Why art is as important as science

Posted on: 12 Dec 2014

As Bedales hits the headlines with its recent fundraising auction of Tracey Emin and Sir Terence Conran artworks, Bedales’ Head, Keith Budge, argues that an Art and Design education should go hand in hand with a science education…

On Tuesday 25 November, bidding in the Bedales Art Auction closed. For sale were works of art and design by some of the UK’s most eminent practitioners – Tracey Emin, Sir Terence Conran and Ivon Hitchens, to name but a few. The auction raised a staggering £90,000 for the school.

Bedales has an enviable track record in launching the careers of artists and designers, including David Linley, Julian Trevelyan and Sarah Raphael, to reach the very top of their respective fields. The money raised will now be reinvested in the talents of future generations through fresh scholarships for sixth form arts’ study at Bedales School in Hampshire.

Bedales is committed to broadening access to the school by offering financial support, and we allocate 5% of our fee income to this end. Last year the school awarded 96 scholarships, 58 bursaries and free music lessons worth more than £1m.

Some of the money will also be used for the construction of a new Art and Design facility. The buildings in which we teach Art and Design are tired, but these subjects are thriving and there is not enough space to accommodate all of the students. The new centre will help us to provide more future leaders for the UK’s creative industries, which comprise a significant and growing proportion of GDP, and so offer great career opportunities.

But James Napier, an Old Bedalian and founder of the London Atelier of Representational Art, stresses that, career benefits aside, a Bedales Arts and Design education offers “the freedom to think”. This is a sentiment that chimes with the school’s educational philosophy. Bedales has always nurtured individuality, initiative and an enquiring mind.

The school’s unwavering faith in the intrinsic value of a liberal arts education is accompanied by a conviction that an artistic/crafts sensibility, and attendant skills, can go hand-in-hand with successful scientific and technical innovatory careers.

The late Steve Jobs is on record as seeing artistic sensibilities such as intuition as central to the business of technological innovation. Einstein was convinced that music was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. Besides being a highly successful author, Beatrix Potter conducted respected work on the reproduction of fungi spores.

So far, so anecdotal – but there is more compelling evidence emerging that those working successfully in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) benefit from the development of a facility in the arts and crafts.

In 2008 a study of large numbers of scientists found that the most eminent were significantly more likely to spend some of their time in productive arts and crafts pursuits, with the resulting skills being of direct professional benefit. This is not a new phenomenon – in the late 1900s J.H. van’t Hoff investigated several hundred historical figures in science and concluded that the most innovative of them practised in the arts and crafts when they weren’t hard at work on the day job.

To conclude, it seems that the arts-sciences dichotomy has not always been as unshakeable as it appears today. Jung’s ‘Artist-Scientist’ archetype united these supposedly disparate elements in the wonders and dangers implicit in curiosity.

More recently, the sociologist Richard Florida posited a ‘creative class’ made up of scientists and engineers as well as poets and people in design and the art. This idea may have found favour with Steve Jobs and Einstein alike, and most certainly has currency here at Bedales.

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