Why STEM needs the arts

Why STEM needs the arts

Shayda Dehnow

STEM, an acronym for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” is a popular term that can be heard thrown around the halls of Mountain View High School. We even have a week dedicated to STEM to encourage students to work in STEM fields. But what about the arts? While at first the arts and STEM seem unrelated, it soon becomes evident that the two are intertwined. The goal of STEM Day is to encourage students to be creative thinkers and to join these innovative fields that have more jobs than people to fill them…so shouldn’t art be included? Art fosters both creativity and innovative forms of thought, is necessary for the design involved in technology and engineering, and contains more employment opportunities than employees. On the basis of these principles, some schools and organizations have supported the idea of STEAM — STEM + Arts. However, STEAM and the arts remain much less promoted than STEM, despite the demand for creativity in innovation.

“There is something that students get within the arts that expands the mind in different ways,” David Grissom, principal of MVHS, said.

The addition of Arts to “STEM” promotes the usage of both left and right sides of the brain, bolstering innovation to its greatest heights. While we need technical thinkers to pragmatically figure out a way to achieve a certain goal or put together a certain contraption, we also need the artists to dream up the big, imaginative concepts. Both artists and engineers need each other to achieve true innovation: the meeting of creation and applicability.

“I think it is absolutely imperative that we add the arts [to STEM],” Lori Nock, visual arts teacher at MVHS, said. “The mindset in an art class is to innovate ideas. We don’t copy in the art class.”

The standard for educational art teachers at MVHS includes a strong emphasis on objectivity, observation, and innovation.

“If we don’t have art in STEM week, we are missing the number one component of technology,” Nock said. “Technology has never stayed the same; it’s always innovated.”

Additionally, art plays a big role in the aesthetic design of technology. In order for huge innovations to be applicable to the public in this day and age, they must be visually appealing. Think about the Apple brand — why do Macs and iPhones sell so well? One could argue it’s because of the products’ innovative capabilities, which is partially true, but other brands have similar features as well. The accessible, simplistic user interface and the sleek design of Apple products are really what set them apart.

Apple’s 1977 marketing philosophy, developed by Mike Markkula, labels “Impute” as one of its three principles: “People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”

In addition to innovation, STEM was created to encourage students to fill the surplus of high-paying jobs available in STEM fields. Related to this, a misconception many people have is that going into the arts means eventually becoming a starving artist — but this just isn’t true. There are plenty of arts jobs available, like arts education, architecture, and art directing, that provide a steady — and even extravagant — salary.

Furthermore, there is an increasing amount of arts jobs demanded by STEM fields, such as commercial art for marketing products, industrial design, graphic design, and other technological careers that require an aesthetic eye. One such career is processor design, the vocation of designing microprocessors.

Grissom, whose wife works for Apple, points out the artistic ability required for such a position.

“Those are artists that are drawing those lines and creating those circuits,” Grissom said. “It takes that artistic mind..to function in a way that marries art and STEM.”

So, really, that’s what it comes down to: a marriage between art and STEM. Neither is more important than the other, and the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather very much intertwined. At present, our STEM education does not wholeheartedly reflect that connection. However, there is hope yet for STEAM; according to Grissom, a few MVHS teachers will be attending a STEAM Conference held by the Santa Clara County Office of Education in April,  focusing on how to infuse the arts into STEM.

Art is part of the human experience. We’ve always created,” Nock said. “If we have a STEM Day, and there is no art, then we’re missing the point.”


*As seen in our most recent print issue.