In fact, a year spent counting worms in the ICI biological unit, regularly getting seasick on the trawlers in the North Sea, put me off somewhat and enabled me to take my interest into teaching.
Last weekend, with my wife, I visited an artist’s open studios day in Eastleigh. This is something that we both enjoy. This visit was prompted by the fact that a work colleague had a studio open along with several others. The quality on display and the range of skills evident was very impressive, from drawing and painting to textiles of various sorts, metal and glasswork, including jewellery making, ceramics, and woodworking. Each of the studios enabled each artist to display significant talent, in ideas and expertise. There were examples of cross over techniques, with one artist embedding the skills of others in finished products. Every single artist had at least a first degree and some had evidence of further study.
All were working on significant commissions, so their talents were recognised well beyond the studios.
Beyond the essential paintings that would adorn house walls, there were book illustrations, clothes, new and “upcycled”, bed coverings, bowls and cups to drink from and furniture, all of which are essential to everyday life. There was one artist who had been commissioned to create a new civic mace for a local council. Without the craftspeople, working with design and seeking to enhance the world, the whole would be a great deal more dull.
As a Friend of Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and the Chichester Festival Theatre, both gallery and theatre interests are satisfied, the one on the same basis as the trip to Eastleigh, but with world renowned artists on display while the other allows access to West End quality theatre at a reasonable price and not too far from home. Theatre relies on acting and singing talent to be nurtured and developed. This talent is often obvious at an early stage and may be an over-riding passion for the participants. Having had a short spell “treading the boards” as a hobby in my early teaching career, I can see how people can get hooked. Such talent, as all talent, is as easy to discourage as to encourage.
Music can rely on what is euphemistically called a “misspent youth”, while the all-consuming passion and the dream is realised. Practice takes time and practice for performance takes even more focus and effort. My conventional youth precluded such activities, but, in my mid-20s, I learned the strum the guitar and a little later to play the Bodhran, the Irish drum. This latter led to performance for barn dances, Morris dance, Display dances, preforming at several folk festivals and to playing in France, reaching the finals of competitions. It is a real buzz.
The science part of my interest was continuous, with secondment to the Assessment of Performance Unit, local groups and running the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Juniors (Watch Group). The skills of observation and drawing were supported by an interest in photography.
For some, the arts are a hobby, something to be done after the day job’s been completed. They are a great way to relax.
For others, it is a lifetime of passion, of challenge, learning, trial and error, lean times and good times, sometimes with widespread recognition, often without. They are often examples of the best way to learn as constant improvement is embedded within the activity, especially with performance or display in mind. The visual arts especially often draw on the skills of a scientist in materials science, the architect in designing models with awareness of strength and stresses, the mathematician in exploring and perfecting shapes, the linguist in interpreting ideas into imagery, to support communication, the historian, as art has grown and developed over hundreds or thousands of years. I should include medicine too, as artists who draw human and animal forms need a good grounding in anatomy. Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath, interested in everything, including mechanics. For him, life was everything.
In the not so distant past, scientists would also have been artists, capable of recreating what they were seeing into understandable pictorial form. Digital cameras may have reduced that need, but, scientists still need to be able to communicate effectively and imagery supports that.
It is very easy to downgrade the arts by seeking to amplify the benefits of the STEM subjects. There is significant value in all areas of study and maintaining a breadth through valuing every subject is important. Our collective lives would be much devalued if the arts were to disappear from school study.
They add the spice to the E and the practical applications for the M&S, while drawing regularly from the T. STEM supports the A.
No wonder many advocate STEAM. Pity it isn’t full STEAM ahead. The STEM always needs a few leaves and flowers to flourish.