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Arts and Science: Yin and Yang

Arts and science are seen as opposites - one side is emotional and subjective, the other cool and rational. There's some truth in that, but there was a time when we saw them as parts of a whole that worked together – to understand the world and our experience in it. Your art – and writing is very definitely a form of art – may be more important than you think it is.



In Humphry Davy's time, science was known as 'natural philosophy'. We've recently learned that the famous scientist's notebooks were full of his poetry mixed in with his scientific observations. These were a key part of his thinking - he was expressing in words what he was learning about the world and what this meant.


Arts subjects are undervalued. Science can prompt a person to create art to express its beauty or our feelings about the experience of the natural world. It can prompt reflections about human insignificance or the power of nature. Art can help us to know the world better, or reflect what we know. It can train our minds to creative ways of thinking that can benefit scientific work. Our society isn't served by having people who haven't learned through school the benefits of thinking creatively, which can happen if science has been pushed as having much more importance.


I'd never deny that science and technology are fantastically valuable, and require serious study and discipline. But I do wonder if people realise the level of skill, born of learning and practice, that goes into artistic creations. And while science and technology are valuable because they give us the practical things that we need in life, art is precious because in many ways it gives us what life is for.


Imagine a world in which we have all of our practical needs catered for, but nothing artistic existed. There are no songs or music in any form, or any dance; there aren't any paintings or photographs or drawings; novels, stories, poems and memoirs are nowhere to be seen; sculptures, ceramics and craft-based creations aren't a thing; films, theatre and TV dramas are all absent. That doesn't sound like a fun life to me.


I'd love to see science and art treated equally and as complementary pursuits, and not in competition, wouldn't you?


Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about.

– Glenn Holland, in Mr Holland's Opus


Further reading


My post on 'Stories are not a luxury' can be read here.


The Guardian's article about Humphry Davy's poetry-filled science notebooks is here.


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