How many of us, at some point, have heard or read something about being either left-brained or right-brained and, accordingly, either creative and arty or logical and 'sciency'? Arts and science, and the skills and characteristics that contribute to each, are repeatedly alleged to fall into two separate and incompatible categories.
Data from the Nielsen Tracker (a national survey conducted twice each year since 2014 and commissioned by King's College London to support its work into the relationship between culture and major events) allows new insights into the relationship between our feelings towards arts and science. The survey determines 'sciencyness' in a number of ways: those who work in a science-related job, those who have science higher education qualifications and those who choose to describe themselves as 'sciency'. Georgina Chapman, a King's College London student in the Department of Liberal Arts, has been digging into the numbers.
The data suggests the arts-vs-science opposition to be something of a false dichotomy and that many of us are simultaneously 'arty' and 'sciency' in our interests. For example, over half of those who work in a science-related job still choose to describe themselves as 'an arty person'. Those in science-related jobs, whilst making up only a small proportion of the total population, are also twice as likely as the general population to attend arts events regularly, with 61% saying they attend live arts or cultural events several times per year.
The data reveals that 52% of those who define themselves as 'sciency' also choose to describe themselves as 'arty', suggesting that many of us do not see our skills and interests as being confined to a single category.
The majority of those who are deeply involved in science due to their education or job don't see themselves as standing in opposition with arts and culture. Quite the opposite: they are attracted to both. (70% of those who have, or are studying towards, some level of science degree say that they attend live arts and cultural events at least once a year. This is higher than the average for all adults in the survey, which is closer to 50%.)
The data suggests that the pattern might also work in the opposite direction. For example, just under half (47%) of those who agree that they are 'arty' self-identify as 'sciency' at the same time. The idea that we must identify as one or the other seems to be a myth.
In light of these findings, it feels particularly appropriate that King's College London will open its Science Gallery in 2018. The gallery will be a place dedicated to the collision of art and science, based upon the belief that it's at the boundaries between disciplines that genuine innovation occurs - that bringing together ideas from different perspectives is conducive to learning and discovery because it allows for richer discussions that lead to new insights, approaches and ideas. Creativity and imagination is at the very centre of experimentation and discovery - as important in science as it is in art - and Science Gallery at King's College London will embody the same interdisciplinary approach that is so much a feature of King's overall.
As much as we might continue to see the propagation of the arts and sciences dichotomy, of the left-brained/right-brained notion, and as much as we might once have felt compelled to choose to do (or to be) one or the other, the Nielsen data and the opening of Science Gallery London suggest that the tides are turning. Our outlook is broader, the boundaries between ideas and genres are much less distinct and the supremacy of the single-discipline may well have had its day. An interdisciplinary approach, connecting between the right and the left-brained is the key. As Einstein said, 'Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere'.