Art and Science by Cedar Sanderson

Art and Science by Cedar Sanderson

Monday, I went back to school. I’m at the point where it’s all downhill from here, and I’m looking forward to wrapping it up. The first day of a semester, I’ve learned after 4 years of this, is usually sitting in classrooms having a syllabus read to us. Personally, I’ve usually reviewed it if the class was published online… and done the homework. I was scaring my highschool-age daughters by informing them that in college, you often have homework before the classes start. This doesn’t bother me, but I’m a non-traditional student.

I’m non-traditional, I’ve learned, in many ways. I’m pursuing a science degree (with a ridiculously long name. Let’s just say I recently made a judge raise her eyebrow and comment that it sounds impressive) but I am also an author and an artist. Now, once upon a time this wasn’t necessarily thought of as unusual. Although I’m not sure we can consider Leonardo DaVinci in any way normal (and no, I am NOT comparing myself to him!) science and art did walk hand in hand. Cameras were unknown, and the ability to sketch accurately was a necessity if you were trying to describe a specimen and give a visual of it.

Now? My classmates think I’m very odd indeed to be put out over the loss of an art class this semester. One of them was telling me how he’d taken art history because it was ‘good with girls’ and he could take dates to the art museum and impress them. I shook my head at him, laughed, and pointed out what I wanted was hands-on instruction, so I could learn to paint. I’d have managed it, except for some reason the school decided that Biochemistry students for some degrees didn’t need a lab, so they shut the second day option down… and I have to take Biochem. Art is a personal preference.

Now, this is my drive, to take the art classes for sanity, but I’ve discovered that my science classmates just don’t take art classes. My art classmates look at me like I have a second head when I talk about Bioinformatics or Analytical Chemistry, shudder, and say they are happy not to have to deal with anything that hard. Meanwhile I sit there and wonder when the two got separated.

It certainly seems that in schools as young as elementary ages, you either are on the STEM track, or the arts track, or the sports track… when my son was telling his teacher about how much he loved to read, and wanted to take band, and chorus, my husband was worried that in our small, redneck town, he’d get teased for his preferences (so far, he’s not had a peep from his new friends and he’s part of a happy study group that meets at the local library almost daily). I can’t help but wonder if this sort of tribalism has always been there, or if this is something new that has sprung up since the advent of the modern school system.

It’s not that you can’t be good at both art and science. I’m not a great artist, but with daily practice I’ve improved muchly. I’m left suspecting that it’s the myth of the talent. I hear “oh, wow, you are so talented! I can’t even draw stick figures!” all the time from classmates when I’m sketching in class (and other people when I’m sketching in public). The truth is that at one point, I couldn’t even draw a respectable stick figure. Heck, being able to draw a stick figure doesn’t bar you from being an artist, look at Randall Monroe and XKCD. What I did, was apply science to art. Look, in science you experiment, document, and the gold standard is reproducibility. In art, you can do the same. For me it was sparked by Mona Brookes’ Drawing with Children, a book I got to start teaching my children to draw. Her method is to break the drawings down into shapes, lines, dots, and so forth. I realized that I could manage that. In the Observational Drawing class I took in college, it was again not about ‘feeling’ the art in some way, tapping into an inborn sense of what art should be (snort. Hah! Ahem…) but it was about measurements, angles, and teaching the student to look, really look.

And it’s that part of art that makes me think we have lost a great deal by separating our art and science students into separate tribes. The artist’s eye is trained to ‘see’ at a greater level of detail than most of the rest of us. They are also taught to look, and look again. Simply snapping a photo isn’t enough to imprint onto the brain the specimen you are observing; when you have drawn it, you really know it.

Art isn’t something you are born with magic in your hands, to be able to create without effort. It’s a lot of work, and requires training. I can remember being told as a girl that you either had an art brain, or a science brain. While I do know that there is a lot of difference between the creativity necessary to create original art, and the dedication of the scientist to performing the same task over and over, jotting each result down as you do it… I don’t think that isolating the scientist from the artist is a good thing. The spark of creativity that is necessary for art, the imagination the writer brings to fiction, those are vital to the science world, if the science is to proceed beyond the paths of the known into the possible and mists of ‘what if?’ and ‘what happens if this goes on?’ and that’s where science fiction is born. Or perhaps the science fiction artist. I was creating a piece the other day, working on a scene set on an alien landscape, and contemplating the nature of light while I painted ship’s exhaust and the muzzle blasts from a mecha. If the light isn’t the Sun’s light, and the air is full of particulates, what do you get?

Science, and Art, meant to be together. It might get me funny looks, but I’ll finish my year of daily artworks, and I’ll be the better for it. I already am, some 240 days into the challenge. I’ll never be a great artist. But I will be a better one and it’s teaching me a lot. Maybe not as much as Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Invertebrate Zoology, or Botany, but at least I can sketch specimens, molecules, and so forth to convey my meaning in a legible manner!


146 responses to “Art and Science by Cedar Sanderson

  1. I have a son in college, studying computer science. Unfortunately most of the humanities have been so infested with communists and SJW’s that there aren’t many humanities courses worth taking (his American History course might as well have been called “A History of Slavery in America”). And I believe in humanities. I’ve tried to get him to take art or music at least, but he seems to think of it as a waste of time (though he does sing and take voice lessons outside of ‘official’ school). Sigh. It seems like we don’t have the “well-rounded” concept anymore…

    • I studied computer science because I think nothing would have killed my love of writing more than studying English. And also because I thought the “starving artist” concept was overrated. Most of the humanities courses I took were a joke, since I’d had a proper education (homeschooling). Wish they hadn’t been.

      • When my youngest was still in college at Western Michigan, he had to take a couple of “history” courses. He got into a lot of trouble and barely passed the first one because I had made sure our boys got the straight dope on history starting in grade school. He refuted the professor publicly in class and cited sources to back up his argument, leading the professor to make sure he struggled to get a C in the class. She did not take kindly to those pesky facts contradicting her narrative. The class was US history since 1900 and was essentially a polemic on the evils of industrial America that was built on the whip-scarred backs of black slaves. Slavery was implied to be a unique American institution.

        I tried to make sure he knew before he went to college what non-science/engineering professors were like. They were trending very lefty when I was in college in the 70’s, and I heard they were total full bore commie now.

        His degree is in Civil Engineering

        • We got the history text before my son left home, and spent some time going through and reading paragraphs and laughing hysterically. I think it helped to innoculate him 🙂 He was homeschooled too, so he tends to respect our opinions more than the average teenager.

        • I was actually positively surprised at the civil war class I took. They actually hit on the fact that both north and south had valid grievances and it wasn’t just slavery.

          • I had very good professors for college history. Neither had agendas I could detect, and some of the facts they brought out didn’t agree with any narrative. But it was history and they taught it.

            The kids learned to hide their history books from me. The state history book was so poor that it was beyond a pathetic joke. It got the Indian nations territories wrong, practically ignored one key tribe, and implied one historic figure my family knew was “mythical.” Not impressed doesn’t begin to cover it.

            OTOH, my mother had the misfortune of a professor who wasn’t teaching history but got strung out on the narrative, and she called his hand on one point with what essentially was “I was there. Where were you?” He dinged her with a B even though her grades were in the A+ range, She thought about making a stink, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

      • I have several friends who took writing degrees because they wanted to be writers. Most of them have, to date, not written anything original since then. ONE does fan fiction but is flat out terrified to do anything beyond that and roleplay.

        • Writers should get a degree with an eye to the day job.

          • That is because the most interesting writers have lived interesting lives in addition to Just Writing.

            See also C.S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, Cordwiner Smith, RAH, and if it’s not an impertinence to say do, Mrs. Hoyt.

          • When I sold my first short to Asimov’s, way back in the day, my very practical sister handed me a clipping of a young man sitting on a corner selling a cupful of pencils with a sign reading “SOLD ONE STORY AND EXCITEDLY QUIT MY JOB.”

    • THIS. And my kids are/were both stem.

      • That was pretty much my experience when I went back and finished my degree a few years back. The only real exceptions were either really old or immigrants from the Eastern Bloc. I still wonder how the latter got hired – my leading theories are they got hired before the last of the conservatives and old-school liberals lost power in their departments, or that the Left just assumed anybody who’d grown up under Communism would sing its praises.

    • My school requires, for every degree, at least nine hours of “Global Perspectives” classes. Which is why my classmate had taken an art history class – it was less repugnant than some of the other options, and he’s a great deal more liberal than I am. Me? I filled that niche with the Art of China, Japan and Korea (good class, actually), Latin American Literature (about what you’d expect, but superb professor), and a History of the World before 1500 that had less depth than a wikipedia article. So yes, I do understand why most science students avoid humanities like the Plague. But I’m talking hands-on practical stuff (which doesn’t count toward the GP requirement, of course).

    • I, too, believe in humanities, but have doubts about whether the Humanities believe in me. Where once scientists, mathematicians and engineers sought elegant solutions, these days in the Arts any hint of elegance earns sneers and derision.

      What we have seen in this field during the last half century was best described by an earlier witness to a similar explosion of flammable gas and hot air: Oh, the Humanities!

    • I’ve tried to get him to take art or music at least, but he seems to think of it as a waste of time (though he does sing and take voice lessons outside of ‘official’ school).

      In this your son is probably right — the standards he would likely learn in “official” school would likely impede his efforts to find and develop his “authentic” voice. He is better off finding mentors able and willing to teach him actual skills rather than subjecting his GPA to the whims of Humanities professors desperately signalling their virtue.

    • It is a waste of time, and not only because the professors tend to be communists and SJW’s. Even with good professors, requiring students to take classes that in no way will help them in the field they are getting a degree in is simply a way for colleges to squeeze extra money out of students. If the student is interested in art history, or pre-colonial native American underwater basket weaving; by all means he is welcome to pay to learn more about it. But if it won’t help he design bridges, he shouldn’t be required to take it in order to get a civil engineering degree.

  2. It’s been about 40 years since I was in college, but perhaps this is not completely obsolete. Liberal Arts colleges might be worth a good look for this discussion. My college (Lawrence University of Appleton, WI, self-marketed incorrectly as the country’s 2nd oldest coed college) has a quite small but quite competent physics department (my major) and the usual other hard sciences, good humanities (its Slavic languages department was brilliant when I was there) and a conservatory of music too. One of my classmates had a double major: Math and Music Composition. That sort of thing, and that sort of mix, was not unusual. An English prof was building a full-text computer database of the records of the London Stage (1660-1800) — mind you, in 1973. You could easily do double majors, or if that was not good enough, a “student designed major” which one of my classmates did. I took organic chemistry as an elective. (“Why are you taking organic? You’re not pre-med!” “I thought it would be fun.”) And I took flute as well, and got seriously challenged there by my teacher.
    In other words, while a lot of schools may be following the European model of putting students in narrow stovepipes, not all do.
    As for the prevalence of Communists, check out Hillsdale College, which takes no government money of any kind and is thus free to ignore government dictates. And incidentally, they actually are the 2nd oldest US coed college. They roughly-monthly publication “Imprimis” is worth a look.

    • I get Imprimis, too, and it’s excellent!

      • Yes it is. Very good reading every month!

      • Imprimis is great. Also peruse their free online MOOCs, especially the courses on the Federalist Papers, C.S. Lewis, any of the several classes on the Constitution, and the Great Books. I’ve completed 7?, and they are uniformly excellent

    • Decades ago at the one I attended, there was a strong “Us vs Them,” with the English department on one side and STEM on the other. Only heard one dump on the other twice, one from a science professor on a required English test, and then from an English department on a required engineering test.

      • There was a hierarchy of sorts when I was in engineering school in the 80s: The hard-science (physics, math, and so on) types looked down on us engineering school denizens, asserting that engineering is where students who flunked out of physics or math went; engineering looked down on the business school types with the parallel assertion, that failed engineering students switched majors to B-school; Business school folks looked down on J-school students as failed business majors went to be Journalists, and IIRC the J-school types reported that those Journalism school students who failed somehow to get over that so very low bar went to the School of Education.

        Nobody along that math spectrum really understood the soft-side folks, even though we had a huge and growing pile of general ed requirements tacked on to what we were really studying that forced us to go take classes in psychology and art and humanities and history and such.

        Obviously all of this was undergraduate coup-counting. I’ve worked with some very smart Education-graduate corporate technical trainers, some amazingly smart PR folks who came out of J-school, many smart business school grads, and also many idiots with advanced hard-science and engineering degrees. But that cascade of failure concept always struck me as capturing some hapless undergrad with no passion for any of them, flailing and failing across the University landscape until they came to rest at their equilibrium point of no-interest and low-effort.

        • Ah, the hierarchy of degrees…

        • I’ve worked with some very smart Education-graduate corporate technical trainers, some amazingly smart PR folks who came out of J-school …

          I gather that quality control is taking steps to ensure such failures do not happen in the future. The latest reports indicate that nobody with an IQ in three digits escapes Education programs. Current methodology almost guarantees such people are comatose before the end of year one and monolingual in Babblegaff by the end of year two.

  3. “Art isn’t something you are born with magic in your hands, to be able to create without effort. It’s a lot of work, and requires training.”

    When I was at the university my first roommate was architecture/art student and I was studying EE. Both of us put plenty of work into our craft and end up on the Dean’s list and with careers. Work is the key component in success.

    And almost all my humanities and non-core courses were jokes. Due to my lust for reading, I was bored, but I figured out what the teacher wanted, did the work and passed with extreme ease. Keeping my mouth shut was hardest part next to not getting caught doing homework and reading for the real courses. In retrospect I should’ve tested out of more of the classes…

    • Drafting also used to be more important and encouraged basic drawing skills, whereas now people do CAD.

      I am not technically inclined, artistic, or mechanically inclined, but my high school drafting teacher (yup, we had to take some of it, just like home ec) got me able to do drafting the old-fashioned way. And I enjoyed it. I am never going to be a genius at it, but I know how.

      • Last Friday we tackled The Closet at work. This former, small, blueprint machine room had become storage for old maps and all sorts of things. We didn’t find the Ark of the Covenant, but did find an old drawing I’d done with ink on Mylar ™ film back in the 80s. It was no longer good for anything, but I salvaged it from the trash as a memento. Now it’s all CAD/CAM.

        • Heh, I’ve got some ink on linen drafts somewhere in the “really old” file dating from high school in the late fifties. The ability to draw fades with disuse and I carve models and develop full size lofting off them rather than the other way round – really old school.

        • I’ve actually had the pleasure of revving Mylars. Would hate to do em first time but there is something different about having paper in front of you

      • Professor Badness

        The year I took drafting in high school was the last year it was taught with paper and pencil, (for my school anyway.)
        I am grateful for it, since I’m pretty sure I learned more in that class than any CAD class.

      • Chris Nelson

        I took drafting and wood shop in Jr. High. Since my father was an structural engineer I knew much of drafting. Helped him learn AutoCAD on DOS machines. Had a CAD class at the university, did the semesters work in the first week mainly due to experience with my father. Instructor let me either help others, or work on my other homework in the class.

      • Feather Blade

        I’m very fortunate that my department has a teacher who is passionate about the role of drawing and drafting in architecture.

        Interestingly, the CAD/REVIT photo-realistic rendering seems to be falling out of fashion a bit among the rest of the faculty.

  4. I suspect that homeschooled children (Cedar was also homeschooled) have often got an advantage in the ‘well-rounded’ category. Depends on the priorities and interests of the parents, I suppose, but I’ve always thought that children should be able to draw accurately as well as do the academic subjects (and music is important, too, very much so). Being able to draw something, even for those with no artistic inclinations, can be a big help when the old saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ becomes literally true. Much easier to sketch out that bookcase you want to build, or the odd thing you saw and want identified, than to try to describe it accurately in words!

    • This can be true, I’m a big fan of homeschooling, but the truth is homeschooling is no different than private schooling or public schooling. A huge factor in the vast majority of students education is the teacher. Whether they are well rounded or not, whether they learn the history of their nation or a liberal fantasy, whether they learn calculus are can barely count past ten with their shoes on; a lot (not all) of the credit/blame falls on the teacher. Very few kids are self-teachers, at least not when it comes to educating themselves (a fair number of them seem to be self-teachers when it comes to unique ways to raise havoc and get in trouble).

      • Homeschooling works when the parent is an effective teacher. In reality, however, that quality is just as needed for pubic and private school students. The student learning at home, and in an environment fostering learning via reading or doing is much more likely to be somewhat autodidact than a boob tube kid (especially since most of the educational shows and channels have gone reality TV)

  5. Confucius requires music and art-literature for the proper man. The old principal for knights similarly wanted music and intellectual training for the proper complete knight. I notice an increase in interest in music and drawing among home school sites; as well as people looking at gymnastics (and ballet?) for child training rather than focus on competitive sports.

  6. The Humanities have become a joke, and the SJWs are working on taking down the STEM next.
    Hopefully Art and Music haven’t been quite as destroyed as the ‘Studies’ and Soft Sciences (where learning how to lie with statistics is the only math skill).
    Personally, I eased into any drawing via mechanical drawing. Perspective, angles, rotations and overall attention to details first with simple things can yield the experience to be credible in more elaborate efforts. Also computer CAD and most importantly GIMP help a lot. I also found the physics in music to be fascinating. In high school, I also composed music; however, it all tended to sound like Church Hymns at the basic beginner level; however, I think that is a plus for hymns, as it makes them predictable for the less musically inclined.

    • Art and music fell first.

      • Feather Blade

        Back in the 70’s or 80s some bright spark decided that the music department at my university had to be purged of all religious read “Christian”) influence.

        Even the most secular atheist among the music faculty revolted at the idea, because so much of music history *is* Christian liturgical music.

        Can’t say what the state of the department is now, but at least they didn’t go down without a fight.

        • Ugh. During the historical dark ages, most of the advancement of all the arts came from church and it’s patrons. Regardless of belief there is a reason that the church outlasted pretty much every government and nation. And that continuity of history is critical for understanding the industry growth, whether it is architecture, sculpture, literature or music.

    • Read :”the rape of the masters.”

    • Sara the Red

      Sadly, and speaking as someone who graduated with a degree in art (graphic design, but with much traditional training as well), the Visual Arts have been thoroughly infected. I struggled because the fashion was to do ‘deep’ art projects with ‘great meaning’ (frequently something or whatever to do with abuse, the patriarchy, etc). Now, that is not to say that an artist cannot or should not do powerful art relating to something close to their heart (like being a survivor of abuse) if they want, but…dammit, I just wanted to tell stories by making pretty pictures. Perhaps that’s partly why I gravitated more to graphic design…but there I ran into trouble because, well, an awful lot of my fellow design students didn’t have the background I did in ‘traditional art’ and resented my ability to draw and paint.

      Frankly, I came out of it all with my love of art almost totally killed. I graduated in 08, and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve even *felt* like picking up a paintbrush again (and I’m still struggling, though now it’s more a case of ‘crap, I’m out of practice’ than trying to shake of the like of “but it must MEAN something!’). My job for the last five years has been in something that is, technically, the sciences. I haven’t got a strong background in it (because of that damn tribalization), and I had started taking classes in computer programming. Because being able to program AND do design? I’ll probably be able to get a job no problem. (And I will start those classes up again once I’m through some pesky medical crap that threw a wrench in my Plans.)

      But yeah. The tribalization is real, and it is a serious problem. And sadly, visual arts has definitely been infected with the SJZ nonsense, and when I left, graphic design was unfortunately well on its way to full infection as well.

    • William Newman

      “most importantly GIMP”

      For some people, depending on tastes and interests, something like GIMP may be less interesting than something like Blender. Blender is a “modeling system” (roughly, bundled with other computer graphics tools like a renderer). As far as I know GIMP is (and similar programs like Photoshop are) basically about working with a particular 2-dimensional projection of a scene. “Modeling” means different things in different fields, but in the field of computer graphics it means setting up the three-dimensional thing that you can later “render” into any number of 2-dimensional images, more or less analogous to setting up a physical model that you’ll physically photograph as a later step. So in a conventional graphics program (like GIMP, AFAIK), as on a canvas or a piece of paper, you always work with a particular perspective and lighting scheme, but in a modeling system like Blender, perspective and lighting are late-stage choices. That is, when you have defined the three-dimensional thing, you can continue to change things like perspective and lighting freely, without having to start over telling the program where everything is (as seen from the new point of view) or what every surface’s color pattern is (given the new intensity of lighting in its location). Indeed, beyond changing perspective and lighting, modeling programs like Blender often have a lot of support for changing even more properties of the underlying model (e.g. location and configuration of machinery, poses of animated figures, and patterns of surface texture like wrinkles or grain or hair) without having to start over. This can be very handy for technical drawings, and there is a lot of commercial software (such as, um… 3D Studio Max? Sketchup? I think, without having used either) for it as well as the free Blender (that I happen to be familiar with and that is AFAIK the closest free 3D analogue to the free 2D GIMP).

      • I do most of my art in 3D unless it’s illumination and calligraphy these days. There’s a whole pile of stuff out there in that realm; however, almost all images they out put require at least some tweaking in a program like photoshop or after effects in the case of video. A lot of special effects are difficult directly in the program. I’ve not use Maya or 3DMax more than at a very cursory level. (“You know 3D stuff, check this program we just installed and make sure it isn’t going to crash.”) I have used VUE and Poser (With and without Lux render), with Silo as my modeling program. (I am a very baby modeler.) Blender has an almost vertical learning curve for me. If you’re very good with textures and lighting you can get quite close with some programs (Vue is better for that than Poser of the programs I have. Poser does people MUCH better than VUE.) Even there some post work in photoshop or the equivelent can take a piece from ‘good’ to excelent. And there are certain ‘feels’ that just don’t work in a render. (We had one guy on a now non-existant community whose specialty was old pulp art. Completely new images, but he excelled at making them look like old pulp prints or covers or the like. Most of that surface texturing, not just adding in the words, was post work.)

      • I’m mostly 2 dimensional, so GIMP works fine. I have done some stuff with Blender and 3Dmax, but mostly modeling for mods to 3D games. Indeed, Blender can do a lot, and I’ve played with animation sequences a little.

      • Yet another 3d tool is FreeCAD. I’ve been using that to do spacecraft models for Rolf Nelson. Since I’m a programmer, it works well for me because I approach it from its programming interface rather than its point and click interface. And I can tell it to produce output for POVray for when I want photo-realistic output.

    • Anonymous Coward

      The acronym du jour is STEAM – “putting Arts at the center of STEM” (see Google for more info). Proponents claim that this is nothing more than adding the Arts to the engineering design process – something I would not ordinarily object to.
      Given how universities have destroyed the value of a humanities degree, I suspect this is little more than (1) a money grab and (2) an attempt to take over the last bastions of empiricism in the academy.

      • Putting Arts at the center of STEM is (these days) akin to tossing the dog doo into your swimming pool — it does nothing to improve the crap and a great deal to deteriorate the pool.

      • It’s a wonderful idea when you have a good instructor who stresses learning fundamental STEM concepts as a building block to achieve an artistic vision. It’s when you get nutters who forget the rigor required for STEM concepts in favor of squishy artistic direction where it falls apart.

        • In other words, it is mostly falling apart because the people pushing it are generally nutters who haven’t a clew about Science.

          As the Russian proverb goes: No kind of government better than a good Tsar, no kind of government worse than a bad Tsar. Problem is, more bad Tsars than good Tsars.

      • Seems to me that the E for engineering is in the ‘center’ of STEAM. Perhaps ASTEM would be more appropriate, with Art as the exclusive left wing.

      • Engineering is already the art of merging science, technology and math. Art for story and art for function are different

  7. Art and sciences diverged when the public could no longer appreciate the multi-spectrum crap that the art world was producing. “I’m going to school to learn how to make my vagina art bolder and more empowering” doesn’t generally elicit broad approval for public funding.

    So the money goes away and programs get cut or pigeonholed into specialized study, the latter of which tends to produce indebted latte artists

    • I think it’s older than that. Some years ago I went to the Getty Museum which at the time had a vast display of paintings arranged chronologically, from the 1200s to the present. Techniques became more and more sophisticated up through the late 1700s, culminating in photorealistic paintings, rich pigments that didn’t fade, and still-transparent varnish that didn’t crack.

      Then came the French Revolution and the abolition of the apprenticeship system.

      From that point on, as each generation ages out you can see the loss of techniques that formerly had been handed down from master to apprentice. Brush strokes became increasingly crude; pigments lost their glow; varnish went from still smooth and transparent 400 years later, to slightly roughened, and by the early 1900s the varnish being used was deeply cracked and yellowed despite being hundreds of years younger.

      The same applied to handmade furniture. Examples through the mid-1700s were so tightly made you couldn’t drive a razor blade into the seams, and the surfaces were smooth as glass. Things went downhill through the 1800s, and by 1900 joints were sloppy and finishes crude.

      And that’s when it came to me that the “modernist” art movement was not a movement so much as a growing loss of the old techniques and formulae, and artists (or rather, brokers) making the best (and a living) of this increasing ignorance by touting it as the New Art that only the Right People could understand.

      • My first reaction to being informed that Abstract Expressionism became “popular” in the US because Regionalist and other styles were seen as being connected to Communism and the USSR by McCarthy was a raised eyebrow and the thought that it might have had more to do with laziness and adolescent rebellion. But I put down the prof’s answer on the exam.

        • I once read a book on Nazi-era art — from a Marxist no less — who could nevertheless explain why suppressing the Abstract and the rest had allowed a lot of realistic art out: because the history of art from the Impresssionists onward was selective, leaving out a lot of the art being done.

      • I suspect some of the “old stuff was better than newer stuff” observation is the same thing at work we see in old buildings and structures. Those old buildings are very solid not because old buildings were solid, but because only very solid buildings survived that long. Even in the old days people built flimsy stuff, but for the most part you don’t see that because it doesn’t exist any longer. (There are exceptions, such as the Dom tower in Utrecht, Holland — which stands across the square from the Dom Church because the wing that connected the two blew down in the 16th century and was demolished rather than rebuilt.)

  8. Two words: Grey’s Anatomy. Or compare the photos in the National Audubon Society guide books to Peterson’s illustrations. The odd thing is that such art can convey information better than a photo. I remember when we were told to look through a microscope with one eye, focus on a sketch pad with the other, and draw what we saw. I guess that went out with slide rules.

    You’re right about a division between STEM and arts, and yet there’s a sort of middle ground in engineering and technology fields. Drafting isn’t thought of as art, not even a classic 30°-60°-90° sketch, but it is. Render a realistic view of a building for a customer (we used to have to draw elevations in drafting class), and it’s a technical form of art. So is mapping. It’s just not recognized as such.

    The woo seems to be deep in the arts. Why? Don’t know. Is it lack of information or a mindset?

    • Maybe it’s because artists have been told over and over for the past century that they need not bother with any objective standards?

      • That was my thought — with the advent of readily available photography “realism” in graphic art became passé. That this may have more to do with the lack of skill (not talent, skill) in contemporary artists is a matter of conjecture; as there is no reward for skill there is scant effort invested in its development.

        STEM track students tend to shy away from GPA Destroyers classes where grades are essentially determined by a teacher’s evaluation that is inherently subjective — especially in programs where irrationality seems a prized instructional attribute.

        Then there is the idea that “Creativity” is subject to grading …

        • Sara the Red

          And trust me, even when you’re a student willingly IN said creative subject…grading becomes a nightmare. Because it is *totally* subject to the professors whims, tastes, and yes, political leanings. And if you’re like me and just wanted to learn how to do pretty pictures better (and therefore get labeled as ‘not a Proper Artist’) it gets very discouraging.

          • Makes me grateful for my one art teacher in college. He graded on ‘did you master the technique?’ nothing else.

            • Yes, thankfully there are still some teachers who have not given up the idea of teaching skills related to their subject matter over the present take on progressive indoctrination.

              Not all of the administrators and professors have climbed into that proverbial basket on its way to hell. I am beginning to see the extremes of political correctness being ridiculed and I have concluded that there is reason to hope.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Engineering is art in of itself. The artsy folks who complain about the soullessness of mass production have no idea how hard it is to produce so many things so nearly alike, because the engineers make it look easy.

      • I agree. I believe that to master engineering and make new designs requires creativity. That these are captured in schematic and layout (for ee) doesn’t mean there was no creativity involved in generating the ideas and figuring out how to solve the particular problem.

        My 2¢. I’m a longtime lurker here, and have done some ee work.

      • Sara the Red

        I liked graphic design–despite ‘real’ artists accusing it of being ‘soulless’ and ‘commercial’–because I like the challenge of finding that middle ground where you both please the client and get what they want out there, while also creating something awesome and beautiful. It’s an exercise in persuasion, really. (“Yes, you want A, but here’s B, and it’s even better and here’s why”–and you also have to have the good business sense to actually have B do a better job of selling the product/whatever than A.)

        • My little brother was very talented, artistically, even when he was a small boy – he has worked as a mostly-successful graphic artist for some years now – and he would say pretty much the same.

          • He might say that, but in Obama’s America it is generally easier to blame the audience for lacking the wit to comprehend your genius. This is unlikely to change in Hillary Milhous* Clinton’s America.

            *I apologise to President Nixon for this slur on his integrity; he never capitalized on high position by selling out America.

      • We’ve gotten so used to mass production that most people don’t realize that mass production before WW2 was a matter of a single plant or a supply chain with a single vendor for each part. It wasn’t until the government decided to make the M1 Carbine but no gun makers with excess capacity led to the contracts going to everything from the GM Tilt Wheel Steering Plant to Underwood (the typewriter company) to RockOla (yes, the jukebox company) that we got plants that multiple vendors produced identical and interchangeable parts for a single product.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I hadn’t realized that.

          The jukebox company was not one I recognized.

        • Yes, the list of makers of the M1 is pretty amazing. A few firearms companies, plus GM, Smith-Corona, Pitney Bowes, Rock-Ola, IBM… (I keep dreaming for an IBM M1, that would be a cool possession for a programmer to have.)

    • Yep. When Mrs. Sanderson wrote that she hadn’t many biology + art acquaintences, I thought:,”Her college doesn’t have a bio-medical illustration program.”

      Though I’m rather shocked that her fellow scientists-in-training don’t do art, music, etc. in my (admittedly, ancient) experience, the art, writing, drama and lit students were more likely to be science dullards than vice versa. If they weren’t taking the courses (as opposed to making art, writing stories, putting on impromptu dramatic performances), it was because of the difficulty of getting all the lab classes scheduled.

      No, the true phillistines were the business majors. Yawn.

      • I’ve encountered mechanical engineers who had no clue about drafting, either with a pencil or a PC. Nor any concepts of dimensioning or tolerancing.

        Upon questioning, it turned out their schools had removed all that from the engineering curriculum; that was “trade school” stuff they didn’t need to know.

        Their vision of being an engineer was to come up with Grand Concepts that they’d hand off to flunkies to do the detail work on. Apparently they were so preparated for the management track it never occurred to them they would have to actually do any work…

        • Their vision of being an engineer was to come up with Grand Concepts that they’d hand off to flunkies to do the detail work on. Apparently they were so preparated for the management track it never occurred to them they would have to actually do any work…

          Heheheheheh . . . .

        • it never occurred to them they would have to actually do any work…

          Once regional employers glommed onto what their training consisted of, they were very probably right, although I am sure their resumes were very carefully filed.

        • Those aren’t engineers. Maybe analysts. Gimme greasy hands and airframe yoga any day.

    • It’s actually not odd that art can convey information better than a photo. I recently read something pointing out that fact, specifically in reference to bird guides – photos may not show the bird in the correct posture to properly highlight particular identifying characteristics, the characteristics themselves may not be prominent on that particular bird, and so on.

      An artist, not having to exactly draw a representation of one sighting of one bird, is under no such constraints.

  9. The young need to concentrate on learning ONE thing, and being able to support themselves at some point.

    Don’t worry about your classmates – they’ll eventually grow up a bit, and may discover something they have been previously ignoring that is missing in their concept of ‘life’ – at which point they can do community theater, learn something outside their own narrow interests, whatever.

    It’s a lot to master in this world, becoming an adult. I have faith in my kids, and in kids in general.

  10. Bruce Edwards

    I just want to mention Joe Haldeman as a sort of polymath. His degree is in Astronomy, he is a successful writer who goes to life drawing studio almost every day, works in pencil and water colors as well as playing the guitar. He is still fun to read despite his lefty personel views.

  11. I have always considered poetry and mathematics to be essentially the same thing, the symbols are different and the rules for manipulating them are different, but the underlying deep structure is the same.

    • That’s interesting. I’ve always considered Latin to be algebra, and diagramming sentences to be a form of geometry.

    • William Newman

      They seem to reach for “general abstract nonsense” in different ways, though.

      Math is to poetry as category theory is to ???.

    • I hadn’t thought about poetry that way, but that’s a good point. Especially for classic poetry: the grammar of Latin applied to the constraints of metric poetry is an interesting thing to observe.
      The connection between music and math is better known; I mentioned a classmate with a music and math double major, and several of my professional programmer colleagues have come to that field with a B.Music degree.

  12. Huh. Dunno about now but in the 1970s, my mostly-hard-sciences university flat required that everyone take a certain number of courses off their own beaten track, so there were always architecture and engineering students in the art and ag classes, or chemistry students in the languages department. And soft-science students had to take some basic science classes, be it first year chem, physics, math, drafting, mechanics, or =something= that wasn’t arts or social sciences. This continued through the junior year; seniors were assumed to have had their minds sufficiently broadened.

    • I always figured they were like the Mandatory English classes; a way to artificially pump up enrollment into departments that couldn’t justify existing otherwise.

      • Not at my uni; the non-science departments were at best minor anyway, nothing to pump up. Some profs wore more than one hat, too.

        • That is exactly why they were pumped up. If they weren’t made mandatory, there wouldn’t have been enough students to justify keeping the profs employed.

      • Chris Nelson

        Thankfully I avoided the mandatory English classes by having a sufficiently high SAT and ACT score. Saved time and money.

        • My English 101 prof basically took me out of 102 and had me tutoring students. My HS prof was more rigorous than English and psych prof.

      • Auburn @ Montgomery had mandatory Economics classes for business majors.

        • My degree program (from the School of Engineering) included requirements for the full lower division accounting set (only weekend finals I ever had to do), Business Law (fun class), and the full lower division Econ 1A and 1B set. I think I ended up 6 or 8 credits short of a business minor just from my major. But I already had my Cybernetic Systems minor so I cleverly decided not to finish the Business minor up.

          I am absolutely certain that none of the EE majors in my college cohort ever set foot in the School of Business unless they were doing a pre-MBA minor or a double major.

    • I was in college early 70’s, and indeed some of the difference between a liberal arts and engineering type degree was the dabbling in non-related fields. Specifically, for me, it was one year of humanities or social sciences, two years of social sciences or humanities (i.e. two from one column, one from the other) and then my major in hard science. The difference between a B.A. in Physics and a B.S. in Physics was one year of Chemistry (a limited subset of Atomic Physics). Only one semester of English was required (waived with high enough SAT score) and two years of foreign language.
      Now, If you were clever, you would realize that Economics is a social science that is close to a real science and Mathematical Economics requires Calculus.
      You also had to take 2 years of P.E. one semester team, one semester individual, one semester swimming and one whatever.

      • Oh, and Computer Science wasn’t a Science when William and Mary were monarchs of England. Fortran, Algol and APL were taught by the Math (and Physics for APL) Department and COBOL was taught by the School of Business.

  13. thephantom182

    “Meanwhile I sit there and wonder when the two got separated.”

    Probably right about the time people stopped having to make their own paints.

    • Feather Blade

      Just like domestic engineering got separated from chemistry when people no longer had to make their own soap and other cleaning solutions?

  14. It was said of the same lawyer that, ‘He plays the violin’ and that he wrote, ‘ten times better than any man in Congress.’ This man also invented a mechanical copier. He was an architect of some renown. He was an avid gardener, applying new scientific techniques and plant selection to better his produce. While he was particularly gifted in most of what he pursued, he was no where near as unusual for an educated gentleman of his time as we might think.

    There was a time that to be considered a well educated person meant you had not pursued a single field of interest, but were well rounded.

    • “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

      — John F. Kennedy, 29 April 1962, White House dinner honoring Western Hemisphere Nobel Prize winners.

      • John F. Kennedy and his writers were known for a witty turn of phrase, and Kennedy delivered them with style.

        The funny thing that — a recent analysis of the Presidents, looking at their writings and what was said about them, identified a different one of the Founders as the probably being the man with the highest IQ to have ever occupied the office: John Adams.

  15. Can’t draw, either, and just picked up a copy of the Brookes book to give it a try. Thanks for the tip!

    The old “you have to draw to succeed in several technical and scientific fields” requirement has sucked the life out of technical drawing (architecture, biology, geology, etc,)

    But it’s not quite that bleak… We’ve pretty well given up on relying on schools to teach us music, and pursue music independently. The connection between math types and music types is still very strong, to judge by my colleagues in my own ethnic fiddling niche. I think it’s up to the parents to push these “elective” fields outside of the ordinary classroom. That’s how we’ll keep the two practices conjoined.

    • Free Range Oyster

      I cannot think of any field where the ability to quickly and accurately put your ideas or observations down on paper would not be an advantage. In many it is an essential skill, but it’s always useful. I work in retail now – among other things – and I spent an hour or two today with composition principles (rule of thirds and golden ratio), a sketchbook, a camera rig, and GIMP putting together some materials we needed. Being able to draw your idea is the mental equivalent of a pocket knife: every functional adult should have basic proficiency (and yes, I’m only at the equivalent of “didn’t cut off his thumb” myself).

  16. My dad teaches physics and geophysics at a rather odd high school (they teach at the college level.) And the first step he repeats to his students in solving problems is “Draw a picture”. It doesn’t have to be a good picture, It just has to lay out the problem in a way you can see. There is much benefit to be had both ways.

    • That is a rather odd high school. These days it seems most colleges are teaching at High School level. (Except for deportment, which they seem to be teaching at a Kindergarten level.)

  17. Today it seems the classes in the arts are targeted at ‘Literary’ style pursuits. I treated and am still of the opinion that the HU/SS classes in UG were check mark classes. Social sciences tended to be less damaged than humanities but all about evaluating why the artist emotionally used cerulean blue vs navy and what that meant to the piece.

  18. The greatest artists, like the greatest singers, aren’t always the ones that leave the most enduring impressions. Those who know how to make it practical, and engage others, and those who don’t have enough talent so they really work and it and understand it better than the skilled ones, are the ones whose contributions last the longest. Then we claim they were the most talented, when they were the most persistent.

  19. My students probably get horribly tired of how much art and music I cram into my classes. Why? Because 1) I want to at least expose them to it once in their lives and 2) it makes the music people look at paintings and the visual arts people listen to music that’s new to them. And who knows, some of my interest might rub off.

    Science meets art – botanical illustrations. Scientific illustrations. I love paleontology books with hand-done illustrations, and those artists get paid a great deal for their skills. You have to know paleontology, physiology and anatomy, and usually a few other things as well. And be very good at drawing.

    • Just before economic issues forced me to drop out of U of A in ’10 I took a special class offered by the Astronomy department entitled “Astronomy and the Arts.”

      Basically it was an Art History class which studied the impact of astronomy on the arts. It’s also, sadly, the only course I took at Arizona in the late Oughts which required anything resembling a research paper. We had to write a paper on how astronomy affected some art, and then give a PowerPoint presentation to the class on the paper. The instructor warned us that he didn’t think we’d be able to do anything regarding film; so as a natural contrarian my paper was titled “Disarming Stars: the use of Astronomy as a character development tool in Romantic Comedy Film.”

      • Did you have a field trip to Kitt PeaK?

      • my paper was titled ‘Disarming Stars: the use of Astronomy as a character development tool in Romantic Comedy Film.’

        In the romantic comedy Remember Sunday, Zachary “Chuck” Levi played a former astronomer …

        A lonely, down-on-her-luck waitress meets a handsome, quirky jewelry store clerk and thinks that maybe, finally, she’s met Mr. Right. The more Molly (Alexis Bledel) gets to know Gus (Zachary Levi), the more she’s intrigued by him. But she’s also mystified. Gus is absent-minded, preoccupied. Is he hiding something? The short answer is: yes. He’s reluctant to share with her that since suffering a brain aneurysm, he’s totally lost his short-term memory. Every day is a brand new day, his life starts anew. Every day he sees Molly he struggles to remember who she is and what she represents. Every day, he has to fall in love with her all over again.

        A sweet, cute film with nice performances by Levi and Bledel (Gilmore Girls.) Before his aneurysm he was a brilliant astronomy student, and part of the story arc revolves about his love of the night skies.

        • Should have sought for this before posting:

          “Gus Gillenwater (ZACHARY LEVI) was a brilliant young astrophysicist, until a brain aneurysm robbed him of short-term memory. Every day is a brand new day for Gus — and a brand new day for his budding relationship with the woman he loves, Molly (ALEXIS BLEDEL).”

          Demonstrates how astronomy works into the love story.

        • Oooh. I have never heard of this film! I *adore* Zachary Levi!!

          • It is a very enjoyable film, for a Hallmark Romantic-Comedy. I discovered it while scrolling through the Hallmark channel one day, spotting Levi and saying “Wot’s this!?” After seeing a bit of the middle of the movie, I looked it up in IMDb and tracked it down. Beloved Spouse and I both enjoyed, although I admit we can be somewhat forgiving when we like an actor — and set low expectations for plot in a RomCom. Levi and Bedel are both quite good.

            I understand Hallmark sells DVDs of their movies in their stores as well as through Amazon. As a result it is a bit high-priced for a DVD. Whether it is worth the price is up to you, but if it turns up on Broadcast you probably would want to catch it.

  20. Hey something I have a lot of experience with! I’m currently a science teacher and in a lot of schools there’s currently a big push for “STEAM” classes alongside the usual STEM lineup that typically consists of design challenges and engineering problems. The “A” in STEAM is “arts” and those projects typically give kids a creative goal and then they learn engineering practices or other STEM concepts to build their idea. It’s pretty cool when handled correctly.

    Secondly, while getting my MA in Science Education we were required to read a book by C.P Snow (really a collection of two lectures he had given transcribed) called “Two Cultures” where he described the problem of an increasing gulf in the vocabulary and philosophies of the sciencey people and the artsy humanities people. Now granted this was back in the 50’s and he was one of those silly intellectuals who was convinced that the Soviets’ central planning pushing quotas of students into specific engineering and science fields would leave the West in the dust, but there is some truth to that. Both tracks are intensive and it’s tough to handle both sides as serious endeavors. I think part of the problem is that we’ve taught kids that if you’re passionate about something you should want to turn it into a career. Which is true in many cases! But there’s nothing wrong with having one job and then doing something else as a hobby. I mean goodness look at how many aspiring authors here have completely different day jobs. Look at how many PUBLISHED authors we admire have completely different day jobs, or started writing when they were in those different career fields. Like the Soviets we’ve tried to shuttle kids into specialties hoping it’s something they’ll want to do for the rest of their lives, then they spend the rest of their lives trying to find it through endless rounds of college degrees.

    As for me, I majored in Biology as an undergrad, but my minor is in Religious Studies.

    At one interview for a teaching position, the administrator took a look at my transcript and said “Well you must be Catholic.” (She was right).

  21. So many other things and her mom lives, we have all been pushed to being specialists rather than generalists. I guess the point is that it’s hard to find (or train up) an individual who can do all things well, so instead we find people with strings in various areas and hope that they will collaborate, like some sort of gestalt creature.

  22. I just read a law student’s post, about how his Harry Potter fanfic had been affected by his History of Law course. He had just included a reference to the Twelve Tables of Roman law.

    Then, in the comments, somebody else mentioned the Code of Hammurabi. And the law student said that was too obscure, and that nobody who wasn’t studying to become a lawyer would ever have heard of such a thing.

    Personally, I thought that any sixth grader would know about the Code of Hammurabi, and put Hammy in the standard list of lawgivers along with Moses and Lycurgus and so on. That’s general knowledge, not anything obscure. Why would it be obscure to a law student?

    • Why would it be obscure to a law student?

      Because Law Students typically get their skirts blown full of smoke about how they are the smartest, best-educated of their generation, entitled, nay, obligated, to rule. At least so a friend told us they were told when going through 1L at Chapel Hill’s Law School.

      Typical ignorance of those who think “If I don’t know a thing, surely those others do not know of it.”

  23. Art has that weird abstract modern postmodern thing going on, where the Artist doesn’t have to be technically competent to be an establishment darling. Liturature has the same problem. Music has a great advantage in being ephemeral, as does theater. It’s not enough to be able to write something on paper, it has to be performable, and only one composer can pull a Cage, and only once. As a musician, you have to be technically competent. So while you get History of Music, for four semesters, Theory and Aural Skills have to be about chords and modes and cadences and how they all fit together. Eight semesters of lessons have to be technique. Orchestra, band, choir, small ensembles, opera workshop, all these require technical competence. There’s simply no way around the technical focus there.
    The composer may have done something weird, but either the musician can play it or he can’t. If it’s can’t, he’s out of a job.
    Freakin’ Tschaikowski and his nasty sixteenth notes. I need to practice. (Romeo and Juliet Overature.)

    • Two words: Atonal Music. (My sister in law got her undergrad in music and that was where the SJZs went. Because it wasn’t mundane and understandable. I had the misfortune of sitting through some of it… it also usually sounded like the performers were making mistakes because the chords never resolved.)

  24. ” The first day of a semester, I’ve learned after 4 years of this, is usually sitting in classrooms having a syllabus read to us.”

    This is unfortunately true for a couple of reasons.
    1) sometimes the instructor is behind in prepping the course and decides to chew up the first class time going over the syllabus.

    2) Many students today (traditional and non-traditional) don’t bother to read anything in detail. They’ve been conditioned by the “learning styles” viewpoint that it’s okay to skip the yucky reading style of learning information if they prefer more visual styles. Textbook? Syllabus? Why read that…?! Since the syllabus is the course contract with the instructor, some instructors will at least hit the highlights to limit the “but I didn’t know that….” and “Hi, can I ___________ ” syndrome.

    Sadly, it can be very boring to the organized students that already did their first day “homework”. Good luck in your class.

  25. I saw some people putting down Business classes. 🙂
    I’m a software engineer but I have to say that the one semester class of Business Law I took has been super useful in all kinds of ways. Reading contracts, looking for gotchas in software licensing, knowing little things about corporations, powers of agents, business partnerships, fiduciary duties, etc.
    And while I haven’t done it, there are many software people who do business start-ups or go into independent contracting who really need to know how business works.

    And some made fun of Journalism. 🙂
    Writing well is one of the very important things that a scientist or engineer needs to do. Communicating your ideas to other people in convincing and accurate ways is the only way to get things done unless you work alone.

    • You won’t see me making fun of Business – I have successfully run two businesses, one for 15 years, and the other for four years now. Understanding how business works is vital to success, IMO.

      Putting down Journalism in the modern interpretation of it (especially the college classes) is not the same as putting down writers. Many of us here (besides our lovely hostess) are writers. I have written fiction and non-fiction for years and have taken classes in business and technical writing. You are quite correct about communication – but that is not what Journalism teaches.

      • Sure, you have to understand how to make a business work to be successful at it. But does that have anything to do with Business school courses? My experience around high tech is that in general you don’t find that in people’s background, and there is no evidence that it’s a problem.
        It feels a bit like the academic field of “education”, which seems to have little or nothing to do with teaching and doesn’t help people be good teachers.

  26. I some times think that the way education has been seperated into discrete compartments comes down to the Intellectual Class’s desperate need to feel special. That they have deliberately made art and literature and so forth mysterious and difficult to understand in order to keep out the Unwashd, amd make sure that only the Initiated enter the Lodge.

    They do seem to delight in making the simple mysterious.