Of art and science and plum tarts

T-RexThumbnailI have one kid who built a computer over the summer, and another who read a dozen books. Thick books. With big words.

You all know I’m far more likely to boast about them being able to burp the alphabet than anything really constructive, so don’t worry about some new bragging trend on my part.

At the same time as they’ve been developing these oddly productive habits, we seem to be having more long conversations about colleges: which ones are best for what fields of study, how competitive they might be, and whether they’re nearer a beach or a ski slope.

Neither Mike nor I want to break the news that we’ve actually been kind of sucky about the whole saving-for-college thing. Instead we nod and smile, and wonder how many kidneys we’ll have to hawk when it’s time to cough up the scratch for tuition and fees.

Whenever the subject of education comes up in our circles it somehow cycles back to the value of a STEM-based curriculum and the potential for subsequent careers. We hear gobs about how our regional employee pool is lacking in math and science-y people, so I know my little computer-maker will probably do just fine if he continues to be enthusiastic about the computer thing.

The other kid says he wants to write historical fiction, which, while it makes my little writer momma’s heart swell, I also know how he likes to eat regularly and stay warm in the winter.

We hope he marries well.

I also wonder about steering writer-boy to one of our more economical public institutions of higher education, so as to avoid a student loan balance that will consume the lion’s share of anything he earns in his twenties and thirties while he repairs bicycles and delivers organic vegetables, and writes the next Great American Novel on the side.

When Mike and I graduated with our respective degrees in Communications and English, we spent our early years in the work force perfecting seventeen different ways to prepare ramen for dinner. Our technologically oriented friends fielded offers from Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard and Micron immediately after college.

We fervently hoped we wouldn’t one day end up serving them fries with their burgers.

Overall we were okay with how things worked out. We got along fine as dirt-poor newlyweds and eventually worked our way to places where ramen is a novelty, and we don’t have to search under the couch cushions in order to find the change to rent a movie for date night.

There was a time I thought about a career in engineering. This was based mostly on my desire to be an astronaut, which was mostly based on my desire to “boldly go where no one has gone before,” which probably had more to do with a raging crush on Mr. Spock than anything.

Once I realized what I really wanted was to write science fiction rather than live it, I decided the study of the works of Asimov – not to mention Wordsworth and Fitzgerald and the Bronte sisters – held more appeal for me.

See, here’s the thing: there can be bold, new adventures in space, or cyberspace, or open space or inner space, but all of that? It will have been preceded by someone who imagined it, and then wrote about it, or painted a picture of what it would look like, and THAT will have gotten all of the non-sciencey types interested in funding it and advocating for it and supporting it.

It doesn’t do anybody any good to forget the synergy between science and art.

On Saturday, a friend invited me to an Italian cooking demonstration for which she had an extra ticket. I love watching people who know their way around a kitchen, then going home and dirtying every pan in our cupboard figuring out a new way to screw up risotto.

Anyway, this chef was making a piecrust while talking, and making it look like no effort whatsoever. She talked about the virtues of butter versus shortening, and why overworking a crust that will render it tough versus flaky, and so on.

Then she said one of those things that really good cooks do that sound just ridiculous to those of us who can somehow manage to burn water, especially considering her recent description of the piecrust process pretty much down to the molecular level:

“It’s more an art than a science,” she said. “So just go by feel, don’t stress out about it.”

Really? More art than science? Cooking? I mean I’m willing to go with that, but she just finished telling us the science behind piecrust.

And if it wasn’t science, why will the teeniest variable have an impact on whether your crust tastes like flaky pastry or shoe leather?

But maybe she has a point. Take the origin of the chocolate chip cookie. Word has it that somebody wanted to make a chocolate cookie and didn’t take the time to melt the chocolate first, maybe thinking that she could just chunk up the chocolate in the dough and it would naturally disburse throughout the cookie in the baking process.

A scientist wouldn’t think that way. A scientist would think: “wait, the juju-jamamalama of the chocolate chunked up like that will be greater than the beebopoplatamus of the cookie dough, which naturally means, you know, mass times velocity and all that, and therefore the chocolate will fail to travel through the time and space necessary to make the whole damn cookie chocolate like we want.”

Something like that.

If mister scientist had been allowed to over-think things, we wouldn’t have the chocolate chip cookie. See?

Hang on, this isn’t turning out to be the argument for art over science I intended.

Sure as shootin’ points out benefits of procrastination, though.

And there’s a point to be made in there about art being actually a whole lot of creativity mixed in with a little “Crap. It’s almost time for school and my kid’s supposed to bring the treats today, and I promised chocolate cookies.”

Science will tell you that you don’t have time for any kind of cookie, you better just make Rice Krispy treats instead.

tart_artAnd when my plum tart didn’t turn out exactly like the plum tart in the cooking class? Well, that was a combination of science and art too. Different palette, different media, different artist screwing with the scientific process.

I’d like to say both the computer kid and the writer kid liked it the same, but they decided on cookies for desert instead.


A vote for me is a vote for art. Or it’s a vote for science, if you’d rather. Or for the ten minutes you spent reading this that you’ll never get back. Yay!

And thank you.


Graphic courtesy of University of Utah College of Humanities.

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  1. Well said. I personally think your tart looks amazing. And I almost died laughing when you said you hope your son marries well. I\’m confident with you as their mom your kids will be successful in whatever they end up doing.

  2. It seems to me that there used to be a clearer, wider line between art and science. These days our kids cross back and forth over the line like it\’s invisible. My own kids beat me in both departments, STEM and the arts too!

  3. I like to think I always pick out the most important points of your blog posts.

    Like, whoa, your kids can burp the alphabet?

    My kids don\’t do anything that cool. You win the mom-of-the-day award.