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  • Gemma Speakman

Science and Art sittin' in a tree. K I S S I N G


I wrote a short story once about a woman who quit her boring office job to follow her dreams. Her life was orderly and methodical. She started and finished at the same time every day, she got paid the same amount and on the same date every month. Her direct debits never bounced and she had a budget that she stuck to that never put her in the red. She took 20 days holiday a year, holidayed at the same hotel in the same resort (she knew it well), and never bought more Christmas presents than she needed to. She didn't like spice or cauliflower but she hadn't tried either in around 20 years but she told herself, she 'knew'. She had the unbelievable ability to resist temptation, she never varied from her routine - she was living she told herself, because she was following a series of tasks in a certain order at a certain time with very few surprises. But deep inside her she knew there was an artist desperate to get out. She got to the point where she could no longer ignore it. So she threw caution to the wind and left her orderly life to manifest her creativity once and for all, by becoming a painter that would occasionally enjoy vegetable jalfrezi's (with cauliflower). Being an artist was something she had only dreamt of; since a child, it was all she ever wanted.

But on day one, she walked into her makeshift studio and had a major existential crisis - the safety and order of routine had combusted and she was left staring in to the abyss of the blank canvas. She felt beyond vulnerable and yearned once more for the reassuring safety of data entry and stuffing envelopes - the comfort of having a beginning and an end and knowing when her job was complete. She could close the door, go home and not have any mind wanderings or anxieties leaking into her own time. Life as an artist was overwhelming - all that raw honesty, the uncertainty, the freedom. She had dared to dabble in the abstract but she didn't have it within her to stick at it or at least she couldn't find it within herself to dwell inside for a moment longer. So she went back to her 'proper job.'

The ending is unfinished but I'll probably make it so that she dies young and unfulfilled and miserable. Because she failed herself. And that's unforgivable. The writing was not physically on the wall but she knew its name was instinct and it had daubed where she should be going, in big red writing inside the casing of her heart. Unfortunately, she could only find it within herself to ignore it. Then again I might make it so that she goes back for a second attempt and tries harder. But she may have another existential crisis about measuring her own success and being unaware of knowing when the painting was finished when she'd 'made it' as an artist. The counter argument to that is, why do you need someone else's validation to follow your dreams and who cares if you're happy doing what you're doing. And around the continual mind carousel it goeth.

There was a stigma back when I was in secondary school about artistic subjects being 'easy' and not considered to be 'proper subjects.' The assumption was if you did medicine and had to follow more stringently academic subjects such as chemistry, biology or physics that you were a lot 'cleverer' than those studying say fashion or art or something vocational. And the A* you got in Art or English was not as impactful or sharp as the A* that was coming out of the maths class. There was a real science and art binary culture encouraged at school with little or no encouragement to hover around or stagger with the lights off with both feet akimbo, stuck into both.

But why? Why are they seen as so opposing?

Melting ice cream due to room temperature variables or art?

If you're an artist or doing a job that doesn't have one correct answer and is instead your interpretation of some one or some thing that you've chosen to present to the world, then is your work considered to be less worthwhile than say an accountant balancing profit and loss on a balance sheet? You can't argue with sums or with an equation when the answer is there in black and white but your paint on a canvas or your words on a page, is it considered to be well, a bit of navel gazing indulgence or dare I say it, pointless? (especially if the spectator doesn't like what he or she sees)? And is because you are merely presenting one of the 'endless possibilities' to the world but not the one single right answer rendering your input and effort as having less merit?

Are the metaphysicists* held in higher regard because they're fathoming something that to the average person is utterly incomprehensible than say Monet who interpreted feeling, emotion, cultural and societal realities and struggles through brushstrokes and colour? Or does it depend where on the spectrum you are. And what about if you straddle both? Is that even possible - can you be both left and right brained? The answer is despite what you might have been told at school, yes of course.

Science and art are simply not opposing binary topics or 'schools of thought.' They are inextricably linked and they need each other to manifest and function. Moreover, people can and often be very astute at both science and art . Quincy Jones once said "It has been proven time and time again in countless studies that students who actively participate in arts education are twice as likely to read for pleasure, have strengthened problem-solving and critical thinking skills and are four times more likely to be recognised for academic achievement.'

It would take a musician like Quincy to understand this fusion. Because what about music and dancing and singing? Science and art right there, pressed firmly against each other and having the most endless, spirited love affair. The notes are written down in black and white on the page but the real music comes from the one playing or singing and interpreting said notes as they see fit, 'making it their art' if you will, and the response is up to the listener. Whilst dancing, your scientific,

amazingly put together limbed instrument is responding to an involuntary need to move and shake or simply tap to a scientific and orderly pattern written down on a sheet of paper. And what of smell and scent? A physical scientific concoction of fragrance mixed in a bottle, on a person or in nature has the ability to stir something deep within you and be evocative of a myriad of emotions and memory about a time in your life. The response is at once scientific and artistic.

As Aaliyah once sung, 'so if you down with this funky flavour throw your hands up'

But back to my tragi-protagonist. She can hear something but she's not listening. But she exists in an apparently binding binary world where she can't see that she could possibly do both because she's been brought up in a culture that deems them as two opposing parties.

As the female astronaut Dr Mae Jamieson puts it so succinctly, [science and art are] not merely connected but manifestations of the same thing — they are our attempt to build an understanding of the universe, and our attempt to influence things (things in the universe internal to ourselves and the universe external to ourselves).

Science is the external and creative.

Art is the internal and creative.

*definition of metaphysics - an abstract human invention about the nature of concrete reality

(oh the irony)


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