Art and Science

I recently visited Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and was reminded of the book Art and Physics by Leonard Schlain.

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TJ (as we lovingly call it) is a state-chartered magnet school with a highly selective admissions process. The students represent some of the brightest high-school-aged minds in science and mathematics in our area. To support this unique student population, the school does things quite differently from other schools in the area. It follows, then, that the art program is atypical, and the art teacher has to find creative ways to support the unique goals and focus of the school.

While I was there, we talked about one of the new art courses he is offering (Art for Engineers), and I started thinking about all of the other rich potential to develop a unique set of course offerings for this setting.

Why not create a course based on Schlain’s book called Art and Physics? One of the precepts of (and a quote from) the book is the idea that “the artist presented society with a new way to see the world before a scientist discovered a new way to think about the world.” The subtitle, parallel visions in space time & light, is probably enough for the average art educator to begin to imagine the range of possibilities. These three categories, in themselves, could provide a structure for the course curriculum.

What other courses could be offered to support these science- and math-minded student? How about these:

  • Art and Science: maybe only slightly different from Art and Physics until you get into developing the curriculum, when I think a lot of new ideas could emerge. There are many resources and ideas available about the relationship between these disciplines.
  • Art and Mathematics: Most of us have probably taught an art lesson that had a strong connection to mathematics, but it would be exciting to explore the potential of this, in depth, with high school students, many of whom take math classes far more advanced than most college graduates!
  • Art and Technology: Perhaps the first question is, “how would this be different from Computer Graphics?” Maybe it wouldn’t have to be different, but if I was working with this student population, I would enjoy studying the relationship between art and technology at a deeper level.
  • Imaging Technologies: Perhaps a variation on the above. Science, math, and technology all require visualization and ways of imaging/seeing/showing the concepts being explored, or even the results of an experiment. A course about imaging technologies could include digital as well as analog technologies such as photography (which is a study in physics and chemistry all in itself).
  • The Art of Observation: The nature of the scientific method demands that scientists be skilled observers. There are many possibilities for developing observation skills through art practice, and the content of such a course could be targetted specifically to developing perceptual skills for the sciences.

There are probably many other possibilities. What do you think?

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