The Venn Diagram of Art and Science

Posted on December 7th, 2009 in braindump

(If the above image makes perfect sense to you, you can go ahead and stop reading, because the rest of this post is just going to be me ranting a bit to the people that don’t get what the hell we’re talking about.)

Yesterday, I meant to just post a link over to the ever-excellent I Love Typography blog to answer a FAQ about book layout. And then I accidentally veered off into the start of an unintentional tangent about Art versus Science, because, really, that’s a “debate” that pushes about twenty of my buttons. No apologies for those scare quotes, either, as the word “debate” is supposed to imply some thought and reason… and there’s just not any (sane) reason why Science and Art should be at odds.

Because they’re the same damned thing, that’s why.

No, not “two sides to the same coin.”  That’d mean only one could be showing at the same time, or that one or the other should be used to win any given competition.  No.  Science and Art are two words for the same. exact. thing.

But No! you may exclaim, from whichever side you’ve found yourself aligned, Because Science is all about boring repetition and crazy complicated math / Because art is all about making stuff up with no real logic or proof!

Neither of you has actually ever paid any attention to the either side, though, have you?  You had some (sorry excuse for) a teacher in school that told you that you were good or bad at one of the other, and you didn’t know any better, so you’ve believed them ever since.

Let me talk to the Scientists in the room, first.  (Of all disciplines, yes, and I’m bundling Math and Medicine into this conversation because you’re a part of the whole.) I know a lot of you, personally, and I know that some of you occasionally look over at art with some reverence and a little bit of jealousy, wishing you could understand it a bit better, so that the Artists in the room didn’t recoil in terror when you tell them what you do for a living.  The thing is, you’re both just uninformed.  The opposite of Science is not Art.  The opposite of Science is Ignorance. You’ve known all your life that Science is a means by which we increase and quantify and share our knowledge of the world, haven’t you?  Your biggest battles have been against the people who are unwilling to learn something new, who are stubbornly set in their incomplete views and just don’t care about any proof to the contrary. Those people are not Artists – those people are idiots.  And that some of them have happened to be holding a paintbrush at the time is an unrelated and unfortunate coincidence.  If you can tell me you’ve never met a self-proclaimed Scientist that was actually just a brick of stupid with some basic party-trick math skills… well, you can’t tell me that, because you know that they exist, too.

And Artists, you know I know a lot of you personally, too. (Of all genres, yes, and I’m lumping Writing and Music in, too, because you’re part of the whole.)  Your community is no less scornful of the Scientists than the Scientists are of you.  In recent years I think I’d wager you’ve gotten a bit louder about it, even.  And yet some of you will occasionally look at a beautiful fractal image and not-so secretly lament that you maybe wish you understood the math required to make one. Or you’ve carefully talked around what sort of Writer you are so that the Physicist in the room will take you seriously just long enough to finish talking about something fascinating.  And sometimes you really do wish those particularly assholish folks in the Science community wouldn’t make you feel quite so much like they’re patting you on the fucking head when you tell them what you do for a living.  The thing is, you’re both just uninformed.  The opposite of Art is not Science.  The opposite of Art, really, is Ignorance. You’ve known all your life that Art is a means by which we grow and scale and share our experience of the world, haven’t you?  Your biggest battles have been against the people who are unwilling to look at something new, who are stubbornly set in their unfinished beliefs and just don’t care about any demonstration to the contrary. Those people are not Scientists – those people are idiots.  And that some of them have happened to be holding a protractor at the time is an unrelated and unfortunate coincidence.  If you can tell me you’ve never met a self-proclaimed Artist that was actually just a brick of shallow with some basic party-trick drawing skills… well, you can’t tell me that, because you know that they exist, too.

And those of you in the middle, like  me, well you already know all this.  It just gets a little tiring having people expect you to take sides, doesn’t it? Or just not even asking before they label you as one or the other, depending on the conversation.  Just because I can freehand a straight line doesn’t mean I can’t graph it, too.

Now, I don’t want to get into what we’re taught in schools and how that’s informed the idea of what’s Art and what’s Science.  We all know all the school systems are broken blah blah, but the fact of the matter is we’re all fucking adults, now, aren’t we?  Many of us have learned by now that a lot of things we were taught in school were bullshit, so that’s not really a strong excuse for this.  I mean, I was fucking lousy at History in school, but that doesn’t mean I’m scared of watching the news, now.  Turns out I’m just not wired to memorize dates, duh, but that in no way affects my ability to understand and be interested in events.

You may have been just wretched at Geometry, in school.  You may still have no ability to balance a checkbook.  But if you know where to stand in a room to take advantage of the best light for a perfect photograph, then you’ve got a working knowledge of Physics, and no one ever bothered to tell you so. 

You may have been the kid that ate crayons instead of coloring in the lines, in school.  You may still have no ability to draw even a stick figure.  But if you know where to place your fingers to feel for a pulse on a patient, then you’ve got a working knowledge of shape and anatomy that a lot of artists spend years trying to master.

But Science is all about rules and repetition, and I don’t have any rules and I’m constantly changing, you may say.  Well if that’s really true, then you’re a shit artist, and you probably secretly know that. If your style evolves, it’s because you’ve put in the work to get it there, by practice and by applying the lessons you’ve learned along the way.  Maybe you weren’t taught in a brick and mortar school, but if you’ve closed yourself off to learning anything, ever, then you’re a sorry excuse for a human being, let alone an artist.  You certainly don’t exist in a vacuum, which means you are applying theories that others passed along, even if you think you worked your own proofs to get there.  And, you know, the reason you’re a special and unique snowflake is because someone did the math to figure out how many possible angles you’ve got.  (Someone else, of course, figured out that you’re only unique to this particular generation of falling snow, and odds are you may have a twin snowflake somewhere else, you just haven’t met them yet. But I digress.)

But Art is all about making shit up and running with instinct, and I only follow a set of proven rules, you may say.  I’m not even going to bother ranting at you, because if that’s true, then I (and the Physics committee) are very interested in observing the Higgs boson you’ve obviously got on your shelf, thanks.

Writers are professional liars, sifting through the detritus of civilization to create a world never before seen by anyone living today.  Oh, no, wait, I might have meant to say Anthropologists.  Surgeons painstakingly alter organic objects with delicate precision to create or salvage perfected figures that only previously existed in their minds. Oh, nope, whoops, I probably meant to say Sculptors.  Astronomers observe and record subtle and extreme variations in wavelengths in an attempt to not only understand the universe, but to preserve that understanding for future generations.  Or did I mean to say Musicians?

I could do this all day, and maybe I should, maybe I really need to – but I’m going to trust that you can start figuring it out for yourself. Because if you look, if you just look at it, that ampersand between “Arts & Sciences” is clearly not a fucking “or” is it?

All right, then.

Links for 2020-12-12 via Warren Ellis

Saturday December, 12 2009 05:00 PM PST

  • UNKNOWN FIELDS DIVISION | AA INTER UNIT 7_The End of the World and Other Bedtime Stories
    design fiction from a crack squad of Architecture Association students
    (tags:design fiction )
  • shi jinsong gun shape baby carriage

    (tags:design mad )

Annie Wu via Warren Ellis

Saturday December, 12 2009 04:26 PM PST

Poster designs.

Wouldn’t you love to see her do comics? I know I would.



Start your weekend right via Cherie Priest

Friday December, 11 2009 04:47 PM PST

With links! From yours truly.

  • Canadian Science-Fiction writer Peter Watts shanghaied at customs - This is just plain embarrassing. There is absolutely no excuse for what happened to this man, no matter who or what you believe. In short, “Hugo-award-nominated science fiction author Dr. Peter Watts is in serious legal trouble after he was beaten, pepper-sprayed and imprisoned by American border guards at a Canada U.S. border crossing December 8. This is a call to friends, fans and colleagues to help.”

  • There’s still time to save Amanda Feral - Swing by Mark Henry’s place (click ye the link) for rules, regulations, and the kind of mayhem we’ve all come to expect from Mr. Henry. Likewise, as a heads up, you can order his books through University Book Store - just like mine. Details and instructions available at that same link.

  • Caitlin Kittredge is live at Bitten by Books - And she’s giving away a copy of Boneshaker to a lucky reader/commenter. Also, you should swing by just because she’s fun - and because her new book just came out, and it’s awesome.

  • Kyle Cassidy is also giving away Boneshaker - As part of a flash fiction contest he’s running through midnight Sunday. Go check it out! Even if you don’t want the book, read through the comments for fun stuff featuring his kitty Roswell and many steampunky adventures in brief.

the turtle trick delivers ultimate victory via Wil Wheaton

Friday December, 11 2009 01:48 PM PST

I once wrote a Geek in Review, called 8 Bits High and Rising�(Content SFW; Site is NSFW),�about my love of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I liked it so much, I adapted a great deal of it for my keynote address to PAX in 2007.

Here's part of it that's relevant to this post:

I was invited to a celebrity charity thing in Hollywood, which was sponsored by Nintendo. In addition to all the usual photographs and teen magazine interviews, shoulder pads and Aqua Net, there would be a Super Mario Bros. competition.

This wasn't some silly Starcade competition with modified versions or timed levels on certain games. It was a serious high score competition, and Jeremy and I were determined to take down the Grand Prize: a complete NES system, featuring a light gun, a robot, over twenty games, and possibly First Prize: a 20 inch color TV. While all the other young teen heartthrobs were busy being seen, signing autographs and getting their picture taken, my brother and I prepared to claim what was rightfully ours. You see, we'd been unintentionally preparing for this very moment all summer long.

Since that fateful day in Zody's, my brother and I had developed an affinity for Nintendo games. In fact, you could say we were protofanboys. We'd always liked Donkey Kong and Punch Out!!, but when a Super Mario Bros. machine was installed between Arkanoid and Pinbot at our local 7-11, we played with a cult-like dedication. Over that summer, we were those guys who nobody could beat, thanks largely to a trick we learned from one of Jeremy's friends at school. He called it "the turtle trick," and it was a way to earn almost limitless free men by freezing and jumping repeatedly on a turtle at the end of world 3-1. Though we never managed to actually beat the game during that time, using the turtle trick, we obtained and held the high score for months. (For you damn kids today, not just earning � but maintaining � the high score on an arcade machine was a very big deal back in those days.)

The competition rules were simple: every kid in attendance could play twice and keep their highest score. At the end of the afternoon, the four highest scores would win prizes.

Thanks to the turtle trick, a lot of patience, and a singular focus that the presence of several young starlets tested (Christina Applegate, Alyssa Milano, and Nicole Eggert among them,) my brother and I completely obliterated everyone else there, and took home the the grand and first prize.�

Earlier this morning, a bunch of people messaged me on Twitter about a column at 1UP, which not only describes that fateful competition, but includes a picture of me and my brother that filled me with such joyful nostalgia, my vision temporarily blurred. You'll have to hit 1UP to see the awesome picture, but please indulge me this quote:

...all we know is that Wil Wheaton is better at Super Mario than Jason Bateman. Please feel free to pull out this fact the next time you are at a party.

Bam, said the lady.

Hey, speaking of my brother, have I mentioned that he takes phenomenal pictures and made awesome things with them?

Links for 2020-12-10 via Warren Ellis

Friday December, 11 2009 01:00 PM PST

  • “Dee’s Siren Song” - Mission: Comics & Art - San Francisco - Events
    gallery exhibition opening by Jamaica Dyer in San Francisco
    (tags:art peopleiknow )
  • house of bedlam | Ghostwriter
    Short story by Sarah Sharp
    (tags:fiction peopleiknow )
  • Extraterrestrial Life Official Disclosure Imminent - page 2
    "The Obama administration and its supporters are poised to take a bold step forward in helping our planet become an interplanetary culture that openly deals with the challenges posed by extraterrestrial life."
    (tags:nutters ufo )
  • Earth’s atmosphere came from outer space, scientists find
    "…volcanic gases could not have contributed in any significant way to the Earth's atmosphere. Therefore the atmosphere and oceans must have come from somewhere else, possibly from a late bombardment of gas and water rich materials similar to comets"
    (tags:geo )
  • BBC News - Monkey calls give clues to language origins
    "Two studies suggest that the ability to combine sounds and words to alter meaning may be rooted in a species of monkey."
    (tags:neuro )
  • Ancient Amazon civilisation laid bare by felled forest - life - 10 December 2020 - New Scientist
    "Signs of what could be a previously unknown ancient civilisation are emerging from beneath the felled trees of the Amazon. Some 260 giant avenues, ditches and enclosures have been spotted from the air in a region straddling Brazil's border with Bolivia."
    (tags:history )
  • Loud bass music ?killed student? Tom Reid |
    "Tom Reid, 19, was taken ill in a crowded London club after standing close to the speakers and telling a friend: ?The bass is affecting me.?" Not the only way that music can kill you, either.
    (tags:death music )

Peter Watts alert via Steven Shaviro

Friday December, 11 2009 11:37 AM PST

Peter Watts is a brilliant science fiction writer — I have written about all four of his novels on this blog (Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth, and (at greatest length) Blindsight).

Earlier this week, returning home to Canada from the US, Watts was assaulted for no good reason by US Homeland Security guards at the border, and charged with a felony for supposedly assaulting a Federal officer. Cory Doctorow has the whole story at BoingBoing, here. Watts’ own account of the incident is here.

Watts was released on bail, and is back home in Toronto, but he needs money for his legal defense. I am going to make a contribution, and I urge all everyone reading this to do likewise. (There are details on how to contribute on the BoingBoing page I cited already).

This is something that could happen to anybody, given how security mania connected with the so-called “war on terror” has become so completely excessive and out of control. But it sort of hits home when I see this happening to somebody whose work I greatly admire. (I do not know Watts personally, though I exchanged email messages with him once).

in which the secret identity of wesley crusher is revealed via Wil Wheaton

Friday December, 11 2009 10:52 AM PST

Imagine if Television Without Pity recappers had been writing about TNG back in 1987, only with more swearing, more digressions and more geeky in-jokes, plus behind-the-scenes memories for every episode. That?s what Vol. 1 does for the first half of the first season of TNG, from ?Encounter at Farpoint? to ?Datalore? ? it?s just the thing for people who love TNG and snark. - Tracy V. Wilson, How Stuff Works.

I mentioned on one of the Memories of the Futurecasts that writing Memories of the Future Volume One�was unintentionally cathartic, as I was able to examine and gain further understanding of what I will call (without further definition) the Airlock Enthusiasts' Society. I didn't realize it while I was working on the book (I was just trying to write something funny and entertaining) but after fourteen weeks of Futurecasts, I can see evidence of that side quest spread out across the entire manuscript. In fact, several readers have commented on it, and now I kind of wish I'd seen it before the book went to press, so I could have smoothed it out a little bit more. Well, live and learn.

While I work on Volume Two, though, I've noticed a real change in Wesley in the second half of the season: it's almost like he takes that uniform seriously, and though he's still an annoying kid, he's not nearly as consistently�obnoxious�as he was in the first half.�

I mention all of this as prelude to a damn hilarious post on the How Stuff Works blog, which provides an entirely new view of Ensign Pumpkin Sweater:

The Secret Identity of Wesley Crusher

Wil talks about how working on Vol. 1 helped him come to terms with (and understand) the world?s�hatred�of Wesley Crusher. It?s a hatred I never had. I�loved�Wesley Crusher. When TNG premiered, I was just starting high school, and I was a serious know-it-all. Seeing a kid on TV who was essentially correcting his teachers, doing science projects and being a huge nerd all the time was kind of awesome. And enabling. I?m sure I was as annoying to the adults around me as Wesley was to adults trying to watch TNG.

But in listening to and reading ?Memories of the Future,? I found a whole new reason to love Wesley. In episode 12 of ?Memories of the Futurecast? (and the corresponding book chapter), Wil talks about how Wesley repairs the malfunctioning�holodeck�in ?The Big Goodbye? with one zap of a magical holodeck fixing thing. In the middle of my morning train commute, I thought, ?Ha ha ha, Wesley has a�sonic screwdriver.? Then, accompanied by lots of mental capital letters and exclamation points, and possibly even a ZOMG, came the follow-up thought: ?Wesley Crusher is a�Time Lord!?

If you're experiencing the same amount of ZOMGLOL that I experienced when I read that yesterday, I think you'll want to check out the rest of the post, because it gets even better.

Notebooknotes: Roughing It Out via Warren Ellis

Friday December, 11 2009 09:21 AM PST

After many years of doing rough work on Visors and Treos, I switched back to notebooks this year. Moleskines and Field Notes. Usually working with a propelling pencil, until I found a reliable micro-Sharpie thing earlier this year. Just because I think it’s always worth looking at the way you work and seeing if a change won’t do it good.

These are from a Field Notes notebook started on 5 July 2020.

Had to crank this one up in GIMP, as I was working in pencil (some notes on ASTONISHING X-MEN I scanned were too faint for the scanner or GIMP to save). The left hand page was made around the time I was speaking to the Architecture Association. As you can see, I do tend to go back and add guidance notes later — here, reminding me not to re-use this bit because I ended up using it in a WIRED UK column.

On the right, is how I tend to start roughing out a comics script. It’s almost legible, innit?


I write GRAVEL as "scriptments," usually — a cross between a script, a short story and a film treatment, that Mike Wolfer then turns into something that makes some kind of sense before he starts drawing it. They can run to four or five pages, sometimes just becoming long runs of dialogue. This is me halfway through #15 of that book, just banging the dialogue down without stage directions, as it comes to me:


Yes, I do have bloody awful handwriting. Always have had. I’ll often write in block caps just for the sake of legibility — sometimes I can’t read my own writing.

I’ve filed the serial numbers off this one, as it were, because it was for a work-for-hire project that never got off the ground due to my lack of time. Hence the odd gaps on the page. But this is what you’ll most often find in one of my notebooks: looking at comics page flow. This was the start of several pages of diagrams and notes, trying to find a formal page flow I liked for a DPS, or Double Page Spread.


FREAKANGELS 0079 via Warren Ellis

Friday December, 11 2009 05:34 AM PST

Because it’s Friday.

Q&A;: apiphile via Lee Barnett

Thursday December, 10 2009 04:00 PM PST

1. So. When Phil brings his first girlfriend home to meet you, who do you think is going to be more nervous, you or her?
I'm presuming you mean a girlfriend that I don't know from her being a friend before, etc.? I think she'll be. I don't think I'll be that nervous to be honest.

2. When writing comic scripts, do you lay the panels out in your head, on the paper, or just do it the Marvel way?
I always sketch out a page first by panels, then put a note to the artist saying, for example, "five panels, one page length panel to the left, taking up about a quarter of the page, three roughly equal panels on the right, and one panel inset into the final panel."

3. Pick one song that best sums up last week?
You Can't Always Get What You Want

4. What do you want from 2010, in terms of change (personal, political, or any other kind)
A general (and genuine) change in how I see myself.

5. Where's the worst (geographical) place you've had to spend more than 24 hours in?
Leeds, but not because of the place, because of the circumstances.

Note to all: This is part of the Q&A; Ask me five questions meme. Feel free to join in.

Links for 2020-12-09 via Warren Ellis

Thursday December, 10 2009 01:00 PM PST

  • Open the Future: A Cold War Over Warming
    "What happens if global efforts to set and abide by strong carbon emissions cuts fail? The standard answer to a question like this is that "we all suffer." While that's probably true, it misses the point — we may all suffer, but we don't all suffer equally."
    (tags:eco )
  • BBC News - English whisky bottled for first time in a century
    "The first single malt made in England for about a century has attracted the interest of UK whisky enthusiasts. St George's Distillery, a family-run Norfolk company, is behind the drink."
    (tags:whisky )
  • climate defense systems - mammoth // building nothing out of something
    (tags:eco )
  • The 100 essential websites | Technology | The Guardian

    (tags:web )

The Ministry Of Space via Warren Ellis

Thursday December, 10 2009 10:53 AM PST

Well, probably not that Ministry Of Space. But:

Britain is to get its own space agency more than 40 years after the Apollo project landed the first astronauts on the moon. The agency will come into being next year and replaces the existing British National Space Centre as a single co-ordinating organisation for the nation’s space exploration activities.

The announcement coincides with the publication of a government review of space exploration that warns the nation is "at a critical point" in deciding its future in the space business.

Britain has a long-standing policy of not contributing to human spaceflight programmes and instead supports robotic and satellite-based missions. The review urges ministers to consider backing a space programme that involves both robotic and human explorers…

thirty-two hours in three hundred words via Wil Wheaton

Thursday December, 10 2009 10:44 AM PST

It was just above freezing when I got into the car Tuesday morning. The rising sun had just barely cleared my neighbor's roof, and did its best to melt the frost off of my roof and windshield.

Anne and I sat in the passenger compartment shivering, surprisingly thick clouds of fog blooming in front of us with every breath, while we waited for the engine to warm up.

"We should have started the car five minutes ago and waited in the house," I said, hugging myself to keep warm.

"When we build the time machine, we'll make sure we do that."

After a couple of minutes, the frost on the windshield began to soften, helped along by judicious use of the wipers. As we drove up the street, I noticed that every house, lawn, car -- hell, every surface -- that was still in shadow had at least some frost on it. I'm sure people who live in parts of the world that actually have seasons wouldn't be moved by it, but it made me happy to observe some tactile evidence of winter's impending, full-throated arrival.

About fifty traffic-filled minutes later, Anne dropped me off at the airport. Four flight-delayed hours after that, I walked into the Seattle airport, and five hours after that�I walked into the Child's Play Charity Auction.

Seventeen hours after that, I walked out of my hotel into a crystal-clear thirteen degree Seattle morning that shocked me so much, I didn't actually feel how cold it was until I'd been sitting in my cab for almost a full minute.

Finally, about thirty-two hours after I'd walked out of my house I walked back inside. My pets greeted me at the door, and made me feel like I?d been missing for a week.

December 9, 2020 via Cherie Priest

Wednesday December, 09 2009 05:17 PM PST

Last night’s event at Third Place Books was my very first solo bookstore venture,* so I confess I was nervous about it. Besides my usual What-If-Nobody-Shows-Up? insecurities, the weather was a thrilling 16 degrees by event time, which might as well be NEGATIVE A BILLION DEGREES in Seattle — where it rarely gets below freezing.

And yet … much to my personal astonishment, we hit standing room only, and the crowd was great! In fact, I feel like I leveled up a bit as an author, because this was the first reading/Q&A where I knew literally no one except the folks who’d shared a ride over with me (Caitlin, Suezie, and the guy to whom I’m married). Don’t get me wrong — I am immensely grateful to my friends when they show up for these things; it’s a relief and a comfort to have familiar faces in the audience. But this definitely felt like a shift, somehow — like word is getting out, and the book is gaining traction outside the usual circles. And I hope it bodes well for the future. [:: crosses fingers ::]

The aforementioned Suezie took pictures. You can see them here on her LiveJournal, presented with commentary.

My favorite audience member of the night was the teenage girl who announced that I was now the second of two cool authors she read, who nobody else had ever heard of. The first … was Clive Barker. I nearly peed with delight! What an awesome reader :)

Many thanks to the folks at Third Place Books for hosting the event, and hosting it so marvelously; and thanks also to everyone who braved the weather in order to come join us!


Things are kind of hectic over here still, between holiday travel plans and trying to get all my work commitments up to speed before Christmas. However, today I handed Bloodshot over to its editor; I filled out and mailed off two sets of contracts for other (shorter) projects; and I got started on the Dreadnought rewrites that need to go back by the 24th. Perhaps, by New Year’s, I’ll actually have my head above water. I might survive this season yet!

In celebration, I give you links:

  • Updated Appearances Page - Because in the last couple of days I’ve agreed to do a few more events — and of course, I’ve had to cross off everything from this year. Third Place Books was my last event of 2009!

  • War Rocket Ajax interview, live and loud - Click to hear us natter on about everything from New Jack Swing to barbecue, and Boneshaker, and steampunk, and everything else but the kitchen sink. Thanks again to Chris and Euge for … well … just for being so freakin’ cool.

  • A sneak peak at something cool - Via John Joseph Adams, and presented with all his qualifiers. (But *cough cough* check out that cover!)

  • Many thanks to Powell’s Books - For naming Boneshaker a staff selection for children and young adults. If you’ve been wondering about picking up this book for a young person, but you’re not sure if it’s appropriate — feel free to consult this FAQ over on the Clockwork Century, wherein I address the matter.

  • Obama Weather - Because it amused me, okay? Plug in your city and dress up the president accordingly. [LOL!]

* The event at 15th Ave. Coffee and Tea was solo also, but it was also part of the art walk. And it wasn’t at a bookstore — so in addition to me reading there was food, beverages, party music, and prizes. So, 100% awesome, yes; but not representative of the more low-key events I do at bookstores.

8tracks: Little Deaths In The Snow via Warren Ellis

Wednesday December, 09 2009 04:55 PM PST