Bridging "The Two Cultures" through Aesthetic Education: Considering Visual Art, Science, and Imagination

Article excerpt

Abstract

Art can be used to enrich the subject of science and science can be used to motivate study in art. This can stimulate new ways to regard the relationship of art and science in classrooms. Theoretical and practical examples will highlight: early and contemporary artists who developed ideas about art forms in nature; the impact an Aesthetics and Science Workshop had on university professors; and a successful science and art secondary education curriculum implemented in an East Harlem school.

Introduction

Art and science are generally considered totally separate disciplines. Science encourages objective observation, measurement, and precision through rational thinking, while the arts encourage affective engagement and participatory learning, "celebrating the life of feeling and imagination." (1) Visual art is underappreciated even in the educational community. It is often the first subject cut in a budgetary crisis. In contrast, maths and science are always thought of as necessary to strengthen an individual's capacities for competing in the employment marketplace for which education prepares them. Rational and measurable, the sciences appear to be more relevant in our assessment and accountability-driven world in which teachers find themselves. Accessing the imagination no longer seems relevant in the classroom and aesthetic experience of little or no importance, largely because it cannot be measured. The shortsighted fallacy of such thinking must be contested and educators must take a leadership role in this arena. The visual arts can significantly contribute to the enhancement of learning in many disciplines, including the sciences. As Professor of Art Education Arthur Efland wrote, "Art enables human beings to realize their spirit and their destiny in the actions and products of their imagination". (2)

This paper addresses the topic of art and science as ways of knowing and how science and artistic expression can be enriched by each other. Art can be used to enhance the study of science and science can be used to motivate study in art. This presentation is not a comprehensive survey of either discipline; rather it is intended to stimulate new ideas relating to the status of art and science in classrooms. One part describes profiles of artists from the past and present who developed theoretical ideas about art forms in nature through scientific inquiry. The second part summarizes the impact an Aesthetic and Science Workshop had on a group of university professors. Finally, a description of an application of an interdisciplinary curriculum I was involved in as a high school visual arts teacher that sparked discoveries in science and art learning.

Questions raised in this discussion refer to the British scientist and writer C.P. Snow's most noted lectures regarding his concept of The Two Cultures, where he considers that the breakdown of communication between the sciences and the humanities is a major hindrance in [solving] the world's problems. (3) What do aesthetic and scientific inquiry share in common? How can teachers build bridges between the two disciplines in ways that impact the lives of students? Educators can benefit by considering these questions. My thesis is in agreement with Snow's perspective that, it is not about the superiority of the humanities over the sciences, or the slighting of the importance of science. Rather, that expectations of educators today must be to develop perceptual, cognitive, and expressive capabilities, useful in multi disciplinary learning and relevant to the lives of students they teach.

Forms In Nature: Early Artists

"The artist uses imagery and metaphor; the scientist, numbers and mathematics." (4) Art and science were first united in the discovery of linear perspective by the sculptor and architect, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). This system is a:

   geometric procedure for projecting space onto a plane, analogous to
   the way the lens of a photographic camera now projects a
   perspective image on the film. …