Shared Traits of Artists and Scientists

I just picked up a great book, This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin. I have another of his books (The World in Six Songs) – and it thrills me to read about why we love music the way we do – individually, culturally, and throughout time.

There are heaps of things I could share with you from the book (and may in the future), but this one jumped out at me yesterday.   He’s illustrating the similarities between artists and scientists.

“…the work of both scientists and artists involves similar stages of development: a creative and exploratory ‘brainstorming’ stage, followed by testing and refining stages that typically involve the application of set procedures, but are often informed by additional creative problem-solving.  Artists’ studios and scientists’ laboratories share similarities as well, with a large number of projects going at once, in various stages of incompletion.  Both require specialized tools, and the results are – unlike the final plans for a suspension bridge, or the tallying of money in a bank account at the end of the business day – open to interpretation.  What artists and scientists have in common is the ability to live in an open-ended state of interpretation and reinterpretation of the products of our work.  The work of artists and scientists is ultimately the pursuit of truth, but member of both camps understand that truth in its very nature is contextual and changeable, dependent on point of view, and that today’s truths become tomorrow’s disproven hypotheses or forgotten objets d’art.  One need look no further than Piaget, Freud, and Skinner to find theories that once held widespread currency and were later overturned (or at least dramatically reevaluated).  In music, a number of groups were prematurely held up as of lasting importance: Cheap Trick were hailed as the new Beatles, and at one time the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock devoted as much space to Adam and the Ants as they did to U2….For the artist, the goal of the painting or musical composition is not to convey literal truth, but an aspect of a universal truth that if successful, will continue to move and to touch people even as contexts, societies, and cultures change.  For the scientist, the goal of a theory is to convey ‘truth for now’ – to replace an old truth, while accepting that someday this theory, too, will be replaced by a new ‘truth,’ because that is the way science advances.”*

It’s a brilliant piece of writing.  So many juicy bits in there.  And I’m compelled to add, from myself:

Both artists and scientists are at their genius when they step out of the Ego and into the Flow. To get to the place of mastery requires rigorous attention; but from there, it is the release of attention, the surrender, that allows for those moments of true connectedness – those breakthroughs, either artistically or scientifically, that are true genius.

*Daniel J. Levitin – This is Your Brain on Music


~ by Julianna on October 5, 2010.

One Response to “Shared Traits of Artists and Scientists”

  1. beautiful. i love the passion in this.


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