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Adding Arts

For as long as I can remember, STEM has stood for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These 4 letters captured my favorite things, all the subjects I loved. During my school years, STEM was sort of my identity. I was President of the Math Club, I competed in technology competitions, and I excelled at all things science. Then in the 2010’s, people began including Arts in that acronym. It began to be “STEAM”.

At first I was upset by this and definitely pushed back. STEM was my identity and these people were screwing with that. I could not fathom how ARTS could possibly fit with all of my hard sciences. The two were so different.

Luckily for us, many of the greatest innovators did not feel the same way. Steve Jobs was once quoted saying, “I always thought of myself as a humanities person, but I liked electronics.” When Einstein was having trouble figuring out General Relativity, he would pull out his violin and play. This connection between science and art has always been there, all the way back to Leonardo Da Vinci. He was interested in the details of the world around him, this informed his work as a scientist and engineer, but his detailed understanding of the human physique also contributed to the beauty and accurateness of his drawings and paintings. His best known pairing of the two is The Vitruvian Man, but he had many more works that looked at the human anatomy.

While I knew it benefitted scientists to have a creative mind, I had no idea how much being educated in the arts and spending time with it could improve a scientist’s abilities. A number of studies have proven this to be true:

  • Dermatologists who spent time studying museum paintings improved their capacity to spot and describe skin lesions.
  • Doctors with musical training were better able to hear nuances in heart rhythms.
  • Nursing students with musical training could more accurately identify sounds from patients’ stomachs, lungs, and hearts.

Fine arts exposure improved all of these medical practitioners’ skills.

In Kansas City, this sculpture entitled “Triple Crown” was built by Kenneth Snelson to display the engineering concept of tensegrity. This already is a marriage between art and science, but when a group of molecular biologists saw the sculpture, they were better able to understand the structure of large molecules. They were able to visualize the tension and compression present in a cell but on a much grander size.

Art helps us to open our minds to new things. It allows us to see the world differently. It turns out that I was mistaken, and it is in fact very important to include arts education for all those in the STEM fields. I am so thankful that young people are being taught this beautiful union from an early age.

Often I speak of the beautiful marriage between science and religion, so it is fun today to talk about how the arts fits into it. In the history of Catholicism, it seems that art has always been present. I’ve spoken before about evangelizing through “Truth, BEAUTY, and Goodness”. Long before the Truth of our faith was universally accessible (Bible in every language, Catechism, everything on the internet, etc), there were clergy who fought for the promotion of the beauty aspect. Many of the churches in Rome were these magnificent architectural feats with mesmerizing artwork inside. Unfortunately, other locations weren’t as fortunate. St. Wilfrid was a bishop in England who thought this should change. He built beautiful churches and commissioned art pieces that would adorn these places of worship. A young man named Acca followed him on his travels and would eventually follow in his footsteps as being an abbot and bishop.

St. Acca was a musician himself and lover of all fine arts. Along with continuing Wilfrid’s mission of bringing physical beauty into places of worship, St. Acca also celebrated and promoted other fine arts. He brought a famous cantor to his region in order to introduce Roman chants into services. He also promoted writers. His friend, St. Bede, even dedicated several of his works to Acca.

I probably all too often take for granted the beauty of the art and music when I attend Mass, but after reading about STEAM and St. Acca, I won’t this week. I am so very fortunate to attend a church with exquisitely painted ceilings, remarkable statues, brilliant stained glass, and a breathtaking organ to accompany their choir. All of this helps me to feel surrounded by God’s presence when at Mass. This beauty helps me to connect with God in a different way than prayer by itself. What a blessing.

As you go into your church this Sunday, look at what art there is, the paintings, the statues, the stained glass. Spend some time reflecting on how this beauty adds to your worship experience. Today, thank St. Acca on his feast day for all he did to bring beauty into our space of worship. Just like I discovered how art can add to science, may we all see how art can add to our faith life too.

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