I believe that art and science are really two faces of the same coin. I believe that there is such a thing as the art of good science and that there is a science behind great art, and therefore, that they are not dichotomous. I do not think that science should or can explain the beauty of what is accepted as great art or vice versa. However, the two do exist in a sense symbiotically, and for me, acknowledging this coexistence has led to my appreciating art and science at a level that is not achieved by looking at either of them in isolation.
I am an engineer by training and thus practice a science that by definition needs to be grounded in reality. At the heart of the philosophy of engineering lies the concept of design; design that places function before form. Examples from civil engineering and architecture immediately come to mind. Two of feats of architecture, the arch and the dome, were also extremely sound civil engineering concepts. The nature of load distribution that was achieved made it possible to have structures of the scale that were not achieved before. The impact of this combination is at once striking. The terms beauty and majesty are used together to express what one feels when they look at the Taj Mahal.
I have come to experience this at a more intimate level as I have been pursuing an interest in photography. Photography today is a digital affair. The modern darkroom is Adobe Photoshop or some such similar image processing software. As a part of my thesis for a Master’s degree in electrical engineering, I was working on medical imaging. My work specifically involved processing a series of two dimensional images of the heart to reconstruct a three-dimensional representation of it. In order to do this I was also writing software that implemented features like intelligent contrast enhancements. This piqued my curiosity regarding how photographs of high artistic quality, even by digital standards, were achieved during the days of film. I started reading blogs posted by people who felt that film was not a dead medium and how one can go about setting up one’s own darkroom. As I got engrossed in reading about the science that was involved, the physics of light and photochemistry as a science of its own right, it lead to a different perspective one that did not require me to trade off one for the sake of the other – I was enjoying the art of science and the science of art together. There were also those articles, written by skilled photographers, which derided others’ passion for the science behind their artistic pursuit – and accused them of sacrificing the “soul” of art for technicalities! But I do feel differently.
I do wish to take up teaching sometime in the future as a profession and this is a perspective that I would like to share and develop with future engineers.
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