In the left versus right brain debate, business is traditionally pushed to the left. But the true answer, much like the compromise needed in a business deal, lies somewhere in between. Corporations and businesses have increasingly listed creative thinking as a primary desired skill alongside more traditionally expected skills like technical literacy and statistical analysis. In the same vein, educators are realizing that the tenants of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are not mutually exclusive with the world of the arts. Now, the movement’s momentum is shifting from STEM to STEAM, an incorporation of Art and Design into a traditionally scientific focus on learning.
Qualcomm Technologies engineer Molly Nicholas detailed this shift in a recent blog post where she reflects on the risk businesses run when they ignore the arts: “like the challenges professional engineers face, inspiring kids to consider careers in STEM requires a multi-faceted approach. A one-size-fits-all mindset misses wide swaths of future coders. It misses freeform, creative, artful thinkers. It almost missed me.”
The post goes on to detail the first market to catch on to the transition towards arts-oriented engineering: toy manufacturers. For instance, the LilyPad consists of a system of Arduino-based circuits which can be sewn into backpacks, dresses, pillows, and stuffed animals. Circuit Scribe allows users to actually doodle circuits using conductive ink. These toys bridge the gap between STEM and STEAM, creating open platforms for craft and expression through the means of basic electrical engineering.
The necessity of pairing a technical understanding with a creative one cannot be undersold. Different methods of thinking empower engineers, scientists, and coders to define boundaries and eventually break them. As Nicholas explains, “a hardware engineer, for instance, might not be pushed to advance and adapt technologies without creative minds to test the limits. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how powerful your processor is if no one's using it for anything.”
The scientific field is not the only beneficiary in this partnership. Artists who learn the skills of computation improve their ability to recognize patterns, solve open-ended questions, and break large problems down into manageable sets. Through this cognitive development, an artist can explore an expanded field of thought, where “a painter trained in computational thinking may invent a new type of paintbrush that enables unique modes of expression. Or a theatrical costume designer might develop a method to make her creations modular and reusable.”
The idea of a symbiotic relationship between the arts and science is not a new idea. However, the integration of the arts and the execution of STEAM is a cause that needs continued support. Through this acceptance, you might be surprised to see just how many engineers have a creative mind, and how many artists have a scientific drive.