Why the most successful people of the future will be part engineer, part artist

As an engineering student, I’ve noticed the stigma against artists–“it’s not as hard,” “numbers are actually useful,” and “feelings aren’t going to cure cancer.”  This needs to stop, because we need both the right and left brain for technological advancement.

Engineering is important, sure.  The ability to use math and science to physically or virtually create something is what will generate progress in mechanical terms.  We’ll have new and improved inventions.

But as a chemical engineering major at Penn State, I know what a well-funded program stresses and overlooks.  We focus on hard data: equations, tables, dimensionless numbers…that’s all mandatory.  What isn’t mandatory is concept invention–that pure imagination that generates ideas from nothing.  We know how to make something, but we don’t know how to imagine it.  I’d argue that, at least at the undergrad level, engineering students aren’t trained to be creative;  we’re trained to be analytical, methodical, and efficient–to quickly get the right answer.  That’s not enough to solve today’s problems.

Artists are masters of imagination; I only have some experience with it from a liberal arts minor’s perspective, but from what I’ve observed, much of an artist’s degree program is based on “original quality”–not just creating something, but creating something that’s actually good.  It’s an artist’s specialty to test the limits of reality, and when you combine with the skills to act on that imagination, you’re unstoppable.

If we can foster potential that excels in both the arts and sciences, we’d have a generation of people who can not only think of an original idea, but also automously implement it using their analytical skills.

The rocket was invented by Robert H. Goddard, an engineer who was inspired by World of the Wars, by H.G. Wells: a sci fi novel depicting space travel.  Leo Szilard, a physicist, refined atomic power only after reading The World Set Free, by H.G. Wells: another sci fi novel that described atomic power for peaceful society.  Even the cellphone was initially imagined in Star Trek–that’s who Motorola credits for the idea.

Nuclear, aerospace, electrical and computer.  That’s just four engineering specialities that advanced because of the arts.

We nurture this mirage that science and the arts are separate–that you can advance one without the other…that they aren’t intertwined.  The two programs focus on fortifying different skills.  We need to stop thinking that we can just forget the arts and focus on the STEM in order to technologically improve; we need to stop thinking that artists are inferior because their assignments aren’t attached to an equation.  An artist’s program specializes in what the engineer’s program lacks in: pure creativity and original ideas.



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