At the crossroads of art and science with da Vinci

I recently found this infographic on Leonardo da Vinci by Anna Vital.

By Anna Vital at adioma

While I just started on his biography by Walter Isaacson, I relate so much to the difficulty of balancing both art and science. While I am a highly visual creative with artistic sensibilities, I am also traditionally trained in science and engineering. Finding my balance between the two worlds has always been a recurring question in my life.

Da Vinci illustrated thousands of pages in his journals, ranging from working out horse’s hooves to how a fetus fits in the womb. These were sketches for artistic value, yet they were full of scientific facts and original discoveries.

Growing up in the education system, I was always taught that art and science are segregated into two separate worlds. The liberal and fine arts were considered a distraction from a real, successful life and more frequently discouraged as I matured into an adult. Being an adult meant that I needed to stop indulging in frivolous ideas and focus on engineering and finance. Somehow as a kid, I maneuvered myself into a world where it was easier to indulge in both art and science but not exactly one or the other: design.

From there, I seesawed between the world of art and science. Moving from graphic and web design, I taught myself data science and machine learning. I wandered into computer vision and robotics, and skipped into defensive programming. I dove into medical imaging research and emerged wanting in software engineering. I skimmed the water with natural language processing, turned around, and dove headfirst into no-code technology and blockchain. It constantly feels like my silo is always moving and changing and taking on a different shape. To this day, I still seesaw between the world of art and science.

Yet, I am noticing a new evolution in the modern thought of education. Technology is changing everything. With the emergence of generative art, the stunning realism of cinematic software in movies and more, the gap between art and science is being realized more and more in the mainstream. The world is abuzz!

It intrigues me to see how da Vinci succeeded in pursuing both art and science. No matter how much experience or learning I have made, I still often run into the limits of my knowledge- an adjacent space where all my questions continue to tease me. I could always be better. I could be better at designing knitwear if I knew more about construction, better at shaping if I knew more about anatomy, better at combining colors if I knew more about optics.

Da Vinci allowed himself decades to pursue answers to simple, yet daunting questions such as how to calculate the area of a circle. His scientific experiments consumed decades of his life even though it wasn’t even necessary for his art.

Yet, it is what made his art. He created paintings that were not just aesthetically beautiful, but also rooted in science. Even more so, his contributions towards engineering and science is prolific. As his notebooks show, he strove to understand the science in much greater detail than he needed. His practice reminds me of books by some of my favorite writers who needlessly dive into topics they love-What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami, or String Theory: On Tennis by David Foster Wallace.

“ Having wandered some distance among gloomy rocks, I came to the entrance of a great cavern … Two contrary emotions arose in me: fear and desire — fear of the threatening dark cavern, desire to see whether there were any marvelous things in it.”

Leonardo da Vinci

In the past month, I have come to accept that my creativity is largely struck by realism and science, constructed by the human mind. That I must chase it down to a proper science. That there will still be more gregarious questions forming in my silo at such intersection.


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