How can Van Gogh help the Engineer?

December 18, 2014
December 18, 2014

Art is one of the most important facets of learning.

Art works much like the mechanics of mathematics – patterns, symmetry, geometry and intuition fuse together to create a work of beauty pleasing to the human eye. Science, math and business are traditionally very rigid disciplines, but the creative workings of our right brain are often overlooked in these more serious areas.
In actuality, art has propelled many scientific and mathematical systems by looking outside of the box to solve problems. In the 1920’s, physicist Neil Bohr looked to the artistic movement of Cubism to solve the problem of the structure of matter. Atoms were previously thought to exist in solar system like mini universes, spiralling around the atomic nucleus in the centre like a sun.

But Bohr realized electrons did not behave so staticly. Instead, they were like Cubist paintings, which broke down objects and shattered their certainty. Instead of a full picture, matter seemed to exist like these fragmented paintings, pieced together surreally.  Electrons were therefore not like mini planets, but instead resembled Picasso’s paintings, forming a deconstructed take on reality as we see it.
As an artist himself, who enjoyed painting abstract still lifes in his spare time, Bohr used art to view the world around him differently, and in turn view the world of science in a new light.
Still Life with Guitar, Pablo Pacasso - Example of how Cubism deconstructs reality.
It’s hard to imagine that art directly influenced one of the most important leaps in science of the past century, but it’s a practice that many scientists, engineers, mathemeticians and business people use to solve game-changing creative problems.
Problem solving is an important skill in both art and the sciences. Where the arts excels is by questioning life as we live it instead of constantly scrutinizing it through technical methods that our consicousness doesn’t relate to.  Art can reintroduce the concepts that makes us human to challenging scientific problems, and provide us with a fresh canvas to look at the world. Innovation, it is thought, would be nowhere if it were not for the creative concepts an artist can convey with their mediums.
Frank Gehry is one of the most artistically influenced and easily recognizable architects.
Graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda, known for his work on Second Life, has this to say about why art is needed in science:
“We seem to forget that innovation doesn’t just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.”
Studying science, math and business can create a successful career in these growing disciplines. But without the ability to look at the world through a subjective artistic viewpoint, expressing individuality,  and solving problems in a creative way that has never been thought of before, the chances of innovation in these areas – where innovating is such a sought after commodity – are slim to none.

Enhancing your observation, creativity and problem solving skills are methods that some of the most successful people in these areas look to for inspiration.
Albert Einstein has even echoed this same sentiment, himself a firm believer in the fusion of art and science to challenge commonly held beliefs:
“The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than it’s solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.”
Maybe one day, we’ll be able to solve the world’s problems with some help from the colorful world of art.

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