The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.  Leonardo da Vinci (Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer).

I recently attended the ceremony for the Congressional Art Competition winner Maya Diaz of Brackenridge High School.  Watching this talented young woman beam with pride reminded me how important cultivating the arts is to our future.  I am grateful to be part of an organization that supports arts education and cultural development.  This caused me to consider the question: Why does art matter?

Many people today see science and art as polar opposites.  Science is driven by data and art by emotion or so this perception is perpetuated by a society often possessing inadequate knowledge of either.  Technological advances create the illusion that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies have greater value than the arts.  However, this denies a fundamental truth: The universe demands balance.  

In Leonardo da Vinci’s time, science and art coexisted naturally.  Da Vinci combined art and science to the benefit of both.  In ancient Greece, the word for art was techne, from which technique and technology are derived – terms that are applied to both artistic and scientific practices.  This historical view of the relationship between art and science seems more consistent with reality than the current stereotypical divisions.  After all, both science and art seek to answer many of the same questions: “What is truth? Why does it matter? How do we move society forward?”  Can society truly move forward with only one perspective?

Maybe one of the reasons the United States has fallen behind in areas like math and science is because for too long we have been functioning using only half our mind’s capacity.  Arts and music education programs are mandatory in countries that rank consistently among the highest for math and science test scores, like Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands.  Students who study a foreign language perform significantly higher in math and Basic Skills Test.  The arts are not “nice to haves,” only for elites or lacking practical application.  They are necessary to function at peak mental capacity.  Art and science are synergistic.

One measure of genius is the ability to make connections more rapidly.  This ability to connect the unconnected enables geniuses to see things to which others are blind.  Leonardo da Vinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water. This enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.  The study of various disciplines, including the arts, increases the number of pathways in the brain.  This in turn increases the number of possible connection points and enhances creative, multi-perspective problem solving.   As the world grows increasingly interconnected and complex, eliminating the arts may limit our ability to formulate effective solutions in the future.  

Naturally, not everyone who studies both art and science will develop a genius intellect.  However, with a balanced approach to education, more children and adults can achieve greater potential.  Want to know how to think like Leonardo da Vinci?  Study the arts.  

- Tracy Moon