Art for the A

Hey there, Karen Romano Young here, guest writing on Sarah’s blog.

You already know me: I’m the artist who did the drawing of Hercules (the ROV submersible) in Sarah’s recent post about STEAM. You know, science, tech, engineering, ART, and math.  Lots of people casually omit the A and just call it STEM, as if anyone would have any idea what was going on in science, technology, engineering or math without some kind of art.

Any kind of art, in fact. Every kind of art. Photography. Videography. Diagrams. Drawings. Design. Colorful paintings, animations, collages. Sculpture. Cartoons. And writing. WRITING! Dramatizations. Music. And even dance. Just try showing what you’re doing in STEM without one or more of these.  Try learning any kind of STEM without them. Try teaching without them.  You can’t. Not possible. And why would you want to?

Imagine, instead, that you opened up completely to using art to convey STEM topics.  But wait, you say, I can’t draw. I can’t sing. I hate writing, it’s too hard. And I don’t care.  Don’t worry, you’re in luck. Because the world is awash in people who can do and do care. STEM topics light people like me up. Here’s why:

1. I know that the key to engagement is story and image. If I follow the most dry, dull, stupid-seeming subject far enough, I know that I’ll uncover some kind of tail or picture. I’ve learned to keep going until I do.  I’ve stopped jumping out of my chair and yelling hooray when I do — because I’m no longer surprised.

2. Yeah, but sometimes I have a job to do: a diagram to sketch, or a report to write, or a powerpoint to build. So I’ll just start, or try to start, even if I have to drag myself to the desk. I’ll begin — and then I’ll get stuck. I’ll write a couple points or steps or begin drawing, and I’ll realize that I have to stop, because I don’t know what I’m talking about or how something should look.

If you’re a scientist, you’ll recognize that moment. It’s the moment when you realize what you don’t know. You narrow down the question, focus your energy, and step off the edge from the known to the unknown.  You go and find out as much as you need to move forward, and continue until you find the next question.  And guess what — if you apply the arts to your science, you’re going to learn more about your topic and how to communicate it. Art starts with an A, but maybe getting an A starts with arts!

What if the secret to success — in STEM and any area of life — isn’t being perfect, but knowing where the problem lies?  As an artist who loves science, technology, engineering, and math — and finds them enormously inspiring — I find that all the fun is found in the warm friction of befuddlement.

So I’m puzzled by educators and scientists and others who draw the line at STEM, as if including the arts was like letting bats into your high school study hall.  But is it really a problem? Imagine what it might be like! Kids would look up in shock, noting the corners and edges of the room in a new way, envisioning the room as it might appear to the bats, and watching each other react. It might be illuminating. It might be refreshing. It might demand a solution. It might teach everybody something about themselves.

Then again, that’s just an image I dreamed up. It’s just some words I wrote. It’ll be easy for you to stop thinking about, won’t it?

Image credit in banner: Port Lobster, KRY


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