May 9, 2011 8:25am EDT
Which is more important: art or science? Most people would say science. In answering this question I can’t help but think of the word Sputnik, and my grandfather James Killian.
In 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, it extended the Cold War into space and altered the trajectory of my life. At that time my grandfather was the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and shortly after Sputnik was launched he was chosen by President Dwight Eisenhower to be the first full-time scientific adviser to the president. In my mind, my grandfather became “Mr. Sputnik.”
What most people did not know about this leader of science was that he also was an artist. He was an active painter and sculptor. I have vivid memories from my youth of walking around his cluttered studio above the garage and seeing works of art in progress. Equally indelible are comments he made about art’s ability to inspire us all to learn.
When school boards and college administrators are faced with budgetary cutbacks, art classes are often the first to be deemed expendable. However, in these times of accelerating change we need art in our schools more than ever.
Why? At its core, art is about asking questions and exploration. More than ever, we live in a world that needs creative solutions to difficult social, political and economic problems.
The essence of art is creativity. If we are afraid of failure and consumed with getting the right answer, it inhibits our ability to explore a wide range of creative options. The search for new ways of seeing and understanding is at the heart of both scientific and artistic discovery.