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The common thread between science and art: creativity


Blog originally posted on The GLOBE Scientists' Blog: http://blog.globe.gov/sciblog/2012/12/12/the-common-thread-between-science-and-art-creativity/

When you examine a seashell, a crystal, the skin of a snake or the wings of a butterfly, what do you think about?  Art?  Science? Or the obvious connection between the two?  At the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, CA last week, thousands of scientists, including myself, found ourselves examining the intersection of science and art through a wide variety of presentations and discussions.

My week began on Sunday evening in a special film preview of Chasing Ice, a documentary about photographer James Balog’s quest to photographically capture the rapid retreat of several Arctic glaciers.  Mr. Balog is a scientist by training and a world-renowned photographer acclaimed for his ability to capture the human element of nature on film (or SD card in this day and age).  The film is helping communicate how climate change is real and its effects are happening now, in our lifetime, as opposed to in the past or future. The music and imagery in the film definitely revitalizes your emotional connection to our planet and beckons you to action.

On Monday, I attended the AGU Presidential Forum presentation by Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday, a popular radio program on National Public Radio (NPR) aimed at discussing current topics in science.  One part of his presentation featured a recent science and art project sponsored by Science Friday, in which they collected photos of leaves taken by fans of the program and compiled them into a colorful collage of autumn at its finest.  Later that evening, AGU hosted an Open Mic Night.  This event was full of brave AGU attendees singing, rapping, storytelling, and sharing poetry that each individual had written themselves.  Those performances clearly illustrated how the intersection of science and art can yield spectacular displays of genuine creativity.

Mini-collage of leaf photographs compiled by Science Friday (obtained from their Flickr site)

Mini-collage of leaf photographs compiled by Science Friday (obtained from their Flickr site)

In The GLOBE Program, we also value and encourage students to stimulate their creativity by connecting art and science.  One recent example is our GLOBE Calendar Art Competition, where students from all over the world created artistic expressions of their climate.  These beautiful works of art are now featured in a 2013 calendar for us to enjoy all year long.  I participated in this competition as a judge, and I was particularly impressed by the wide range of imaginative entries that we received.  From hand-drawn cartoons to oil paintings of beautiful local landscapes, I saw evidence that creative juices are flowing vigorously in the minds of our young GLOBE scientists.

Collage of art submissions depicting climate-related topics for the GLOBE 2012 Calendar Art Competition

Collage of art submissions depicting climate-related topics for the GLOBE 2013 Calendar Art Competition

As a person who once considered college majors from music to meteorology myself (with meteorology winning out), I have always felt that the best scientists are also great artists.  And I also believe that all people are inherent scientists.  This may be best illustrated by my young toddler who conducts scientific experiments in our home everyday.  My son’s favorite experiments are often with gravity; he loves to drop things, watch as they fall, and then ask for me to fetch them.  (He also likes to test the repeatability of these experiments.)  In GLOBE, we encourage students to conduct inquiry-based learning projects; tapping this inherent curiosity to bring out their inner scientist.

Artwork by GLOBE scientist and artist, Dr. Graeme Stephens, Principal Investigator of the NASA CloudSat mission. GLOBE cloud observations are used by the CloudSat team to provide ground truth data for the satellite.

Artwork by GLOBE scientist and artist, Dr. Graeme Stephens, Principal Investigator of the NASA CloudSat mission. GLOBE cloud observations are used by the CloudSat team to provide ground truth data for the satellite.

It is my belief that the artistic mindset is what helps propel science toward new discoveries and innovations.  Scientists use creativity to approach problems in a new way; and without this key ability our scientific fields would stagnate.  Thus, science and art, which are often considered to be on two opposite ends of the spectrum (or sides of the brain), are actually the perfect and requisite complement to each other thanks to that common thread of creativity.

Suggested activity: Tap into your creativity and illustrate your observations of the Earth with art, music, stories, or poetry and share them with us on our GLOBE Facebook Page or have your teacher submit it through the "Tell Us About It" link on their My Page on the GLOBE website.  Also, stay tuned for future science and art competitions sponsored by GLOBE, such as the next Earth Day Video Competition (see last year's competition here)

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