The Butler Scholarly Journal

Is science an art?

By Matt Armitage

After attending the seminar on ‘art in Universities’ I found several points very interesting. The main topic that I would like to discuss is the question as whether science is an art. As a Natural Science student studying Physics and Earth Sciences I am quite opinionated on this issue.  Obviously, this is a very controversial issue with no real right answer; however, I would like to argue the point that the arts and sciences are different topics by their definition.

A very good point was made by a mathematician that maths is very linked to the arts. Many mathematical concepts are used in art—for example the golden ratio. Additionally, many areas of maths can be perceived as art. If we consider fractals as an example, they are underpinned by mathematics but the images that are created are very visually appealing. The same is true of Physics. If we consider music, physics can describe all the processes of how the instrument vibrates and these vibrations are transferred through the air to reach our ears. Essentially just the knowledge of these processes is a form of beauty and an art.

However, the way in which scientists and artists think is very different. One of the speakers from the event, an artist in residence at Ustinov College, Alan O’Cain, exclaimed that as an artist he always “asks questions but never answers them”. During the discussion he then mentioned that he believes the Albert Einstein is one of the greatest artists because of his contribution to science. Although I agree that Einstein was a great man I would not describe him in any way as an artist. The above quote is very contradictory when thinking of scientists as artists. A scientist asks questions too, but also will endeavour to always answer them. Indeed, science is fundamentally a subject that aims to answer questions. Taking physics as an example, its primary focus is to answers questions to understand the entire universe.

Therefore, even though art is displayed in, and linked to, science in countless ways it is on a fundamental level an entirely different subject based on what it aims to achieve. Arts just try and ask questions whereas science asks and answers them.