Many modern educators tend to see science and art as opposites, one based on research and facts and the other based on emotions, but to Leonardo da Vinci the two fit together like a hand in a glove.
Da Vinci, whose career spanned the late 15th and early 16th centuries, is most famous as the artist who created the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. But he was an engineer, architect and inventor credited with being the first to design a parachute, an airplane and even a military tank.
Time and evolving education systems have separated science and art as disciplines, even though both require a healthy portion of creativity for success. Even now, in the early 21st century, educators have been focused on student proficiency in the “STEM” subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. STEM advocates focus on the need for U.S. students to compete with students in other countries, and there’s a growing effort to encourage more girls to enter STEM occupations.
Led by the Rhode Island School of Design, some educators now advocate changing STEM to STEAM by adding an “A” for art. The design school has a website devoted to the topic, STEMtoSTEAM.org. The STEAM program goals include encouraging the integration of art and design studies in kindergarten through college and urging employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.
John Maeda, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, has degrees in electrical engineering, computer science and design. In a Scientific American commentary, he wrote this about art and science: “Both are dedicated to asking the big questions placed before us: ‘What is true? Why does it matter? How can we move society forward?’ Both search deeply, and often wanderingly, for these answers.”
Even the popular children’s TV show “Sesame Street” is integrating a STEAM message with segments called “Elmo the Musical.” As with many “Sesame Street” segments, Elmo’s musical episodes involve singing, dancing, shapes, math and even history. In one segment, Elmo seeks help from a “recipe rhombus” to develop a party dip recipe for the queen of “Nacho Pichu.” The queen needs a special dip for her nachos, and Elmo whips up some guacamole.
A Slate magazine article from 2015 describes another integration of science and art. At Boston Arts Academy, a dance student used modeling software and a 3D printer to create an “electroluminescent costume” that uses electrical current to light the fabric.
Outside of academia, one of the most successful technology companies in the world, Apple, holds design as one of its highest principles. “Design is not just what it looks and feels like,” said Apple’s late founder, Steve Jobs. “Design is how it works.”
In Maine, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics is considering how it can integrate art into its STEM-oriented summer camp curriculum.
Charles Nègre, a 19th century artist and photographer, loved to experiment with the early chemistry of photography and with the math and physics behind a camera’s optics. He saw the relationship between art and science.
“Where science ends, art begins,” Nègre wrote. “When the chemist has prepared the sheet, the artist directs the lens and the three torches of observation, feeling and reasoning guide the study of nature; photography invokes effects that make us dream …”
The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone is a public magnet high school chartered and funded by the Maine State Legislature. Students live on campus. The school provides an extensive and challenging curriculum in science, mathematics, technology, the arts and humanities. Every summer, the school operates a camp for nearly 600 students ages 10-14. The summer camp is designed to develop student interests in the STEM subjects.