Sometimes the rarer, the beautiful can only emerge or survive in isolation. In a similar manner, some degree of withdrawal serves to nurture man’s creative powers. The artist and scientist bring out of the dark void, like the mysterious universe itself, the unique, the strange, and unexpected. – Loren Eiseley
I’m just back from a weekend on the coast of Maine with good friends. What a wonderful weekend! The weather and the ocean conspired to fill our senses with the glory of nature in her most peaceful and generous style. We had sun and breeze and heat with cool temperatures at night so that we could snuggle under our quilts in comfort.
It was a quiet weekend even with the fireworks next door and gave me time to ruminate again on Eiseley’s quotation. I teach a class in computer programming to high school students. Most of my students are math and science geeks who love nothing more than playing games on the computer. In truth, I don’t play games on the computer because it is too easy for me to get lost in the games; too easy for me to succumb to the challenge of solving the problem set in front of me quickly before I lose the game.
I’ve always felt this strange bifurcation of my attention. In my personal life, I spend my time making things, cooking, printmaking, sewing. I am a very creative person. On the other hand, my job is very technical with computers and programming and problem solving. This dichotomy bothered me for a long time until I finally figured it out. For me, it’s all about the problem solving. I love a good problem!
It could be the problem of how to create the image that I want from an inked plate. It could be how to fix the leaking toilet or it could be how to make the computer succumb to my will and print that report the way I want it. All of these things require a mind that is willing to nimbly step outside of the box and feel its way around until it finds the soft spots that allow it to grab hold and solve the problem. It’s why scientists and artists have so much in common.
I try hard in my class to present open-ended problems with no single solution. I want to teach them not only how to program but also how to open their minds and look at the world from all different directions. I want to pass along my love for the problem and give them, the ones who would be scientists, the gift of the artistic mind.