STEM TO STEAM

via the Guardian on November 13, 2010 | image by Creative Mornings


Why does science need artists?

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.

So to help them become more humanist, you’d parachute artists and musicians into laboratories?

Which already happens to some degree with artist-in-residence programmes in scientific labs. They’re usually very small, but these programmes are seen as quite desirable by scientists. Because all scientists are humans, and they are humanists inside, and by bringing that part out, innovation happens more naturally.

Can you think of an example where an injection of the arts has helped the sciences?

I recently saw something in Time magazine, a famous Nobel laureate chemist making molecular models out of clay. It shows how these more fluid, abstract materials traditionally belonging to the artist lend themselves better to ways of thinking about the world, as opposed to some kind of ball-and-stick model that shows a constrained view. Art helps you see things in a less constrained space. Our economy is built upon convergent thinkers, people that execute things, get them done. But artists and designers are divergent thinkers: they expand the horizon of possibilities. Superior innovation comes from bringing divergents (the artists and designers) and convergents (science and engineering) together.

Such as?

Look at Apple’s iPod. A perfect example of technology – an MP3 player – that existed for a long time but that nobody ever wanted, until design made it something desirable, useful, integrated into your lifestyle. Look at the success of Mint.com [a colourful money-management website] which has recently been sold. It’s an app in which 80% of the experience is what you see, how you touch it. Not the technology. I’m also interested in how art and design links into leadership. Because leaders now are facing a very chaotic landscape, things are no longer black and white, things are harder to predict. What better mindset to adopt than the artist’s, who is very used to living in an ambiguous space? Real innovation doesn’t just come from technology, it comes from places like art and design.

George Osborne recently announced protection in the higher-education cuts for the so-called Stem subjects, but not the arts. Is this blinkered?

You know, it’s easy for politicians to look at the measurability of a science and maths education. I mean, fill out 100 questions, you get 100 right or 50 right or zero right, it’s easy to measure. There’s no test that can give you a score from zero to 100 on the question, “Is this student a good writer?” And society’s so focused on measurement. It’s awkward and sad. Singapore or Japan are highly known test-taking countries focused on science and engineering, yet are desperate to find innovation. And where are they looking? They’re looking to the west for new ideas. It’s kind of like a dog chasing after its tail a little bit – this weeding out of the idea that expression, something that exists in the intuition space, can matter. I mean, it’s ironic that the people who talk about these kind of things [cuts to the arts] are all counting on things to carry their message – like images, the written word – as givens.

Do you think that scientists tend to lack humanity?

Scientists would say otherwise. But scientists strive to be pure, to live in what’s called a “concept space”. And by doing so they tend to move away from the core humanist principles that actually put those two arms and legs on them in the first place. The best scientists that I’ve met are those that are humanists and scientists at the same time.


https://twitter.com/HelpingCastle/status/1088533386468184066?s=20

Your Life In 2020

Written in 2010 when asked by Forbes about what 2020 might be like …


The future of “ubiquitous computing” has been heralded for decades. It sounds grandiose–computing, everywhere!–but ironically, a future of ubiquitous computing is one where computers actually go unnoticed. That’s 2020. It is when Nicholas Negroponte’s assertion in 1995 of “being digital” switches to “been digital” because we will have been there and done that. Kids who have grown up stealing free views of recent movie releases online or regularly chatting with a friend in Bangalore or Atlanta will be working adults in a world where the notion of “work” has changed because of digital technology. But it’s no longer “technology” in 2020 anymore–it’s just how we get things done.

Continue reading “Your Life In 2020”

Why Business Leaders Should Act More like Artists

Perhaps the reason why artists collaborate and socialize so well is that they learn in the studio model

by John Maeda / December 1, 2009 

for HBS

Stereotypes abound about artists: they range from the mild (“they have fuschia-colored hair”), to the absurd (“they starve,”), to the disturbed (“they do things like uncontrollably peeing in the fireplace as depicted in the popular movie Pollock.”). Granted I know artists with wild-colored hair and others who are certainly struggling to make ends meet, but they all choose to use the restroom. I’ve also met artists who are quite plain-looking and plain-acting CEOs, lawyers, stockbrokers, and scientists.

Continue reading “Why Business Leaders Should Act More like Artists”

The South Face of the Mountain

Powerful and inspired computer art requires a melding of the aesthetic and engineering sensibilities in the same person

by John Maeda /  July 1, 1998 

for Technology Review

In Japan, a miyadaiku (a carpenter trained in the ancient art of Japanese temple carpentry) attains special status from the Emperor if the temple he builds stands for more than a thousand years. “Such temples,” said one of the last miyadaiku, the late Tsunekazu Nishioka, “stand not because of the magnificence of their design, but because the miyadaiku goes to the mountain, and selects trees from the south face of the mountain to be used for the south face of the temple, trees from the west face of the mountain for the west face of the temple, and so on for the other two sides.” Because the building materials are carefully selected in order to respect the laws of nature, the temple can coexist in harmony with nature. Both the extrinsic and intrinsic qualities of the temple radiate its overall strength and beauty.

Continue reading “The South Face of the Mountain”