Scientists of the avant-garde?

Over at, Mark Changizi has a post about “unconstrained scientific craziness”:

I criticized avant-garde artists for their craziness, all the while explicitly aiming for craziness as a scientist! In effect, I was teaching my students to be avant-garde scientists, and trying myself to be an avant-garde scientist, yet somehow failing to notice that this outlook had transformative implications for my view of avant-garde art.

Just like me, avant-garde artists are trying to be “crazy”, hoping to make that next non-incremental advance. There’s a method to the madness: the madness is a fundamental facet of the mechanism of the creative process, a process that eventually can break new artistic ground.

Hmmm. I agree insofar that science requires a shot of intuition to make significant advances. I’m not sure, however, that either art or science need be “crazy” to do that, in the stereotypical sense of some eccentric artist getting naked in public or building a sculpture out of her nail clippings. (I’m a watercolorist; my art is really restrained.) But I do agree that creativity is important – much more so than many young scientists starting out believe. It’s hard when you realize that the hardest part of doing science isn’t all the hours spent hunched over the bench – anyone can work long hours – but the need to come up with good, innovative ideas, and keep coming up with them.


  1. #1 Christina
    April 29, 2010

    This is really interesting–the place of creativity in science and rigor in art is obvious to scientists and artists, but ends up being the basis for how people try to separate the two endeavors. I don’t know if I agree with you that the hardest part of science is coming up with innovative ideas. I think the point of graduate school is to not only learn how to come up with creative ideas, but to come up with ideas that are worth putting in those long bench hours for and in the end having something to show for it. In art and in science ideas by themselves are cheap, it’s the creativity and the rigor of the execution that really matter.

New comments have been disabled.