The Symbiotic Relationship between Art and Science

Emily Maranga

Both science and art have a goal of understanding the world. This goal can vary between comprehending something as small as the anatomy of an ant or something as big as the theory of evolution. Scientists and artists pay extra close attention to the world around them in order to gain experience and knowledge. The first step of the scientific method is for the scientist to observe. Similarly, an artist must observe their surroundings to draw inspiration for a piece. Art can be utilized within the field of science to inspire a scientist to think from a different perspective. As such, creativity can be a useful tool in problem solving. 

The relationship between art and science has been seen all throughout history. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci studied many different fields of science including anatomy, paleontology, and botany. He was also an artist that practiced drawing, sculpting, and painting. By combining these seemingly different interests, he was able to create genius inventions. His ornithopter was a flying device that closely resembled the wings of a bird or bat. Da Vinci likely drew inspiration and knowledge from his surroundings to create this mechanical device. Similarly, Carl Linnaeus who was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician, also combined science and art to create amazing works. He is credited with creating the system to name organisms, binomial nomenclature, and wrote and published several volumes of work classifying animals, plants, and minerals. The first and most well known was Systema Naturae

Today, there are many environmental issues that we face including climate change and human population growth. Varied solutions must be created to counteract the negative consequences. Since these problems are new to us, interdisciplinary solutions are needed to come up with possible remedies. All over the world, scientists and artists are designing innovative and creative ways to educate about and contribute to solutions. One major negative impact of climate change is the inability for animals to adapt quickly enough to the changing environmental conditions. In Chitwan National Park in Nepal, for example, the increased rainfall and flooding due to climate change is causing rhinos to be susceptible to drowning. The World Wildlife Fund built soil mounds in their habitats to give the rhinos places to go when the water levels rise. Another consequence of climate change is increased sea levels. In Times Square in New York City, an artist from Texas named Mel Chin designed an app that allows users to view the city through an augmented reality that shows what it would look like after the sea levels rise. You can look through your phone and see boats floating above you through Times Square. The goal of this app is to show and educate users about what the future will be like if we continue with “business as usual.”

When it comes to human population growth, a significant consequence is waste in the form of litter, specifically in the oceans. Boyan Slat, a young inventor from the Netherlands, used his creative skills and scientific knowledge to come up with an idea for a device that can clean up litter in oceans. The original concept resembled a manta ray and had floating nets that would collect the waste. The goal is to remove 50% of the trash from the Great Pacific Garbage patch in only five years. 

In my own life, I have utilized my skills in art and science to help me problem solve and create. As an environmental science major, I often have to think about new approaches to modern issues. For instance, one project that I worked on involved designing a sustainable home using green materials to cut down on energy used for heating and cooling. I combined my knowledge of environmental science and my design skills from art to come up with something that was practical and aesthetically pleasing. I am also a painter and often use living things as my subjects. A few paintings of humans that I made required me to observe and learn about human anatomy to be able to complete something that correctly represented what was in my mind. I followed the same steps for any paintings that I did of animals, such as the two below of a parrot and a fly.

My background knowledge of biology and environmental science allows me to more accurately share my observations, however the relationship goes both ways. My ability to think creatively and use art in my science projects creates a new perspective when delving into unsolved problems. We can keep in mind the contribution of both approaches: scientific and artistic, knowing that together the “sum is greater than its parts.” In these current times, both are necessary in order to gain greater perspective and understanding of the world around us, which in turn may help foster the creativity to conjure solutions to some of the world’s concerning environmental issues. 

Sources: Encyclopædia Britannica, Forbes, The New York Times, The Ocean Cleanup, Wikipedia, World Wildlife Fund