The divide between art and science

Educational funding in this country has always come with a narrative: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) is in crisis, and that’s what we hear in order to push funding toward new computers, new textbooks and better teachers for the sciences. This is all acceptable until you realize it’s pulling away from other departments that also require funding.

The current administration is proposing to slash funding to liberal arts endowments entirely and add an additional $200 million to promote the sciences. I understand education in general is underfunded and any money coming in is a good thing, but most of it is being funneled into one department. I understand innovation is perceived as literal magic, and STEM is given priority of importance because of the possible technological developments and solutions to widespread problems—cures for diseases and tools for our needs. And yes, I understand science is pushing us forward.

However, this doesn’t mean art is not also pushing us toward something greater. Similar to how scientific breakthroughs impact the world, it is undeniable that a work of art can be just as influential. Expressing ideas in new, meaningful ways that exceed mere words is the very definition of art. These ideas affect us as a society, just as the ideas of science affect us as a species; as science defines the world, our art defines us.

It is the arts that shape our society, our perception of our successes and of our shortcomings. An idea, presented in a creative way, can spark a hundred more. Inspiration runs wild in the arts, and finding ways to look at things differently—to see from angles we hadn’t before and to try out new things—are common ground between the sciences and the arts. And funding one and not the other is simply not justified.

Those who dismiss the arts as trivial will cry practicality; they’ll point out science makes a real difference, as if to say art does not. They’ll say science gives us tangible, visible change, as if to say art does not. If art is the act of influencing perception and emotion, then art has been a factor in every major change we have ever been through. Art has helped win elections and start revolutions and end tyrannies. Art has told our stories and made sure they were remembered.

Another prominent argument those who don’t find importance in humanities have is the aspect of employment. This is exemplified by former North Carolina governor Patrick McCrory’s statement, “It’s not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs.” He went on to criticize gender studies and philosophy.

I refuse to believe the importance of art can be overlooked. And by choosing to fund science over art time and time again, we are overlooking the arts. We are doing it a disservice. How can we let an entire generation of filmmakers, artists and storytellers down simply because a few among us do not value it enough?