught, citing the historical practice of art and engineering being taught via the apprenticeship model. In other words, the student would, in order to learn a craft or an art, go to a master of said craft or art, and study with them for a period of time, till they then went to work on their own as a stonemason or glassblower or painter or etc. This model, so saith the panel, is much more of a community-building one: the teachers and students are part of an ongoing relationship and the dialogue of the art/science then leads to more evolution of it (let alone a stronger bond between teacher and learner). It’s only in recent academics, opined the panel, that separating engineering and art happened. It wasn’t so delineated as practices before. I mean, one only has to look at da Vinci to see this manifested.

Actually I was reminded of my devoted stage combat students at Metro, a few years ago when that program was robust. They wanted to continue in their study of the art (craft? which is it?) beyond the mere one semester class, so they created a club. We met weekly, they learned more about stage combat than they ever would have from the academic model that was presented to them–they created the apprentice model for themselves, because they needed it. The panel mentioned the Maker movement as one reaction/solution to this over-delineated academic model.

The main exciting concept I took away from this panel was that science and art are both ways of interrogating or responding to the world. Art being an aesthetic response to the world, and what makes us human.

The panelists were: an astrobiologist/musician; a computational biologist/software engineer/conceptual artist; a professor of art & design who works with atmospheric science; and a sculptor of mobiles/mathematician who studies the consciousness (meditation, etc.). Um. Wow.

Closing pertinent things in my notes:

  • “We fear that vulnerability will turn into rejection.”
  • The Five Personality Patterns
  • Is there art on other planets?
  • a lot of the talk about the art of inquiry made me think of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Starry Night/Van Gogh speech, which I’ve embedded below.

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