Renaissance comes from combining art and science for innovation

The art of innovation needs to be broken out of the science that needs to be applied”.

 I wrote this in my last article and I thought some might ask “what the heck does he mean by that?” So I owe an explanation, perhaps partly to myself as well.

I’ve often heard and read that innovation is either an ‘art’ or a ‘science’ but we do seem it always struggle to combine them.  Why is that?

I finished that particular article ( ) with this:

“The art of innovation needs to be broken out of the science that needs to be applied, and then knowing its entire component parts then recombined in sustaining, thoughtful ways. We do need to harness the energy of innovation and we are not yet fully achieving that”.

Let’s begin at the beginning when art and science were one

The development about the preparation and properties of different materials went hand-in-hand with the development of the art of painting, pottery, metal-working in the 19th Century. Jonathan Ashley-Smith in his paper “Science and Art: Separated by a Common Language” does a far more extensive job of reflecting on this period but this is my ‘potted’ summary.

This was the time of the ‘renaissance man’ where you sought out knowledge on the latest scientific discovery or the ones on art or exploration. We wanted to combine our knowledge. The 19th century was the time of wondrous discoveries; they needed to be pursued by all enquiring minds. A universal polymath.

It was later in that century we began to separate more than integrate. This specialization became fashionable. Schools, universities began to separate art and science to make it extremely difficult to study both simultaneously. Science became governed by organization and rules, art allowed freedom of expression and to act more intuitively and the separation continued to be reinforced well into the 20th century.

Science demonstrated truths, observable facts, was systematically classified and projected out that trustworthy view to us that discovering new truth (or new innovation) was clearly in this domain, we needed to strengthen this, we as society needed to reinforce it. Art became intensely personal, reflecting the ideas of the originator and the interpreter; it was not the same irreversible  force that science was becoming, for forging new paths, for generating wealth, health, new industries leading to prosperity. Art began to take the back seat. We have had to wait until design became fashionable to ‘allow’ it back into the business, less at arms length, late in this last century and more integrated in this one.

Specialisation was established in both the art and science field and over time became ‘culturally’ separated. We made choices on which served our needs and business clearly chose science. We all could have mutual comprehension and appreciation, that was understood but the two sides were separated even further. This remained throughout the 20th century although each side grappled and often wanted to embrace the other, it struggled to find the real means to re-combine and achieve this, with some notable exceptions.

Art and Science are the book ends for innovation

I was reading an article about the great disconnects between Art and Science by Kristi Charish, and I loved the way she explained her thoughts, in particular: “art leads to scientific innovation and science inspires art. Like a pair of book ends they work best in tandem and change the way we view the world. Without one you can’t have the other and there is a lot to celebrate in that!”

So have we fast-forwarded so much?

I think we still see art and science operating in different worlds, in different compartments and they often don’t combine as we would like. Yet she is right, they do prop up innovation but we do need to stop using them as the ‘book ends’ and bring them into the middle to combine more and more until they are ‘fused’ as one. The very best, the breakthrough, the new discoveries happen when we combine in today’s world.

It is these ‘emerging’ fusion points of art, design, engineering, and science coming together and coalescing that are giving us great innovation. Art and design provide innovation with analogies and compelling stories, alternative structures, inspiring techniques, challenging methods and knowledge to push our boundaries and our minds. It inspires us to then often push science, technology and engineering more and more to translate this. Just think of architecture of great buildings, pushing the boundaries of function and design with availability or the technology and design of the iPad or iPhone that pushed those boundaries of the accepted, and changed the norm for measuring the future.

Divergence and convergence

I use this divergence and convergence approach an awful lot. We build far too much on convergence without exploring divergence as much as we should. We promote convergence so we can execute things efficiently, effectively and as quickly as we can, we are rewarded by what we have completed. Yet the ‘art’ of divergence plays an equal role. John Maeda of the Rhode Island School of Design  offered a good take on differences that make sound sense to me. Let me explain this in my way, partly borrowing.

Artists and designers are firstly divergent thinkers and make many uncomfortable, those often schooled in business and facts, that are impatient with achieving results but always from expected tangible positions. We struggle with intangibles or theory. Artists and designers expand our horizons of possibilities and can make us ‘connect’ far more, if we are prepared to let go and ‘see’ alternatives.

It is this melding of divergence of designers and artists combining with our convergences of science and engineering that allow us to ‘find’ often that exceptional innovation that has combined all the disciplines or parts. Art and design can give us less constraint and this provides often the vision for the factual minded to explore the realms of impossible to make it possible. Innovation always comes from a human starting point of observation or questioning. Art allows more for intuition, less on studying prediction, working in known rules.

Modern art and modern physics have been combining, each providing to the ones ready to look and invest in the other, those multiple perspectives, those different dimensions of possibility to shift their thinking.

So we need to rebuild and recombine

Specialization has a place but has it been pushed too far? Often we hear that the world is “complex”, or the issues cannot be resolved by the best minds in the ‘given’ area, well we need a new way based on total knowledge. Piero Scaruffi offered his view in a talk on “Bridging the gap between Art and Science” at Swissnex, in San Francisco in 2007.

He remarked “the digital age is providing us the opportunity to rebuild the continuum …has enabled an unprecedented degree of exchange, interaction, integration, convergence and blending” Scaruffi suggests we are able to move out of the discrete spaces we have found ourselves in and finally recombine knowledge in new ways. He argues we live in a context specific world that is based increasingly on knowledge-specific society, so different from the last time art and science came together in a knowledge-deprived society to offer this new continuum. Perhaps we are about to arrive at the age of the “rinascimento l’innovazione”, the innovation renaissance period.

Why can Art and Science combine?

Firstly all of what we do comes from us as humans as its starting point for innovation; it is linked to experiences and questioning. Every human activity is to some degree artist. The problem we always face is that dogma rules, and in this case of science and art we do have a given mindset to keep separating whereas we should be combining in new and novel ways. We have built up stereotypes and prejudices that need challenging. Science chases progress, Art really does not, it just looks to make change and it does this from evolving multiple perspectives. Sometimes, Science is often constrained by a far too linear approach and this needs somehow changing where we need to think in less rigid, structured ways today. We are demanding, no, expecting, more in the future. Art and Science agree they are both forms of exploration, one explores the imaginary more and then this challenges and pushes the scientific and engineers to find the answers. They both change our reality and innovation should always be pushing our expectations that little bit more.

Perhaps the ‘combining’ definition lies here?

Amy Kelly wrote in her paper “Art-Science Connections: An investigation of creative innovation” for her thesis, proffered an all-encompassing definition of art and science, offered by one of the people she interviewed, that also helped me understand why art and science can be combined:

“ He then gave me his idea for a definition that both confirmed my original hunch and contradicted my original hypothesis, that art and science are essentially the same.

He said that there is “art” and there is “science” in the disciplines of both art and science. “Science” can be thought of as the mastery of concepts and skills; it is what stems from a strong sense of commitment during times of little inspiration.

Science is learning the rules, techniques, and methods of the activity a person is engaged in. “Art,” on the other hand, happens after mastery of the science. It manifests itself when a person inserts his or her own creative will into the process, or “breaks the rules” in some way, allowing one to exceed normal limitations.

Art occurs when a person realizes that he can indeed bend rules in order to see things in a different light. Often, this may follow one’s entry into “the zone” which facilitates the creation of new, unique ideas. Art isn’t science or vice versa. Art transcends science. When looking at art and science in this way, it is easy to understand that all scientists are not artists”

“The art of innovation needs to be broken out of the science that needs to be applied”.

We come back to my statement that needed explaining. Both art and science are integral, they, when they combine, help us understand the world we have and the world of possibilities we can aspire too. We need both order and insight and it is these two book ends that when we bring them together, then often we have those ‘awe-inspiring, breath-taking, stunning, wonderful moments that transform our lives or the lives of others. To quote Piero Scaruffi again: “art and science cause a fundamental change in the nature of reality itself

As I said “We do need to harness the energy of innovation and we are not yet fully achieving that”  embracing both art and science together will enable us to move from evolution to revolution, sometimes called enlightenment periods, as we need to meet some difficult challenges that cannot be incremental, but far more radical in their solutions and this requires cross disciplines to come together. Let’s seek out growing ‘mutual comprehension’ and harness the power of art and design, science and engineering and stop talking about them separately, shall we?

I’ve drawn from papers or interviews from Jonathan Ashley-Smith, Kristi Charish, Piero Scaruffi, John Maeda and Amy Kelly- thanks

7 thoughts on “Renaissance comes from combining art and science for innovation

  1. Pingback: Renaissance comes from combining art and science for innovation | Service Science Management Engineering |

  2. Pingback: Renaissance comes from combining art and science for innovation | Spaces for Innovation |

  3. Pingback: Reducing confusion, promoting diffusion for new knowledge in innovation | Paul4innovating's Blog

  4. Fabulous piece, thank you! I love the Amy Kelley quote which so closely reflects my experience: “Art, on the other hand, happens after mastery of the science. It manifests itself when a person inserts his or her own creative will into the process, or “breaks the rules” in some way, allowing one to exceed normal limitations.” I recently ran a stimulating five day innovation workshop programme for C-level delegates from major MNCs: afterwards, one commented that it had been both liberating and challenging to be encouraged to use the information as a catalyst, not a prescription, for their own approach – Paul’s writing enriches my understanding which is then synthesised through my own experience and values to create, I hope, something of added value for those I work with – in innovation, both the art and the science, the anarchy and the discipline, are essential – confidence, courage and competence are the keys to unlock them profitably.


  5. Pingback: Reducing Confusion, Promoting Diffusion | Innovation Management

  6. Pingback: Reducing Confusion, Promoting Diffusion : STRATEGIES

  7. Pingback: Building Collective Agility for Innovation | Paul4innovating's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.