A few quick thoughts in response.
First, I'm not sure your answer grasps a side of the creativity story that
is not particular to the university nor specific to advocacy of art for
its own sake. I also don't think a STEAM pedagogy or "best practices"
scenario accounts for the kinds of leaps that bring something new into
discussions that wasn't clear before even if this is the aspiration.
Rather, it often seems to me that the STEAM agenda is more along the lines
of adding either another silo to the academic framework or calling STEM
STEAM for reasons that you and others have noted in the emails.
What I think is missing is the acknowledgement of the interweaving of
inputs in our lives and I don't have a sense that the STEM to STEAM
discussions want to enlarge our perspectives in a substantive way or are
robust enough to grasp the complexity of creativity. Before I get to
Aeschylus and Greek tragedy, let me offer an example of the kind of
historical and cultural discussions/trajectories I find predominantly
missing in these discussions since they differ from the kinds of examples
While it seems Leonardo da Vinci is everyone's favorite genius, we often
forget that he was largely self-taught. He did, however, have a creative
mind and had an art apprenticeship. Still, even with all the acclaim
Leonardo receives, his studies of the brain are largely ignored in the
literature. They were virtually unknown when he lived. Vasari mentioned
some of his dissection work, but no one in the art community realized how
revolutionary it was.
At that time when most people studied the brain they sliced through it
rapidly because the tissue deteriorates so quickly. Leonardo had learned
about casting models as an artist and deduced that he could make a cast of
the brain and thus study the form slowly, despite the deterioration of the
physical material. Leonardo's brain studies were not published when he
lived and were, as I said, unknown to most people. Comparable studies were
not done by scientists until the 17th century, or 200 years later. By that
time science had developed techniques for preserving brain tissue. BTW,
the architect Christopher Wren had a hand in these discoveries, but I
In the late 18th century William Hunter, the physician to the British
Queen Charlotte and an anatomist, happened to come across Leonardo's
drawings of the brain in the Queen's library. No one knew they were there.
Hunter understood their importance immediately, although the work remained
unpublished until the 19th century because Hunter died. If this is STEAM
or STEM I'm not really seeing the connection. FWIW, Leonardo's theories
were incorrect, but his visual studies were amazingly insightful.
I think this anecdote takes on more meaning in terms of education,
however, if I add that William Hunter was not only an anatomist and
physician, he was also the first Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy
of Art in London. In those days they had professors of anatomy, people
trained in science, right there in the building. Here is a link to an
image of him teaching a class at the RA, http://tinyurl.com/jtw6xo9.
The artist and President of the school, Joshua Reynolds is in the front
row of this painting. He is the one listening to the lecture with an ear
trumpet. Now, Hunter, Reynolds and their colleagues weren't talking about
STEM to STEAM, but they were talking about art education, what is of value
when teaching the subject matter, applications, etc. Suffice it to say
that each called the other a technician and they often disagreed. Their
arguments and disagreements within the Art academy certainly are a part of
the pedagogical historical trajectory, even if rarely mentioned. There are
commonalities within their discussions with some of the STEM/STEAM debates
although their new media seems outside the scope of contemporary concerns.
Hunter's RA students included many folks who well known today even if he
isn't given a place in much of the literature.
Not all liked the Academy dogmas, as one might imagine. For example, the
Pre-Raphalites trained in Charles Bell's school because they rejected the
RA's approach. Who was Charles Bell? Well, he trained as an artist and a
physician. When his application for Hunter's job at the RA was rejected he
decided to focus on his scientific work and made many important
discoveries. He did however do art on the side and so he taught anatomy to
many now well known artists who rejected the RA approach. Bell's drawings
also influenced how Darwin approached the drawings he produced with
artists for his book on expression. These artists were not illustrators.
Rather Darwin sought out people who could conceptualize how to push the
technologies beyond their capacities. For example, he worked with the
photographer Oscar Rejlander (1813-1875) who was doing studies on how to
use still photography to capture motion. As for cross-breeding, Rejlander
BTW, these kinds of cross-disciplinary studies are not exceptional, just
largely outside the mainstream. Even the painting of Hunter teaching is
not uncommon. Perhaps it was a genre because tools didn't always exist to
record these kinds of events. I've always liked the one of Charcot, "A
Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière," see
e. In this one you can see his assistant, the sculptor Paul Richer,
drawing behind him as he lectures. Also, on the rear wall of the lecture
room is the (1878) large charcoal work, drawn by Richer, which reproduces
the hysterical pose captured in one of the many photographs taken in the
Salpêtrière. They were quick to incorporate photography there.
As for Aeschylus and the tragedians, there is a large body of research
that has examined these works in terms of how instrumental they were in
helping the Greeks develop a sense that each individual existed both as a
person and a part of the community. They were powerful works in their own
time for reasons and, I would argue, the reason they were powerful then is
not quite the same as why they are powerful today. Perhaps these two
positionings are better underscored when we think how about how
instrumental the tragedians were on Plato. You no doubt know that Plato
banned the poets from his Republic because of the emotional element within
these works like those produced by Aeschylus and Sophocles? As he put it
"there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry" (Republic,
607b5–6). Longer story, but the Platonic focus on a rational truth has had
an impact on who we see and talk about the "quarrel" when we have these
STEM and STEAM discussions.
BTW, would it surprise you to learn I know the Reuben Hersh's book, What
is Mathematics, Really? I read it about the same time as I was reading all
those old Morris Kline books on the history of mathematics. He often
integrated math and art. My sense is that the Kline books would probably
disappoint me today, even as they seemed so wonderful way back when. I
hardly remember the Hersh book now, although it too seemed so wonderful
way back when.
One final thought, you wrote: "Amy also asked an interesting question: "In
terms of art, if someone does an artwork based on a scientific idea that
proves wrong does that change the value of the art? I've also been
wondering if and where artists who are not inclined to include science in
their art fit in the educational pedagogy the STEAM agenda promotes?"
Off-hand, I don't have an answer, but this is an interesting question to
consider another time."
Thanks for adding this. I actually meant it as a rhetorical question
because I simply assumed that if it was art on its own terms the science
part was window dressing. Perhaps another area in which STEM to STEAM is
hazy and discussions show how varied our frames of reference are. I tend
to think of art more in terms of creativity and less in terms of
applications. Many of the STEM to STEAM ideas seem to incline more to
applications and design.
All the best,
Director, The Diatrope Institute
2342 Shattuck Ave., #527
Berkeley, CA 94704
>Amy Ione's note got me thinking about several issues.
>The first seems to have a clear answer. Amy wrote, "I don't think
>discussing educational perspectives per se is the problem, so much as the
>level of discourse often seems more about advocacy than substance. I am
>also amazed that many STEAM advocates seem unaware of historical
>discussions from era to era that mirror the STEM to STEAM discussions."
>There are two useful historical discussions. The first involves the
>occasional STEM to STEAM discussions that make the rounds in educational
>communities. These also appear in another guise — the call for everyone
>to study art as something essential to civilization. Art advocates can
>always find a reason to lobby for art. That's the case for advocates of
>any general good.
>It's not that art is bad or undeserving — one can say the same of music,
>dance, theater, gymnastics, sports, literature, creative writing … the
>list goes on. The issues for — and against — any such choice involve a
>range of questions. How much room do we have in the curriculum at any
>level for one subject or another? Are these subjects genuinely required
>for a well rounded education? Do these subjects genuinely add value of
>some kind? If so, what kind of value does it add? Are we making an
>instrumental argument — for example, art is vital for creativity in a
>world of creative cities, creative industries, and so on? Or are we
>saying that art serves some other, and deeper, purpose using the same
>kind of argument that we can muster for philosophy, history, or even for
>It is easy both to overestimate and to underestimate art forms, genres
>within those forms, and individual artists. For example, I've always had
>a taste for Westerns. Perhaps it is because I lived for two decades in
>the American west, driving north to south and east to west many times. Or
>perhaps it is because I was born in New England, and remember that there
>was once a time when the west meant land west of the Hudson river — Last
>of the Mohicans was one of the first great Westerns, and the many movie
>versions of James Fenimore Cooper's novel each tell a different story
>about time and history. I've always enjoyed Clint Eastwood's westerns.
>Not the Sergio Leone westerns, but Eastwood's own productions: High
>Plains Drifter, Hang 'Em High, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and others. Nearly
>no one agreed with me on Clint Eastwood's virtues as an artist until
>Eastwood released Unforgiven. Following Unforgiven and his first Oscar
>there came a reconsideration of the entire genre. Many more Oscars
>followed, for Eastwood, his films, and the actors in his films. With this
>came a new look at Eastwood — and a reconsideration of Eastwood's early
>westerns. In the wake of Unforgiven (and the slightly earlier Dances with
>Wolves), the genre underwent a rebirth.
>In my view, the serious works of the Western genre are the North American
>equivalent of Aeschylus and Sophocles. If you want to argue that great
>Westerns are the exception, I'll agree. There were hundreds upon hundreds
>of tragedies entered into the great festivals of classical Greece.
>Aeschylus wrote between 70 and 90 plays, winning the first prize in the
>annual festival at Athens a dozen or so times. Sophocles wrote even more
>plays, winning first prize 18 times. When you consider that two great
>play writes won the prize more than 30 times, this means thirty years in
>which dozens of other authors competed and lost. So even great Greek
>tragedies are the exception again ordinary tragedies. Some of those
>now-forgotten tragedies must be excellent in the same way that excellent
>actors such as Glenn Ford with outstanding performance in such Westerns
>as Jubal, the original 3:10 to Yuma, or Cowboy have always been
>overlooked in favor of the better-known John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, or
>Henry Fonda. The solid but predictable performances that Wayne delivered
>in dozens of movies, and Wayne's long string of B-movie horse operas,
>cast a shadow over the genre. They even cast a shadow over Wayne himself,
>to the degree that many people forget his occasional brilliant
>performances, such as Wayne's final movie, The Shootist, directed by Don
>This is a tale with a point: I'm saying that you'd have to know a great
>deal more about the depth of these issues to argue the case for any genre
>— or for art in general. And don't get me started on Aeschylus or
>Sophocles. There is scarcely anything in the modern repertoire that can
>be measured against the surviving works of the two great tragedians.
>So what is it that STEAM can bring to STEM?
>Then there is the other history that we ought to consider. This is the
>history of science, including any of the scientific fields or such STEM
>fields as mathematics. Consider, for example Reuben Hersh's book, What is
>Mathematics, Really? I've nearly never seen any writing on art that tells
>as rich a story of human creativity or the growth of civilization. It
>seems to me easily possible to compare Hersh against, say, Clement
>Greenberg, to argue that Greenberg is justifying his own taste with prose
>that still reads well while his value judgements look dated.
>The history and philosophy of science tell dozens of stories that do not
>require STEAM for the creativity to be visible. Cases in point: Abraham
>Pais's biography of Albert Einstein titled Subtle is the Lord, or Owen
>Gingerich's hunt for the surviving copies of Copernicus's De
>Revolutionibus in The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of
>On the one hand, I, too, am an advocate of art, sort of. I say "sort of"
>to suggest that STEAM needs a little humility. And STEAM advocates
>generally need to know a great deal more about the STEM — this involves a
>great deal more than demanding that physicists and engineers pay
>attention to art.
>Amy also asked an interesting question: "In terms of art, if someone does
>an artwork based on a scientific idea that proves wrong does that change
>the value of the art? I've also been wondering if and where artists who
>are not inclined to include science in their art fit in the educational
>pedagogy the STEAM agenda promotes?"
>Off-hand, I don't have an answer, but this is an interesting question to
>consider another time.
>Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The
>Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji
>University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:
>Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and
>Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University
>Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne
>University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia
>Email firstname.lastname@example.org | Academia
>http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman | D&I http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn
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