By Mehar Bhasin and Pahal Bhasin
U.S., which topped the first Bloomberg Innovation Index in 2013 was ranked 11th in 2021. National Science Board 2020 report on the State of U.S. Science & Engineering share that where once the U.S. was the uncontested leader in science and engineering, the United States is playing a less dominant role in many areas of STEM. The United States has seen its relative share of global Science & Engineering activity flatten or shrink. We need to realize that scientific and technological skills are not the only forces driving innovation. Creativity plays a major role in the innovation process, and the integration of the arts (with STEM) is an essential component within research and innovation.
Art plays a critical role in driving innovation; it underlines the importance of diversity, individual expression and creative powers of each human being. As the design proverb goes, “we spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.” Dr. Kitty Yeung (a Physicist with PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard) is also an artist and fashion designer and is interested in products that integrate science and the arts. She emphasizes “People in different fields need to understand each other more. The problems in our society are caused by silos. If we communicate and build empathy, many of the problems can be resolved. Being interdisciplinary and making connections between the arts and sciences is a way towards that.”
The idea that innovation resides where art and science connect is not new. Leonardo da Vinci was the exemplar, and his drawing of the Vitruvian Man became the symbol of the creativity that flourishes when the humanities and sciences interact. When Einstein got stymied while working out General Relativity, he would pull out his violin and play Mozart until he could reconnect to what he called the harmony of the spheres.
In the digital age too, the most creative innovations came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences. They believed that beauty mattered. “I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs told his biographer Professor Walter Isaacson. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” Steve Jobs reinforced the vital role of arts when unveiling the iPad; he said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”
Google, similarly, implements artist residencies at the heart of their design work: they have a small lab that brings together artists who collaborate with them, as well as workshops. Google creates open lectures for semi-professional audiences (innovation specialists, designers): scientists, engineers and artists gathered to discuss topics such as big data or virtual reality. Further, the automotive industry, which has long been reduced to incremental innovation, is now at the heart of several breakthrough innovations, and the collaboration with artists helps imagine the world of tomorrow.
There are a couple of ways in which artistic thinking is linked into processes of innovation. Scientists with artistic orientation have attitudes and skills that are conducive to innovation. Also, they demonstrate the traits of lifelong learners, and for them learning is essentially a process of discovery, aided, but not directed, by experts.
Progress does not come from technology alone but from the melding of technology and creative thinking through art. If the United States wants to remain a global competitor, it will be crucial to foster creative thinking and practice in its middle school and high school curriculum by integrating STEM with Arts. Robert Root-Burnstein’s 2012 study of scientific Nobel laureates demonstrated that most all of the scientific geniuses between 1902 and 2005 were proficient in not just science but also the arts! There cannot be more compelling evidence than that.
To conclude, innovation is every bit an art as it is a science because it takes those magical moments of creativity that you later can’t explain to your colleagues as well as bullet-proof methodologies and ideation processes. Human creativity involves values, intentions, aesthetic judgments, social emotions, and personal consciousness. These are what the arts and humanities teach us – and why those realms are as valuable a part of education as STEM. Arts surely plays a big role in empowering the creative solutions to scientific problems and driving innovation.
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Kate Oakley, K., Sperry, B., and Pratt, A. “How fine arts graduates contribute to innovation”, Sep. 2008
Land, M. “Full STEAM Ahead: The Benefits of Integrating the Arts Into STEM” Procedia Computer Science 20, 2013
Root-Bernstein, R. "Arts Foster Scientific Success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi Members." Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, Nov. 2008.