"STEM to STEAM" or Ways of Knowing


A lot of us are interested in STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. But what does STEAM actually mean? I've published a couple of prior posts on STEAM: Why the Steam Argument is One-Sided, and From STEAM to Shame but this time, I'd like to start out with some reflection on what we are doing. Even though STEAM is a popular acronym, there are others: SEAD, STEMM,  AST (from CAST), ArtScience, Art&Science, and so on. It is easy to get lost in a plethora of letters.

What combines all of these acronym-inspiring efforts together is a simple idea: perspective-taking, which is also known by other phrases: ways of knowing, epistemological pluralism, and empathy. John Berger's Ways of Seeing was one take on seeing from different perspectives. Berger focused on what has evolved into Cultural Studies: posing culturally loaded interpretations of art objects. Although, I find Horowitz's take in On Looking more enlightening since the perspectives are very different, and the objects and spaces of interest are diverse (easily crossing into STEAM territory). It is easy to fall prey to the trap of guessing how other people think without asking them. Some perspective taking in art/science is where artists view mathematics, science, and technology only as tools for their use, and STEM advocates take a complementary view for Art and Design (artists making great looking things). We can go beyond this.

My main interest is helping others in seeing the world as mathematics and information. This includes seeing art objects and their representations as rich repositories of interacting bits, logical processes, and models. However, I also realize that to sell this idea, I need to be open to how artists and designers see things. I need to learn how they view the world. Building environments where everyone's view is made public helps to achieve this plurality, and will allow my professional interests to capture one of the many interpretations.

I suggest that we all promote multiple ways of seeing, rather than trying to fit other disciplines into our world views (or "filter bubbles" to use a recently popular term). We are doing of some of that in the creative automata and modeling classes. Consider the Jack Sculpture at UT Dallas. For academics partaking in multiple perspectives, look first at your students. Despite a disciplinary slant that you may put on your class, their interests and philosophies are still in flux. Use a building, object, or space and allow them to express themselves. The push for STEAM masks a deeper desire to achieve what Marcel Proust suggested: "The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes; in seeing the universe through the eyes of another."