Are You An Artist Or A Scientist?

Brad Shorr recently asked his readers if they considered themselves more marketing scientist or marketing artist. This idea of ‘artist vs scientist’ runs deep today and has implications for  education and innovation regardless of what profession we are discussing.  The first note I have of this cultural divide being discussed as a critical issue to be dealt with is by C.P. Snow, Cambridge:

“Literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all a lack of understanding.  They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can’t find much common ground.”  (The Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution, The Rede Lecture, 1959 by C.P. Snow)

To me, the difference between artist and scientist is one of modes – or ways of thinking – in addition to underlying knowledge. Our education system forces decisions between the artistic and scientific early on. Declaring their difference. Daring you to cross between what appears to be a large cultural divide.

This is a false dichotomy. A fool’s choice. Never leave home with half a toolbox. Embrace the duality!

There are strong reasons to rethink how we look at the connections of art and science. The creative process depends on it. One of my biggest challenges in teaching undergrads has been to remind them of their own inner creativity-regardless of their focus.

Snow picks on the literary and physical sciences world intentionally.  I don’t think you’ll find two areas that view the world so differently. Their objectives are different. What they measure is different.

This is a natural outgrowth of focus. Disciplines develop what is a language of their own to describe the subjects and activities of interest.  Modes of thinking. It highlights their difference. It makes communication difficult. Understanding disagreeable.

“But at the heart of thought and creation we are letting some of our best chances go by default.  The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures—of two galaxies, so far as that goes—ought to produce creative chances. In the history of mental activity that has been where some of the breakthroughs came. The chances are there now. But they are there, as it were, in a vacuum, because those int he two cultures can’t talk to each other.”  (The Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution, The Rede Lecture, 1959 by C.P. Snow)

It’s the difference that can create insight. Not uniformity.

So in answer to Brad’s query – are you marketing scientist or artists – I like to think of myself as both. Building the strength of both approaches I work to discover the insight and the change that will shake things up. (He’s running a science experiment at the moment – click here to figure out how to participate.)

As I was doing a bit of research I came across an Australian band: Art Vs. Science. Sorry, but I simply can’t pass up the chance to add battling mimes into the discussion…

What do you think?

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10 Responses to Are You An Artist Or A Scientist?

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Fred, Great post – I’m glad mine prompted you to examine this much bigger picture. I agree wholeheartedly that the dichotomy between science and art is a false one. Most of us lean one way or the other in our temperaments, but we need to be open to a holistic view. Our experiment is a good example. This is definitely an exercise in number crunching, but as you will see when we publish our findings, there is quite a bit of art involved in what we are actually trying to measure, and more important, why the measurements are useful.

  2. Bill Welter says:

    I totally agree with your “false choice” comment. I’ve been running workshops on critical and strategic thinking for the past eight years and, as part of the workshop, I ask attendees if they have a great imagination. I typically get less than 10% of the people who say they have a good imagination. Then I ask them to think back to when they were 9 years — I ask then if they ever played with a large cardboard box. Nearly everyone has a story about a “fort” or a “spaceship” or a “house” or a “ship.”
    Imagination is at the heart of great strategy — we need to reconnect with the 9 year old kid living in the back of our head.

  3. I’m always finding inspiration over at Wordsell, Brad. Great artists appreciate useful measurement and great scientists appreciate elegant, artistic insight. I think we just avoid giving credit…

  4. Gordon MacKenzie used to talk about this in his work on Creativity. Kindergartners all thought they were creative yet few 8th graders kept that feeling. When I asked my entrepreneurial students last semester, about a third raised their hands. Your 10% continues the trend line. Glad you’re re-awakening that creative spirit!

  5. Deb Brown says:

    Fred –
    First of all – the mime video was excellent! Parlez vous Francais?

    I am a writer. I never considered myself an artist until just recently. I was talking to the Iowa Cultural Affairs people and they said they had grants for artists, and that includes writers. Hmmmm – who knew?

    I think how we go about our every day to day helps determine whether we are artistic, scientific or both. I’ve found that I simply must write, and that its a scientific process for me. Now I’m looking at the idea that maybe what I do really is creative and artistic as well.

    How are we teaching our students? I was taught writing is a process and some people follow the path better than others. What if I had been taught that the science of writing is also an expression of art?

    Thanks for making me think today! (and for the video)

  6. Kay Plantes says:

    With news that IBM’s computer won the Jeopardy match and a scientist arguing in the Wall Street Journal that in seven years the cloud will have that winning computer’s power available to all of us….we should be so lucky as to have a job! In any case, it’s a both and. I do think that scientists tend to be more sensing — seeing detail with artists more intuitive, but the great ones are both and. More important, both groups needs to understand the methods of each side as there is much to learn from tools boxes of other talents as they can be adapted to fit your own sandbox.

  7. Thank you, Fred.

    As a science trained commercial guy who is now emerging as a contemporary artist, I agree with you that it’s about modes of thinking. I find that they can be turned on and off or combined at will.


    Robin 🙂

  8. Hi Deb, Funny how even in the creative world there are divisions. Glad you liked the video!

  9. “…the great ones are both…” Couldn’t agree more.

  10. Hi Robin, I like that idea of ‘on-off-combined at will’. Glad this struck a chord.

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