J.K. Riki

I Think Science is More Important Than Art

Let me start at the end.

“Until we treat Art as equally important as things like Science, we will never find the balance needed to produce the fullest human beings.”

Now let me explain what brought me to the idea above.

First, there’s something you need to understand. Until now it has been a secret of mine. Something I’ve tried to hide due to how unpopular it is among my artist colleagues and community: Most of the time, I do not hold art in the highest regard.

This may come as a surprise considering I myself am an artist. Even to me it was a bit of a shock, when I recently had the fullness of this hidden perspective pointed out to me as clear as day.

Doctors, I have long believed, are more important than artists. While I do not want to diminish that art is important, when I measure crafting a fantastic painting alongside literally saving someone’s life just before they die, doctors’ work tends to rise to a higher place in my personal judgment than any painter. Even the great painters of human history.

Teachers, I think, are more important than actors. Actors, who provide not only entertainment but wisdom through story, can do amazing things from on stage or on screen. However I always felt that the day to day mentoring of teachers simply outmatched even the greatest silver screen performances. While no doubt actors could and do change people’s lives with their work, teachers succeed or fail in changing lives. If an actor entertains but does nothing more, she can still be called a success. If a teacher entertains but does nothing more, she will be quickly fired.

If you are a painter, actor, musician, cartoonist, or any number of other creative professionals (like me) this can be rather upsetting. I hope you will stick with me to the end and not leave in a huff, having been personally insulted. I share this secret view with much difficulty, because it isn’t pretty. It is, however, honest to how I feel.

The reason I hold this view stems from a very big-picture perspective: If tomorrow civilization came crashing down, in the chaos that ensued it would be doctors, nurses, farmers, ranchers, mechanics, and those with such practical skills that would be the most necessary. If, while the world was in ruin, I stood around practicing my life drawing (as I spend time daily doing now), I would be doing a pretty massive disservice to the people around me struggling to literally survive. In fact, I would have no time for life drawing because I would be too busy trying to survive myself. Art is often something that takes a back seat to survival.

And one could argue that art is vital for a great number of other things and even for survival in many ways. Hold onto that thought for now, and let’s continue.

The reason I put myself out there to let you know the deep secrets of my judging Art is because I have recently read something that altered my view.

Author N. T. Wright presented to me a case via one of his books that made me reconsider a number of things. One of those things was my internal perspective of Art vs. Science.

First, it came as a bit of a shock to me to realize (though now it seems perfectly obvious) that part of my opinion comes from exactly how modern society* feels and acts. As Wright laid out a mini-history lesson for me, he showed (accurately) that today’s human beings place a huge priority on what is generally called Left Brain Thinking. Let me share a passage from the book:

Studies of the human brain have shown that, broadly speaking and allowing for local variations, the right hemisphere handles things like language, music, art, metaphor, poetry, and indeed religion, while the left hemisphere handles brute facts, numbers, calculations, and so on. Many have pointed out that we seem to be hardwired to do both sets of things, and that human life seems to flourish when they are brought into proper balance. One recent study proposes that the right hemisphere is demonstrably designed to take the lead, so that humans first intuit a big picture that is often only accessible through art or story or metaphor, and then go to work to figure out how it all happens. The right hemisphere, in other words, is supposed to lead the way, while the left one crunches the numbers. And some who have glimpsed this remarkable analysis have suggested that in the post-Enlightenment world this balance has gone wrong, so that left-brain thinking and knowledge have been first privileged and then given sole authority. This is the cultural equivalent of schizophrenia. But these assumptions run deep in today’s world, and they have radically conditioned the way we approach everything, including not the least the Bible.”

If you pay any attention at all to the world today (and forgive me, for as I say “the world” I must only speak of the tiny portion of the world I know, such as “in America,” and am aware that such a phrase does “the world” a great injustice) you will see that what Wright says is completely true. More and more we give precedent to generally-called Left Brain activities. We see people propose that knowledge and numbers are where focus needs to be, and storytelling or poetry (parables and metaphors which have the potential to teach us so, so much) are regulated to the sidelines. While recently The Arts have faced numerous budgetary cuts on local and national levels, I don’t want to focus on politics here. This is not a political problem, this is a personal problem. The current politics of it merely hold up a mirror to us as individuals.

I will not blame the world for causing my secret view that Art is less-than Science. It may have contributed, but I am in charge of me, and I must take responsibility. It is, simultaneously, helpful to know that these thoughts in my head were encouraged without my previous knowledge. Now that I know, I can change.

As I grow older, I strive more and more for “balance.” I am less interested in the extremism of my youth and long to be free from the bondage such extremism creates. This is what brought me to the phrase we began with.

“Until we treat Art as equally important as things like Science, we will never find the balance needed to produce the fullest human beings.”

I have, secretly in my heart, done Art a great disservice for many years. In spite of dedicating my life and time to Art, I have felt on some level that the time was wasted, because it was not saving lives or smashing atoms. Instead of giving Art equal billing to Science, I harbored resentment to Art for being inferior. Even with all the personal support in the world from family and friends, I listened to the voices of the world that shamed choosing the path of Art over practically any left-brained activity.

So what now? There is thinking to be done, for sure. This is only Step 1 in a long recovery process as I try to re-balance my internal scales of judgment on this topic. For now, I stand by my idea that doctors would be needed more during the Apocalypse than cartoonists. We are not living during the Apocalypse, though. At least not as I write this. That means I need to reevaluate some things for the present instead of living in a potential-future state of mind. There is work to be done, and now that I am aware of it, work can be done. It is past time for me to balance my own internal scales of how I view the right and left sides of my brain.

* Speaking in reference to America and Britain specifically in the book. Thankfully I’ve since learned this is not a problem everywhere.

What are your thoughts on Art/Science or Left Brain/Right Brain? Do you hold them as equal partners, or perhaps give top-billing to one vs. the other?

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  1. Pingback: Another Time I was Wrong: “Anyone Can Make It” – J.K. Riki

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