Physics versus Art

Can you be a physicist and an artist at the same time?

My answer is it depends on how you define ‘same time’. I’m pretty sure that different areas of the brain are actually used for the two subjects. ‘Areas of the brain’ can be interpreted as ‘ways of thinking’ etc., I don’t mean literally physical areas (although that might be the case too). I certainly feel predominantly in either a physics or an artistic ‘mood’ – and although there are crossovers, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart.

Crossovers can be useful. For example, getting the technical aspects of a piece of art correct can be an entirely scientific and logical process. Also artistic and aesthetic tendencies are very useful when working with powerpoint presentations, preparing figures and schematics for documents, or writing popular-science style articles, where you have to be interesting in addition to being factual. I also find fractals and graphical representations of functions (e.g. the Riemann Zeta function in the complex plane) very artistically pleasing. I put them on my desktop wallpaper sometimes.

The difficult bit is controlling which ‘mood’ to be in at any one time. To change over the period of a day is difficult. For example, it’s pretty hard to work on physics all day and then do some painting in the evening. There just isn’t enough time for the psychological shift. I find that ‘cycles’ come and go with a period of several weeks (although it can be months). At the peak of the cycle, the dominant ‘mood’ will be completely engrossing (to the point of neglecting to eat/sleep etc.) and I have no idea why I am even interested in the other one. Obviously the two cycles are asymmetric – I have to do more Physics than Art overall as that’s my main source of income 🙂

I have never completely given up on one in favour of the other, the restoring force always comes back eventually. It worries me a bit that I will never be completely engrossed in one subject (and therefore will probably not be able to master one thing, but rather I will be OK at several things). On the other hand it’s nice to have some variety.


4 thoughts on “Physics versus Art

  1. quantummoxie says:

    Having been an engineer for awhile, it is my contention that physics and mathematics are controlled by the same portion of the brain as art (for the most part). I find physicists and mathematicians tend to have the same sorts of interests and inspirations. I tend to glide seamlessly between both (this is independent of whether or not I have talent at either) which would lend some credence to my contention. To add some fuel to my contention, consider the music of John Cage (incredibly mathematical, though largely unlistenable) and the art of Jackson Pollack (a researcher discovered a few years ago that Pollack may have inadvertently stumbled upon fractals without realizing it).

  2. quantummoxie says:

    BTW, I meant that physicists and mathematicians have the same interests and inspirations as artists.

  3. Tom says:

    Does cartooning count as art?

  4. physicsandcake says:

    Yes, I guess so, it’s certainly creative 🙂

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