As an artist, writer, and educator who has taught STEM/STEAM classes, the intersection between the arts and the sciences is ever present. Perhaps you’re wondering, being an artist, why the understanding or exploration of STEAM has any relevance at all or what “STEAM” even is for that matter. So, let’s explore. STEAM is essentially the incorporation of the Arts including design, into the sciences (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math). The art and science disciplines might seem like an unlikely couple but in reality, this marriage has a promising future and in some ways, has already been acquainted in the past.
Artists and scientists have often shared similar characteristics, many of which have been acknowledged by some of history’s greatest minds. It was the brilliant scientist and physicist Albert Einstein that said, “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.” Similarly, artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci said, “To develop a complete mind: Study the art of science; study the science of art. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
The arts and sciences seem to have already had a strong connection and unique history. Similar qualities and characteristics such as curiosity, the ability to problem-solve, unbridled imaginations, inquisitiveness, the ability to think critically and the desire to bring the imagination to life are qualities that artists and scientists have been known to share. So it’s not surprising that this combination and awareness about this connection between science and art is now appearing in our educational systems, especially given the dawning of the digital revolution and the incorporation of technology in almost every facet of our lives.
STEAM, again, is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math. It is applied mainly in the realm of education. STEAM grew out of another acronym, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), which is a far more established initiative. STEM education became a high priority for the United States and U.S. Department of Education in response to the demand for and lack of an experienced and skilled workforce in these critical areas. The demand was so great and future need so prominent, that numerous STEM education initiatives were created by the Department of Education to provide teachers and students with skills in these areas. Now, most school districts in the country have a STEM program and more and more universities are beginning to offer undergraduate and graduate programs with majors and concentrations in “STEM.” The idea of incorporating the Arts or the “A” into STEM was “...championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals,” according to the organization STEM to STEAM, (http://stemtosteam.org). Although the incorporation of the arts into STEM curricula, school districts and education programs is still in its infancy, it seems to be growing. When one thinks about the world we live in, it makes sense that art and design, technology, science, engineering and math would work well together. Websites, magazines, newspapers, you name it, wouldn’t be very engaging for example, if a graphic designer didn’t add their design and typography knowledge, or an artist related illustrations or digital art. Digital illustrators as well incorporate technology and other skills, including mathematical principles to create their work. As an artist or designer, the emergence of STEAM and the increasingly apparent relationship between the arts and the sciences is important because it might offer artists with new opportunities for collaboration in these areas. Scientists for example, might be able to learn from artists in ways they didn’t think possible. Artists might create new works inspired by scientific discovery. STEAM educators who are also artists or scientists might inspire a new wave of discovery and creation by future generations. As an artist, I think one of the most important aspects to take away from understanding and acknowledging the STEAM movement is, as the great Leonardo da Vinci said, “... [to] realize that everything connects to everything else.” And with collaboration of different disciplines and the awareness of unlikely connections, innovative and exciting things can be realized.
Stefani A. Allegretti is an educator, freelance writer and interdisciplinary, contemporary artist living and working in the Pittsburgh Metro Area. Her award-winning art work has appeared in various exhibitions throughout the United States and focuses on exploring connections, connections between the natural world and the human body, connections in the environment and the human-to-human connection through the use of various technologies. Allegretti holds a Master's Degree in Education and a B.A. in Studio Art from the University of Pittsburgh, a B.A. in English from Rutgers University and has multiple certifications. She has taught STEM & art classes in both formal and informal learning environments. Her work can be viewed at www.stefaniallegrettiart.com.