Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Science--Another Type of Art?

ekim's picture

Science is a body of facts. From fifth grade Science to senior year AP Biology, teachers teach students exactly this. Students see science as a procedure with distinct boundaries between what is right and wrong (1). Science experiments had to meet certain expectations and create the "right" results. Science was all about structure.

But what is "right" anyway?

It is white-lab-coated people looking through microscopes for hours, pen and clipboard in hand, calculator in the other, and more white-lab-coated people watching chemicals drip through test tubes at a drop per hour. "Right" is Francis Bacons' scientific method: first, the hypothesis using the "if...then..." form; second, the experiment with observation charts filled with cm and mm and other such measurements; third, the conclusion. Science was always right.

I say otherwise. Science is not all about structure nor is it ever right.

I say, science is a type of art.

But what is art?

It is colors on canvas, pencil marks on paper, construction with clay, capturing moments on camera. It is the human hand and mind at work. It is an expression, an exploration, and an investigation (2). Art is what makes science, science.

Science does not deal with the right, it deals with the less wrong. It is unfolding stories based on what is seen.

This "un-truth" quality of science is a calling from art. Art is never right nor wrong. Art tells stories based on what the artist sees. Van Gogh sees rough, yellow, speckled sunflowers sitting in a vase, Ariane sees smooth, red, unblemished roses sitting in a vase (3).

Art is the foundation of clashing perspectives, reflected in changing styles: Straight Photography versus Pictorial Photography, Impressionism versus Expressionism, and so forth.
Could the same not be said about science? If not, then why are there scientific controversies? One word: perspectives. Darwin says evolution, Christians say God's creation.

Differing perspectives is another quality that art bestowed upon science because of the world's constantly changing ways. Art changes with time, and so does science; hence, the artistic styles and the scientific controversies.

Thus, with perspectives comes differences, and in between the two is subjectivity. Subjectivity allows for one's personal life to come into play in whatever matter. And art happens to be the master of subjectivity.
Is art not an expression of emotions? Is it not a piece of the artist's mind? Is it not the artist's interpretation of the world? If it were not, how else would the Monets, the Van Goghs, the Picassos exist? Their works of art were purely their ways of observation. These observations resulted in differences because they were influenced by their cultural backgrounds, personal experiences, and individual creativity.
The same goes for science. No matter what the white-lab-coated people may write down "objectively", science is full of subjectivity. Experiments are done, observations are made, interpretations are considered, and then stories are told of what may be less wrong. There is Darwin's version of the story of life, and the Christians' version of the story of life. If subjectivity did not influence science, then how could there be different stories? Thus, as in art, people's cultural backgrounds, personal experiences, and individual creativity (4) influence the interpretation of observations.

This trait of subjectivity co-exists with exploration. If it were not for the influences of one's own opinions, then art would have stopped at stick figures. The hunger to represent one's own observations is what triggers artistic exploration. Were it not for Talbot's hunger to show off photography's "boundless powers of natural chemistry in the space of few seconds," Cartier-Bresson would not have explored the possibilities of capturing moments on the streets of Paris (5).

Thus, with subjectivity comes exploration, which means with science's subjectivity also comes scientific exploration. Were it not for the hunger to see space, Neil Armstrong would not have said, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind" in 1969 as he walked on Earth's Moon (6). The need to explore is just as much as in science as it is in art.

In a way, science is self-reflexively depicted in art. The science of life is expressed in the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School of 19th century American painters; the science of mechanics in architectural photographs from the Mission Héliographique of 19th century Paris; and the science of history and progress in the flight-study sketches by Leonardo da Vinci from the Renaissance.

If art did not have perspectives, then science would have one story. If art were not subjective, then science would be a set of irrefutable facts. If art had no need to explore, then science would be at a standstill. Where would science be without art?

Thus, let it be known, science is a work of art.

(1) "Week One: What is Science? Life?" Online postings. 2-11 Sept.
2007. Serendip. 22 Sept. 2007.

(2) Eskridge, Robert. "The Enduring Relationship of Science and Art."
The Art Institute of Chicago. 7 Jan. 2003.

(3) Berends-Brouwer, Ariane. "Still-Life." Ariane-Fine-Art. 12 July
2007. <>

(4) Grobstein, Paul. "Science and Life." Park Science, Bryn Mawr. 5
Sept. 2007

(5) Talbot, William Henry Fox. "Some Account of the Art of Photogenic
Drawing." Photography: Essays and Images, Illustrated Readings
in the History of Photography. Ed. Beaumont Newhall. New York:
The Museum of Modern Art. 23-31.

(6) Dr. White, Nicholas E. Jonathan. "Neil Armstrong." Astrophysics
Science Division at NASA. 24 Sept. 2007.


Paul Grobstein's picture

science and art

Complementary things ... or the same thing? How come so many people identify with one and not the other? If either is just exploration, how does one distinguish between good and bad art ... between good and bad science?