16 May 2006


You've heard it in a hundred films, "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup!" It's probably happened to you before as well. You're munching away on your 9 Layer Nachos and suddenly encounter... gasp!... gross me out the door... the dreaded hair in your food. Eek! Gag me with a spoon. I'm gonna barf right here and now. Etcetera, etcetera.

Before you delete this blog and resolve to never read Erin's posts again, let me assure you this entry is not a sordid tale of last night's restaurant experience. It's about something much different, and yet strangely very similar.

Imagine, if you will, the world's geeks gathered around in their number-crunching, keyboard-tapping, Bunson-burner loving huddles. Passionately they formulate, evaluate, double-check and postulate. The chalkdust is billowing and voices are rising as they reach a fever pitch of debate about what all this information and evidence could mean. And then, from the center of the throng, the Nerd of all Nerds pipes up, "Waiter, there's art in my science!" Gasp!

Next door, les artistes are gathered in their black turtlenecks and AllHeart clogs. Sitting on giant pillows they listen to a harpist strum while her counterpart spouts a stream-of-consciousness poetic tribute to African toads. Soft candlelight flickers. The room is filled with the scent of oil paints and metallurgy. Inspiration is all around. The group moves and sways to their own rhythmic beat within, when suddenly, the entire experience comes to a screeching halt. The startled poet arises from his perch and dramatically swoons, "Waiter, there's science in my art!"

Isn't it curious how we want to divide our human experience into catergories? We want life to be 100% one thing and nothing else. Pure science or pure art. Never the two shall meet.
I put it to you that the two meet constantly. And in fact, that one cannot EXIST without the presence of the other. Whichever way the pendulum swings for you- art or science- I'm betting you'd be able to identify a small dose of the "fly in your soup." And in this case, the fly in your soup is a blessed, blessed thing!

Ask my sister, Sarah, a self-professed non-creative, who just finished taking a floral design class. As a requirement of the class she had to memorize the genus and species name for each plant and flower, learn their soil and climate preferences, and how to "process" each flower for longevity before putting it into an arrangement. Only after she tackled these sciences, was she able to begin the art of flower arranging. She used her intuitive sense to decide which flower colors complimented each other and which textures and shapes lent themselves to a certain mood. Often times she'd come home with an arrangement she'd made according to the class instructions (science) and reassemble it to suit her own tastes (art).

I went to a homeschool bookfair this weekend and overheard several pieces of conversation between parents. "What are you using to teach little Bobby to read?" "How has this math curriculum worked for Erica?" "I just haven't found something that makes spelling click for my child." As parents and teachers browsed the bookshelves, they were consumed with not only the science of teaching, but with the art of teaching their individual children.
Not everyone learns the same concept in the same way. Some people absolutely have to see things demonstrated, written out, sketched in three dimensions. They're scientifically labeled as visual learners. Other folks can't concentrate with their eyes open. They have to shut out the distractions and listen to the lilt of a voice, the cadence of the spoken words, the harmonies of the music. Scientifically, they're known as audial learners. There's kinesthetic, or action-learners. There's right-brained, left-brained, and then there's me, hair-brained. And God, in His great artistry, has made us each in glorious variety.

Rhonda just completed a work of art for Art Unleashed in Winston-Salem, NC. Ask her how much science went into this huge creative undertaking. She tested a myriad of tubes of paint to match the color and viscosity she was aiming for. She tested brushes for flexibility and play. Then she logged it all in a format that was easy to refer back to when she stood in front of her masterpiece with artist's block. Which brand of paint was it that went on very thin and watery? All she had to do was look in her scientific painter's log for the pertinent information, and then the art could continue to flow freely.

Ask Greta how much art and science is involved when you're a newlywed at the age of 35. She can read marriage handbooks out the wazoo, which is a great thing to do, but when it comes right down to it, Greta and hubby are going to have to take an artistic approach to living together with each other in love and harmony. You can't science a marriage between two individuals. Nor can you "art" it 100% either.

My sis- in- law, Jen, is pregnant with baby #4 and lives in a 3 bedroom apartment above a barn. It is a beautiful life they live on the farm, but if we interviewed her about how she manages 3 kids under the age of 6, while trying to keep her breakfast down, while trying to kill that pesky mouse that worked it's way up from the barn, while potty training a toddler... she's going to tell us that parenting is a blend of science (naps are a must between 12 and 3 o'clock or the evidence shows that no one in this house is happy), and art (the creative approaches she's taken to expand their small living space and keep the house quiet during naptimes are impressive!)

Jen's husband, Dustin, (who is also my brother), is a cabinetmaker and woodworker. He's had a lot of training in how to use the tools of the trade, what woods lend themselves to which stains and varnishes, how to build a structure according to the county building codes, and what NOT to do with your fingers near the saw blade. There's a painful scientific experiment! But now that he has a dose of the science of woodworking under his belt, he is free to jump off into the creative arena and pair burled walnut with maple to achieve a beautiful contrast between the two grains. He has new eyes to appreciate the skill of cabinetmakers from previous eras. He built a chuppa for his own wedding, which was intended to then become the four posts of their marriage bed. (I think the rapid-fire children might have preempted that one though.) Art.

Lance is a pastor of a medium sized church. 4+ years of seminary taught him how to peel back the layers of God's Word, how to systematically theologize, how to understand church mechanics and management, how to develop leadership skills and the like. When the rubber meets the road though, Lance is taking the science of pastoring and using an artistic approach to fleshing it out. When the youth pastor quits, or that single mom loses her job, or the church receives a large monetary gift, Lance will tell you he has to branch out of the clinical church mode and adopt a little more creative thought process in order to minister to God's people in all their varieties.

Lance's wife, Jeni, is- you guessed it- a pastor's wife. If EVER there was someone who needs to learn the art of flexibility, it's a pastor's wife. Saying hello to your husband at 3pm and goodbye again at 7:15 as he heads out for a committee meeting... well, you just can't "science" when the guy's going to be around. But what Jeni is very good at, in regards to the science of being a pastor's wife, is keeping herself sharp as a counselor, a confidant, a supportive wife, and a comunicator. My friend is constantly reading to improve her serve, feeding on the Word of God, pouring her soul out to Him, making sure she surrounds herself with running mates that can lift her up when the life of a pastor's wife becomes overwhelming.

The DeMuth family has had to learn a new language recently. After all the le/la, un/une, de/des, past participles, and future verb tenses are said and done, they'll tell us that they scientifically understand how to communicate in French. But I bet they'd also tell us that living in France demands an artistic approach. If they want the concierge to collect their mail for them while they're away, should they say "Please collect our mail" or "Please keep our mail" or "Please guard our mail"? (I attempted this once when I lived in France, and sure enough, I got my verb wrong. And was kindly given a French lesson on the spot. Lo and behold, how I learned to say "keep" applies to certain things, but not others. Some things need to be "kept", other things need to be "guarded".) The DeMuth's just can't science living and speaking in France. They've got to be open to adapting creatively.

There's a scene in the movie, Babette's Feast, in which a trained opera singer is walking down the village street and hears a young woman singing through her window. He rushes to her door and begs her father to allow him to give her singing lessons. But wait, wasn't she a beautiful singer already? Well, yes, but without understanding her tools and how to use them- the science of singing, her artistic talent would never meet it's full potential. How many wildly creative people have suffered because they don't know how to effectively harness their talent?

Two more examples and then I'll let you contribute.

My kids take karate at the local sportsplex. As a newcomer to martial arts, I have been very impressed with the wonderful blend of art and science. The class has to know the proper order of the forms. The kicks, jabs, punches and blocks. But there is a huge element of art to the delivery of that set course.
One night the girls took a belt test to graduate to the next level. One boy was testing for a much higher level. His test included fighting with nunchuks, sticks, and all sorts of other weaponry unfamiliar to my entry-level white belts. The boy was struggling to make his forms polished and clean. The master was kindly but strongly encouraging him to tighten his motions, make cleaner lines, kick with more force, etc. Towards the end, the master offered a comment pregnant with meaning, "You know what to do, but you don't know how to do it."
The boy had the science, but not the art. (He finally did pass his belt test that night, much to the palpable relief of all present.)

I took the kids out for ice cream last week. Ellie, my messy eater, was applying the artistic approach to eating a melting ice cream cone.
- Use your tongue to create a small cave in the center.
- Pretend a family of polar bears lives in the cave and give them each a voice as they discuss how warm this spring has gotten.
- Drip, drip, drip.

Ever the artist, Ellie disregarded the science of eating a melting cone.
- One half-turn to the right.
- Lick.
- One half-turn to the right.
- Lick.

Science and art together is what's going to keep her ice cream in her cone. Not sure she cares too much about that though. ;)

So, as you find the fly of science doing the backstroke in your happy bowl of artistic soup, be thankful! Without that fly, you would be awfully onesided in your perspective. Science and art are two sides to the same coin of our existence.


Blogger Sarah said...

Very insightful. I do feel encouraged that even though I lean towards the science...little peeks of art must come out, even when I don't know it!

3:55 PM  
Blogger gramarty said...

I love what you said and how you said it! We all live this beautiful meld every day. I'm so glad that God considered it all...what would the world be like without being able to weigh and measure..."Hmmm...wonder how much daylight we'll have today?" "Will the rain fall up or down next time?" "What WILL happen if I drop this glass?...jump off this cliff?"

But what if it was all science? I'm getting a bleak picture of the surface of the moon or the former Soviet Union...and Numbers! Numbers! Numbers! How beautiful to be able to use numbers to count red flowers, bluebirds and dragonflies!

You are a one beautiful, colorful, artfully scientific joy to me!

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Erin, you are the most wonderfully artistic writer and you form beatifully crafted sentences in the most grammically (or scientifically) correct combinations.

This was a superb reflection on art+science.

-- Love, Steve.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Let me add this to my already WAY too long post. Steve was the man who started me thinking about all of this in the first place. I'm so ashamed to have neglected my muse. Sorry, Babe.

Steve, Grand Pumba of the Computer Nerds, often comes home with stories much like my intro. The geeks at work sitting around the conference table, all working on the same problem, but each one turning out a different solution. Some geeks are cut and dried- just the facts, get to heart of the matter, quickest route from A to B. Other geeks choose the scenic route- seasoning their code with "If/Then"s, flowcharts, and pretty equations that are nice, but not entirely necessary. Art and science.

Perhaps we should call geeks, "Binary Artists."
And painters, "Mixed Media Engineers."

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Oh Erin! I never cease to be inspired when I come to visit your blog - or your house for that matter!

Why is it that all things are both science and art? I suppose that it's because our wonderful Creator is that way Himself. I often think about how God did not have to give us so much beauty with our function, yet He did.

An example that is culturally relevant to your Japan study is the bonsai. To create one first demands the study of the science behind proper pruning and plant care. Then art then begins as the craftsman studies the tree and coaxes it into the pleasing form it has wanted to be. A quote from The Bonsai Site: "It is the art of dwarfing trees or plants and developing them into an aesthetically appealing shape by growing, pruning and training them in containers according to prescribed techniques."

Science and art, just like you said!

Thanks again, Erin, for your inspiration.

1:01 PM  
Blogger gretalynn said...

Catching up on the blogs. Is blogging an art, science, or both? Both, I believe. I'm working on the science of it to hopefully hone in on the art!


PS, You're right about the marriage handbooks! If they were 100% helpful there would only be one! (They are some % helpful, but we're finding Ephesians, Psalms, and a few others rather helpful, too!)

7:29 PM  
Blogger eclexia said...

Oh so very true. And there are so many implications in all of life.

One area where I have commented on this is with getting my hair cut. I hated paying money for that, because a beautician could do a fine job of cutting hair, but it was like they couldn't make a particular style fit my face. I'd rather look "not quite right" by letting my hair grow too long than to pay money to have it look "not quite right".

But then my pastor's wife told me about her neighbor--the redneck neighbor who cuts hair out of his garage and makes sure you know every time you visit that he's not gay. The guy who takes 2 hours to cut your hair, because before he ever starts he's stepping back and studying and pulling and scrunching. The guy who insults you and anybody else he happens to think of while he's working (let's get those bangs so we can cover up that billboard forehead. OMG, what did you do to your hair? You look like an old lady with your hair that color....)
I put up with it all, because he is an artist and a scientist. I can take in a look I want, and he may grumble about it and how it's not the haircut he'd give me, but in the end, after studying on it and my face for a while, he'll make that cut fit me.

And sometimes, like last time when he was ticked off at someone, he gave me a 20 minute cut and it really didn't look like the cut I'd wanted, but good grief did it look good. He can't help but cut hair in a way that fits the person he's cutting for.

The first time I went to him, he was trying to rescue my very dry and damaged hair. He had his beauty school book out from decades ago and was showing me all the science of dry hair and also the science of cutting hair according to face shapes, etc., but then when he started cutting, I saw that the science was the backdrop out of which the art flowed.

Thanks for giving so many other beautiful illustrations of how experts tend to be both artists and scientists rather than one or the other.

7:10 AM  

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