3D Printing

The Art Of Making: From STEM to STEAM

The Arts. To some this subject raises ideas of leisure activities for the retired, something that infants do with crayons, and modern Art installations that they find to be both a waste of money and time. To others the Arts are the cornerstone of lateral thinking, which endows the logical thinking of the Sciences with the means to postulate and extrapolate; Technology with innovation and progression; and Mathematics with radical proofs and giant leaps and mankinds’ search for meaning with the means to express the psychological, emotional and sensory. All subject fields get a capital letter today folks…

Einstein made two statements that have lodged themselves deep within my own thinking ever since I first read them: ‘All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree,’ and, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ Whilst it took the building of empirical logic via mathematics over many generations to create the foundation of Einstein’s greatest insights, it was his ability to think creatively that produced the giant leaps for mankind that we see in General Relativity and other epoch changing theses.

Mathematics can build an astoundingly complex structure of pure logic that provides us with the building blocks of a logical system to predict the behaviour of everything from quarks to galactic clusters. But it was viewing the universe from the perspective of the universe, the cataclysmic giant leap of empathy with the nature of space-time, which defied almost every aspect of our sensory experience of reality, a creative, lateral, giant leap for mankind.

There has been a drive to position Art within the educational framework of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing, for the past few years in the vital economic driving force that is the United States — the second largest economy in the world (P.R.China first? Not just yet Chinese readers, the European Union is currently the largest single economic entity, although this depends upon one’s definition) and driving force behind innovation for the past century. Competition in the global village is hotting up, and the ramifications of this should not be lost upon anyone.

In 2008 the Conference Board and Americans for the Arts, in association with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), conducted a survey of executives and school superintendents called Ready to Innovate. The study demonstrated that more and more companies are looking for skill sets in their new employees that are much more Arts / creativity related than Science / Maths related. Companies want workers who can brainstorm, problem-solve, collaborate creatively and contribute/communicate new ideas.

In June 2011, The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) worked with Rep. James Langevin to introduce Resolution 319 to the U.S. House of Representatives, which stated: “adding Art and design into federal programs that target the…STEM fields encourages innovation and economic growth.” The resolution would have encouraged districts to include Art and Design in STEM during the reauthorisation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Though the resolution failed, Babette Allina, RISD’s director of government relations, said in 2013 that their team plans to reintroduce the resolution: “STEM is a little bit narrow, and critical thinking occurs across multiple disciplines. Art and design sits at the same table as STEM.” Last year, there were further groups seeking this change, such as this form from Americans for the Arts ACTION Fund and this petition in support of House Resolution 51, promoting STEAM.

To quote steamtostem.org: ‘What is STEAM? In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century. We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM…’

But also, beyond vital economic implications, why? Why do our children need the arts?

There are now a number of individual initiatives promoting STEAM based learning. Notable examples include the DREAM project for Developing Reading Education with Arts Methods, and the Right Brain Initiative out of Portland Oregon, one of the biggest efforts in North America  to integrate the Arts into what has become the mainstream.

There is almost as much of a mass cultural notion that Science and Art are opposites as there is that religion and science are polar extremes. Mankind has always categorised and stratified fields of learning, but it was Aristotle who truly fast-forwarded and compounded the notion that there are useful workable facets of human understanding by emphasising a system of fields in the first Academy over two thousand years ago. It has become engrained at the deepest level in the social consciousness that individual subjects are extant entities and perhaps only recently has cross-curricular study been made popular.

STEAM 3D Printing

As technology progresses an ever greater range of specialisations occur within genres: From attoscience to exo-meteorology, neuroethology to nanobiomechanics, the progression of the aptitude to measure and record data ever increases with technological change, forming new areas of application for these strata. But in the opposite direction flows the deeper commonalities between the ever-growing range of categories and sub-categories of specialities. In terms of Science and Art, let us look at a quote from Scientific America:

‘Both are dedicated to asking the big questions placed before us: “What is true? Why does it matter? How can we move society forward?” Both search deeply, and often wanderingly, for these answers. We know that the scientist’s laboratory and the artist’s studio are two of the last places reserved for open-ended inquiry, for failure to be a welcome part of the process, for learning to occur by a continuous feedback loop between thinking and doing.’

As an Art and Design graduate I know myself just how trivialised the creative fields are within education. The Science department at school garnered vast funding, the new Design Technology block was positioned next to the Science block. The Art department received a new building, positioned at the very opposite side of the school, the furthest building from the main gates. There was a very definite atmosphere among both pupils and teachers that Art was for the strange, was relatively useless in an educational system increasingly positioned as a means to acquire the skills required for a career, and decreasingly about the maintenance of respect for culture, knowledge and ethical self-betterment (the kind that doesn’t merely involve acquiring more material possessions) as ends that reside alongside the pursuit of maximising a career in a highly competitive economic system.

This was a Grammar School, one of the institutions that (contentiously) separates the supposedly highly intelligent from the crowd in the UK’s educational system, a place where funding was relatively good, and other schools in the area – for better or worse – looked on with envy. Alongside Music, Latin, Religious Studies and more, very few students took the subjects at higher levels. Art itself was positioned as Art & Design. I was encouraged to take an additional A-Level to the Art & Design, Design Technology, Information Technology (computing) and compulsory General Studies, as I was told that if I was staying in the country that I was brought up in, the jobs would simply not be there. So, I added Physics to the list.

For myself then, Science, Technology and Art made up the core of my studies. For myself, they were fairly inseparable. There is no ‘I proved them wrong’ aspect to this tale at all. I did have to move away to find work, after a number of years struggling by doing jobs like selling musical instruments, whilst doing freelance Graphic Design, Illustration and so forth. Now, it is somewhat ironic that it wouldn’t matter where I live as I work at home, writing about the Technology which embodies the convergence of using Mathematics to convert artistic designs to the actual via material and industrial Sciences to create objects primarily in the fields of Engineering and Manufacturing.

The US and the UK share many cultural similarities. Both have proved to be highly innovative cultures in the past few centuries particularly in the fields of science and technology.  In these fields it was once a case of where the UK went, the US followed, and now, broadly speaking, the reverse is true. It is little surprise then to hear the claim that was made by the UK’s Chair of the Commons Select Committee for Culture Media and Sport, John Whittingdale MP, just two months ago: “Arts should be part of the core curriculum,” and: “the success of our creative industries is an ample demonstration of why it is so much in our interests to make the arts a core part of the curriculum,” he exclaimed at a parliamentary debate to address the UK Government’s response to the Committee’s recent report Supporting the Creative Economy.

Mr. Whittingdales view was picked up by Members of Parliament from both parties, with the opposition (Labour) Equalities Minister Sharon Hodgson making the case for STEM — the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in schools — to become STEAM with the inclusion of the Arts, to improve the status of Arts education in schools.

She is specifically concerns that discount codes are deterring young people from taking more than one GCSE in Arts subjects, saying: “We would find it absurd to restrict a child by discounting French and German or chemistry and physics, so why do we accept discrimination against creative subjects?” She posed the question as only a politician could: “why is the Department [for Education] knowingly and deliberately undermining creativity in our schools?” referring to cuts in recruitment numbers in initial training from 600 to 350 for art and design teachers since 2009.

Whilst this author will certainly be taking no political sides in this article, I will say that it feels good to know that all of the leading Parties in the State within which I reside are taking this issue into consideration. There are many, many other countries about which I could write, but here I will leave the examples of the dynamic occurring in the United States and United Kingdom as indicative of a turning tide towards creative thinking. Hopefully this is a change in the tide that will occur across the world.

Even beyond the benefits of creative thought to the range of other disciplines that are augmented by this natural half of our brains’ cognitive processing, if the creative heart of our children in education is lost to solely listing facts, computing formulae and hours staring at screens, have we not set the conditions for a more robot like generation of individuals in themselves? Individuals who have lost the spirit of what it means to look at the clouds with blue sky thinking and interpret dragons and faces, to then go on to brainstorm the creative innovative ideas that turn clunky mobiles into smartphones, programming architecture into visual interfaces, and maybe even monotone plastic 3D printers into multi-colour, multi-material devices capable of layering silver nanoparticle ink to create home desktop 3D printed electronics?

3D printing has a strong role to play in the revitalisation of not just the critical areas of engineering and manufacturing, but also taking artistic and design expression to, if you’ll excuse my pun, another dimension. Indeed, desktop 3D printing is but an empty shell of potential without the designs that are so fundamentally founded upon the artistic lateral thinking process, appreciation of aesthetics and ergonomics and visual awareness. Further still, the more that robotisation and digitalisation envelope manufacturing and the all round production within our entire global economy, the more that the expenditure of physical energy will give way to the expenditure of cognitive energy.

Automation gradually shifts entire cultures away from having to expend large amounts of time upon food production, then mineral and ore extraction, then manual manufacturing processes, then even services become increasingly based upon information, digitalisation, personalisation and the culture of the mind. This transition from muscle to mind is one of the biggest overall trends in human culture over the course of the history of civilisation. Creativity is a particularly mind orientated process. Logical dedications are heavily mind based too of course, but it is in imagination, the ability to create mind-scapes, world’s of rules and systems within our cognition and then view those rules and systems from different perspectives, whether plausible in the actual or not, that is a very mind based process, and also a process particularly developed in human beings.

Over in the US, an example of how STEAM and 3D printing are coming together will be witnessed at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. 3D Systems  (NYSE:DDD) has just announced that it will demonstrate how 21st century tools support and promote digital literacy by showcasing the contributions of 3D printing in K-12 STEAM education and after-school programs at the event. The company will be inviting attendees to experience 3D design, 3D scanning and 3D printing live at the event. The event will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., from April 26 – 27, 2014.