Bitmoji photo of Joseph Gruber

Joseph Gruber

Thoughts from a spacecraft engineering manager, photographer, coffee aficionado, and future Mars resident.

Science and Art: An Uncommon Pair

Venn diagram of science, art, and wonder

While not a scientist and far from being an artist, I have come to have a deep appreciation of how both science and art allows us to feed our curiosity of not only the world around us but ourselves as humans.

Recently though, while at a National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) concert for “The Planets - An HD Odyssey”, it became instantly obvious how science and art breed upon each other. As this concert was just a few short days before the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover landing on Mars, NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, was on hand as a guest and after a few remarks played the infamous Seven Minutes of Terror video showcasing the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) of MSL on Mars. Having seen this video before I knew it was always exciting to watch from the sheer daring of what was to be accomplished. With tickets to the lawn seating at the Wolf Trap Filene Center, I laid back on the grass and under the night sky filled with the planets and stars, looked up at the projection screen to see MSL begin its entry into the atmosphere of Mars. Unexpectedly, just as the video started playing, the NSO began playing a (unknown) piece by Georges Bizet. As the excitement of EDL played out on the screens above, the mystery of the universe shone bright above us, and the music of the National Symphony Orchestra joined the sounds of the night, the science of what NASA was attempting to do coalesced in a way that my human mind had not been able to quite grasp before. As the night went on, the NSO played Gustav Holst’s The Planets, while images of NASA’s latest missions into the galaxy, as well as here of Earth, played on the screens, and the art, the music, allowing a part of the mind to comprehend what it wasn’t able to before.

So just how can art influence science, and vice-versa, science influence art? Where in science, fact is the greatest truth and one plus one equals two, art does not have the inflexibility that science does, leaving truth up to the heart and mind. An uncommon pair indeed, science and art. But truly, what is the basis for science if not curiosity and wonder? Do these emotions not also carry over into art whether it is literature, music, drawings and paintings, or theatre, among other methods of interpretation? Where the arts attempt to express how our mind perceives things, science allows us to search for those answers leading to even more questions and curiosity. One then ponders whether it is where science and art meet, this intersection of curiosity and wonder, that our human brains can finally begin to have a more intimate understanding of the world around us. Suggesting that science and art be brought together would be unwise though as it seems that it’s when art discovers the science mind and science discovers the artists heart that wonder can be found. We have seen repeatedly throughout history the unexpected fusion of science and art - from Leonardo da Vinci and his renowned paintings merging with his scientific ideas to modern times with Pixar combining science and art to create what no human hand has done before.

Next time you look at a piece of art, listen to music, or read a book take a moment to think how it might influence the science of the world around you. Moreover, by the same token, next time you ponder the mysteries of the universe you might want to look to art for inspiration for your curiosity.

After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.

Albert Einstein

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.

Albert Einstein