Art vs. Engineering? Art + Engineering?

How does art affect engineering education?

It is no secret that art and engineering are often magnets for different personalities. Different personalities are often a breeding ground for contention. So, is one better than the other? More importantly, do they even have to be separated?

STEM education is addressing important deficiencies in analytical capabilities. We live in a world where numbers are important, but many students are uncomfortable with them. Because of new performance standards, math and science have been taking focus away from the arts in many schools. This leaves a question of whether STEM is missing an A.

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This science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, initiative would have art and design integrated into the learning of the traditional STEM disciplines. This indicates there are not enough of these aspects inherent in disciplines such as engineering, which is debatable in its own right.

Many would argue design is central to engineering, but design is a very nebulous word. The balance of aesthetics and analysis is a core question when mixing these disciplines and looking at design from different angles. A product won’t succeed without functionality, but a customer won’t buy it without any attraction. Good looks, ease of use and solid performance are all payers in overall design.

There is some evidence that liberal arts may be retaking educational ground in countries like India, which have a strong emphasis on technical degrees. This shift is aimed toward increasing freedom in teaching and learning methods. Innovation can be achieved by introducing new ideas from seemingly disconnected fields. Interdisciplinary thinking and the confluence of opposing views can help new technology.

Creativity may not be emphasized enough in science class, but it isn’t just about putting arts in STEM. STEM can be put into art. Disciplines such as music are based on numerical relations. Showing the mathematical principles in context may foster more artistic individuals to consider the analytical side of their interests.  The merging of creativity and calculation on both sides can help make this less of a competition and more of an opportunity to broaden student achievement.

Will the stereotypes of boring, serious engineers and whimsical, eccentric artists fall by the wayside? Most likely not. There is an opportunity to enhance appreciation for the “opposite” side, however, and to recognize that neither has such a limited set of skills or interests as popular opinion may indicate.


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