Merging Arts and Science

In my last blog I discussed how creativity is becoming an important objective of education. I’ve also referred to the fact  that science and science education are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of bringing creative thinking to their worlds. Today I want to mention some examples of how this is being pursued. These examples are just that, examples of a trend that is increasing, and that I believe, can render very positive outcomes.

An obvious path through which science and science education can become more creative is starting to look at a field with which usually there were not a lot of partnerships: Art. And the two examples that I bring today partner arts and science.
The first one that I would like to mention is Math busking. Math busking (outreach organization from the Royal Institution) brings to the table the Promotion of Maths through an innovative way – busking. Their concept of using street art to make maths fun and interesting is challenging. Maths is the subject that in the STEM field is seen as more difficult to create the wow factor, so many times the first sign of a science outreach effort that is going in the right way. I saw a demonstration of their work in a conference last year.
The truth is that through the presentation, it was made clear why this new concept is becoming so popular and has already received awards. It was amazing to see how two so different areas can result so well together, as this video shows. The fact that now they are promoting workshops for math teachers to teach them busking techniques is at the same time interesting and problematic, as it put teachers completely out of their comfort zone.  More even than science, maths is usually portrayed as a very serious and difficult subject, that does not leave space for creativity. Mathbusking is therefore a very interesting way in which this preconceived idea is challenged.
The second example that I bring today is one of the most commonly used when wanting to close the gap between science and arts: Artists in the lab. Bringing artists to the labs is a practice funded by high profile organizations such as the Wellcome Trust and it “arose from a concern among many artists and scientists that the divorce between their disciplines was unhealthy”. So, programs that offered internships in a laboratory to artists have become a somewhat common initiative. Nonetheless, after reading the recent article in Nature in which these initiatives are reviewed, I finished with ambivalent thoughts. On one hand it’s obvious that these are very positive initiatives in which creativity through science was achieved. On the other hand the article leaves us with an idea that the outcome was much more visible on the side of the artists than of the scientists.
Elusive is the term used to describe the gains by scientists. This is obviously not surprising, as usually these partnerships result in exhibited art, a clear and visible outcome for artists. For scientists, outcomes are not that clear, the influence that art will have in their work is not of a forthcoming evaluation. Usually, when referring to it, scientists give statements such as “the initiative broadened my horizons”. From statements of this kind one might think that this type of initiatives needs some rethinking to achieve the potential they have. And some funding agencies are following this reflective path, as the Swiss program artistsinlabs that now entered a hiatus to analyze the way of making it more effective.
As I mentioned in the beginning these are just two of numerous examples of creativity being brought to science and science education. As I encounter more of these interesting initiatives I will highlight them in subsequent posts.

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