The Eternal Frenemy – Art verses Science

The Arts and The Sciences have never been comfortable bed fellows – but does it really need to be that way?

My journey to becoming a storyteller has not been conventional (if there is a such a thing). By this I mean my early career was rooted in ‘The Sciences’ not 'The Arts'. In truth, there are times when this can become quite isolating; for example I have received dismissive comments such as ‘you won’t understand, you’re not from an arts background!’. Yes seriously, that has happened to me!

From an early age I was fascinated by the natural world. I felt attached to it and had a never ending thirst to both understand and admire it. At this age my artistic expression and scientific exploration were synonymous with each other; exploring ponds, lifting rocks and scribbling out my view of the marvels I discovered whilst looking through books to know more about what I was drawing.

But as my teenage years approached, the ‘system’ forced me to begin making a choice. This was the 'O' level system of education when we were expected to commit and select the subjects we would pursue into adulthood. This period was referred to as 'Options' but for me it felt anything but. For me it was a painful process - my choices picked apart and criticised. I was told it was the ‘wrong mix’ and decisions were forced and Science won.

Don’t misunderstand, I loved science and still do, but the system did not allow room for my creative and artistic side to coexist within the educational environment. University helped me better understand the rivalry between the two… actually no, not understand, but made me aware that the rivalry was deeply ingrained.

By this point Biology was my chosen career path, but I never left the Arts behind – where science became my career the Arts filled my free time.I have never accepted the forced divide between Science and Art. I have witnessed artistic and scientific communities be equally dismissive of each other, but from direct experience I know the two complement each other in a very powerful way. Whilst science is analytical and seeks to understand the ‘How’, the arts inspires flexible thinking, an ability to perceive and conceive different ideas, to broaden thinking and enable ‘What if’. Combined the arts help push scientific understanding and science helps push artistic vision into reality.

So what has all this got to do with storytelling? Storytelling offers a bridge between the world of Arts and world of Sciences. Having straddled both sides for so long, I’m increasingly encouraged to see the tide is turning, both artists and scientists are waking up to the intrinsic dependence upon each other.

Where once the approach was ‘Never the twain shall meet’ there is now a growing swell of appreciation for their unavoidable synergy. Like the optical illusion below, the combination of science and art can enable more profound results that connect to an audience in a different way.

For example, the George Ewart Evans Centre are helping lead the way with inspiring events that bring storytelling together with scientific disciplines.  In this regard I’d encourage you to watch the keynote presentation from George Marshall at the GEECS Environment and Storytelling symposium which shows the strength and challenges of story in relation to the opportunities for action on climate change.

My most recent performance weaves the evolution of the dog with the life events of the dog who became known as Swansea Jack. Together they emphasise the hugely significant nature of our relationship with the dog which neither story would accomplish on its own. 

The links between art and science through story is an area that excites me greatly. You may therefore understand what it means to now find myself faced with potential involvement in an interdisciplinary project on aquatic ecology! Huge thanks for the referral (you know who you are!).

The Sciences and The Arts, whilst different, are both central to our existence; they have a long history of distrust, but both push the other to do more and be more. They will never be friends, the form of thinking is fundamentally different. However perhaps that may go so far as to become the best of frenemies.

Thanks for reading.