Art without engineering is dreaming. Engineering without art is calculating.
Steven Roberts’s words hold true today, especially when we try to outline the transformation of engineering study over the years.
The fascinating field of engineering, which was once believed to be nothing more than a science, has evolved to become a culmination of technical science and arts—dreaming, calculating, creating and innovating—all to solve a problem.
Engineering wasn’t always disparate from art or even the arts. Think back to the late 1400s when an Italian polymath named Leonardo da Vinci stunned the world with his masterpieces. His keen sense of scientific observation coupled with his flawless artistic skill makes one ask: was Leonardo da Vinci a scientific artist or was he an artistic scientist? If he was a young teenager picking out a major, would he be looking through the brochures of an engineering programme or seeking admission to one of the world’s best art schools?
Fast forward to the last decade, engineering programmes were pretty one-dimensional in their teachings. Students were fed technical concepts, teachers demonstrated a few applications and there was always a right and a wrong answer. A student’s CGPA and their ability to present the preached right answer for marks is what determined their admission— and nothing else.
Thankfully, things changed for the better starting 2008 when engineering studies became a culmination of science and art. Let’s examine a few of the factors leading to this and conditions of this radical transformation:
1. The STEMming of the STEAM approach
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) acronym was coined to describe studies in the aforementioned fields which have a significant impact on every sphere of everyone’s lives. A STEM-based curriculum was created to inspire students to learn and apply the principles from these fields driven towards problem solving. Even at present, there is a challenge to getting students interested in STEM subjects leading to the expansion of the acronym.
Then came an idea from Georgette Yakman to add Arts into the acronym, in order to assimilate the concepts from all of the above fields and extend their relevance to the society we live in. This ensures a march towards a more globalised knowledge-driven future which makes engineering a culmination of science and art.
2. An engineering branch dedicated to the marriage of science & art- Industrial Design
The transition to STEAM was one thing, dedicating an entire branch of engineering sciences to this marriage of science and art is a whole nother ball game. Industrial design engineering is a specialised Masters-level degree that students can opt for. This field is an interplay of technology, design and personnel thereby delving into the human aspect of technology and art.
3. Technologies from the cinematic realm of art to reality
We’ve seen the incorporation of modern technologies into the cinematic realm of art but there are innumerable technological innovations birthed from ideas touched upon on the big screen. The smartwatch, VR headsets, hoverboards and drones are a few of the technological innovations inspired by movies.
4. Not everything is either black or white
Not just engineering, but every field in science until a while ago believed that there was either a right answer or wrong. With no space for fiction or imagination, people were restricted to the boxes they were placed in. Innovation is a result of questioning, brainstorming and experimenting, but the scope for this would be considerably reduced if everything is believed to be right or wrong.
This is where the concepts of art comes in. Not everything is created with an intention to please everyone, not everything is either black or white. It is also a wise step to consider injecting an Arts-based critiquing process in Engineering study.
In India, the engineering field has been a popular choice among younger students and their parents because of the countless opportunities offered by an engineering degree nationally and internationally. The integration of concepts of science and art in this field have expanded career options even more for aspiring engineers.