Monday, June 24, 2013

Art as a gateway to scientific inquiry

Did I tell you how frustrated I was when I started to do ceramic sculpture? My "problem" is that I loved tiles. I couldn't think past the goal of developing new designs for flat things. And I made some pretty nice flat things. Flat things that curved, and flat things that bent, and flat things you could see through. I started to build new flat things on top of the fired flat things I had built. I brought my friend and colleague Lynne Allen into the drying room one day. Lynne is a printmaker and I asked her "isn't this the kind of way of making prints?" Don't get me wrong. I'm not bragging or anything but I think I invented the 3-D printer. 

I had a hard time getting past the flat things. Partly because I loved them and partly because I literally couldn't wrap my head around doing anything else. I didn't want to make "pots" because I knew that what I wanted to do was create some kind of sculptural objects. The problem of three dimensions was a real killer.

As an artist in his 50s at the time it looked and felt to me like my brain wasn't flexible enough to think in 3-D. And then one day after a trip to Mexico visiting some incredible ruins in the Yucat√°n, I figured out a way to make columns like the ones I had seen at Ake. True I struggled with that as well. But I woke up one morning and I realized that I had gone beyond the broad, broad flat canvas around to the other side. I was working in 3D. 

So what does this have to do with scientific inquiry? Sometimes we struggle with ideas, problem, or puzzles that just seem impossible to solve. I've realized for a long time that my students have a really hard time with what I teach, for a lot of reasons. For me, playing and playing with the clay "freed" my mind. The play let my hands and heart do the thinking while my mind relaxed. After all how "important" was it to work in 3D. I have my day job as a tenured professor. 

But I think opening your mind, or our students' minds, or both, is a great way to go, a super benefit of letting loose and considering things from a whole different perspective. Art? Science? Ways of thinking, ways of experimenting, ways of problem solving. Let's try some more parallel play and see where it goes!

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