By Leonard A. Jason
Are art and science so different? At the deepest levels, the overlap is stunning. The artist wakes us from the slumber of ordinary existence by uncovering a childlike wonder and awe of the natural environment. The same magical processes occur when a scientist grasps the mysteries of nature, and by doing so, ultimately shows a graceful interconnectedness.
The intuition of the artist is no different from the hunches of a scientist. Both draw from unconscious realms where inner voices and soaring images provide sustenance for the imagination. Distractions and blind alleys often prevent the grasping of new visions or unraveling of complex social problems. Instincts and other primordial sources can break these intellectual and emotional barriers, and provide unparalleled insights into the vital nature of reality.
Both artist and scientist are revolutionaries, trying to change our perceptions and understanding of the world. Sometimes the fuel is no more than an outrage that “this must change”. Their paths often begin with a gnawing realization that something is askew in nature, which sets the traveler on a journey into the unknown to find what is missing, such as bringing about a more just and humane society.The bane of artists and scientists is existing paradigms and ideologies, which represent conventional and at times suffocating norms. The status quo is interwoven with concentrated power, which can corrupt and defeat attempts to overthrow dominant values, philosophies, and social inequities. Financial benefactors offer rewards that reinforce a social hierarchy resistant to change. Therefore, when peering into the world with new lenses, like Galileo, radical new insights and discoveries are often challenged and opposed by those reifying mainstream standards and mores.
Artists and scientists use similar strategies and tactics to confront power structures that perpetuate institutional stagnation. Resources need to be identified and mobilized to buttress dreams and inspiration, to weather the assaults of critiques and forces inimical to new perspectives. Focus and commitment against seemingly insurmountable opposition can be sustained and validated by nurturing coalitions, including professional colleagues, friends, and family members. These cadres of supportive counter-change agents often provide a life-affirming antidote to the isolation and even animosity that can be engendered by radical transformative ideas and solutions to aesthetic and social issues. New professional and community coalitions can provide alternative sources of meaning by challenging existing reference groups and standards, and by validating innovative ways of approaching formerly intractable problems.
Suffice it to say, scientists and artists are often greeted with suspicion, disbelief, or even outright disdain for their offerings. Some retreat whereas others persist in sharing their new insights and knowledge in the public domain, regardless of the ego injuries and accruing disrespect. These prophets often feel as if they are lost in a dense fog or dark forest, but their enduring resolve to pursue an unconventional line of research or provide an alternative glimpse of reality represents a sustaining force. It is not fleeting happiness nor a drunken sense of wild abandon that uphold these commitments, but rather a deep sense of conviction and faith about one’s liberating vision.
Finally, learning, experimentation, feedback, and refinement are the backbone of both the sciences and the arts. Decades of painstaking analysis and observation were critical in the development of Darwin’s grand theory of evolution. The dissection of corpses and countless sketches polished and unleashed Michelangelo’s genius in capturing the human spirit in exquisite detail. Sweat and toil nurture the fertile imagination and fine tune the ability to peer through nature’s veil and uncover eternal truths that lead to Eureka moments of exhilarating discovery.
Spectacular gifts await us as we work to unravel the DNA of equality, faith, love, and compassion, and thereby usher in a world saturated with meaning, surrounded by creative rapturous forces. True research has a soul of an artist.
Leonard A. Jason is a Professor of Clinical and Community Psychology at DePaul University, and the Director of the Center for Community Research. For 38 years, he has been studying the interplay between creative forces and the process of community change. He is the author of Principles of Social Change (2013), published by Oxford University Press.