Photo: Picture by Gregory Nemec

Art vs. Science?

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My dear readers, it has taken a little longer than usual to get back to the blog and write about what is crossing my mind, but I have been terribly busy writing research-related stuff, preparing my last A-exam with the period cello (it went well it seems), and doing all the other things in life like meeting friends, nursing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. During this productive time, I have really been thinking about many topics related to music education, performing, life in general, but also about what it takes to be an artist and what I want to do in my inmediate future.

A few weeks ago I read one of those fantastic Brain Pickings articles (I am totally addicted to BP, I think I have read everything they have written), in which they shared some ideas and tips by wonderful sculptor Teresita Fernández on the topic of being an artist, a creative and genuine artist. The more I read, the more I got convinced that Teresita had gotten into my brain and stolen my ideas (please, do not think I am presumptuous, unfortunately stealing other’s ideas seems very normal nowadays!). However, since she is older than I am, I thought it is just a question of pure coincidence: women, mothers, artists and foreigners looking for answers. In any case, and jokes aside, I strongly recommend you to read the article and get your own conclusions about an artist’s lifestyle.

Somebody asked me a rather shocking question a few days ago about whether I felt funny or uncomfortable studying to be a Master of Music while already being a Doctor of Psychology. The truth is that I had never thought about such an issue: playing vs. research, art vs. science. I love learning and I am very curious (to the extent of annoying every single mathematics teacher I had –“What if…?” was always my question). I have always enjoyed dedicating time to things I like and to things that really keep me motivated. If I do not have the passion, I do not do it. This is nothing extraordinary since we, human beings, are naturally lazy. It is simple: better to do something you really love.

Doing both research and art helps me to bridge the existing gap between theory and practice, between what is studied at the laboratory/library and what really happens in life. It helps me to solve in a reflective way the mysteries of performing music written by others. And I am not the only one, there were many before me, and there are more and more people feeling the need to do both, regardless of how heavy it is sometimes to combine both areas of expertise and meet all the demands coming from so different worlds. It is like splitting the brain into two worlds with the intention of actually putting them together again.

But above all, I love playing cello as much as I love researching on topics related to psychology and musicology. I could not imagine myself playing as I do without the things I have learnt through psychology and musicology, nor would I have pursued a career in research had I found out all the answers to my questions by just playing a musical instrument. These options are not mutually exclusive, they harmoniously go hand in hand. That someone has to go through official studies and get a degree of any kind does not mean that one should stop when getting ‘enough’ degrees, nor care about the order in which to get them. There is not such a thing as too much knowledge or too many degrees. Degrees are just a reflection of our quantitative-oriented society.

In that regard, it is important to note that some people believe that by having many degrees, one knows many things. Unfortunately, this is not true. One might have some information, but it takes a lot before that becomes knowledge… (In this regard I recommend you the book “44 Letters from the Liquid Modern World” by Zygmunt Bauman, a reflection of the fast and uncontrolled times we live, where everything is made impossible to digest…). Like many academics, I get those funny emails saying “Dr. blablabla, because of your expertise in blablabla…” I can only laugh out loud and think how true the old adage is ‘the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know’. But to what extent do Master’s or Doctorate degrees make you an expert of anything? There is a huge bubble in educational institutions and it is about to explode. I do not mean people should not be educated, of course not, but people should be prepared to carry out the professions they have studied remarkably well.

After these thoughts, I can say that I could only answer to the person who asked me that shocking question that regardless of the order in which I have gotten these degrees, I still have not found the answers to my questions and I will undertake as many courses, research projects, performances or whatever I need until I find them. Education through science or through art should not be a system of delivery of people thinking and doing something the same way, it should be a way to find out for ourselves and connect the new knowledge to what we already know or to what we were in need of, and then deliver that knowledge to others.

To have this ability, one needs to consider a few qualities, to name a few: being critical, gritty, hard-working, constructive and humble. I thank many artists and researchers (and people who are both things) for having taught me this in different ways, although I am far away from achieving most of them. This post is a personal and reflective way to share with you my worries or concerns about the fact that ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) will not make anybody an artist or a scientist.

Both art and science are a consequence of dedication, a reflection of your own self and a humble, yet painful sacrifice in which you try to make sad people feel happy, happy people feel even happier, or at least, to shake people, to wake them up from their nebula, no matter how you yourself are feeling or who you are. You try to help with the tools that are most familiar to you. In words of Jerzy Kosinski, ‘the principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke’. Let’s try to find ways to evoke, to help the audience, to not copy others unscrupulously and rely on the easiest paths, but rather, be genuine.