In general, the arts are considered less important and respectable than the sciences. After all, when is the last time you heard someone ask an engineering major, “What on Earth are you going to do with a degree in THAT?!”

But it’s a common question for anyone studying the arts — whether that is literary or graphical (or otherwise). And even those who have reached professional status do not necessarily enjoy more favorable cultural attitudes around their work.

One of the reasons for this relatively lower esteem is succinctly described by Rudolf Arnheim in Visual Thinking: “The arts are neglected because they are based on perception, and perception is disdained because it is not assumed to involve thought.”

What is thought? What counts as thinking?

Oxford Living Dictionaries defines “thinking” as: “the process of considering or reasoning about something.” Webster defines it as “the action of using one’s mind to produce thoughts.”

Does looking at this not lead to reasoning about something? Is there a spiky ball or is there a random assemblage of nearly triangular forms?

VisualThinkingSpiky

Or this? Are there two overlapping circles or three discrete shapes?

VisualThinkingDots

And what about the Stroop effect? In that case, what is our mind doing if not producing thoughts that are conflicting with our learned responses?

The thinking that results from seeing may be more elusive to notice and describe than the thinking required to balance a chemical equation or construct a cladogram. And this might be because interpreting images relies on learned understandings about the world that are so ingrained into our memory that our brains form the connections and reasonings in wordless, split seconds.

Elusiveness is not absence. Thinking and reasoning are as much part of the arts as they are of the sciences. (Consequently, mastery in the arts is as demanding of focused training as in the sciences.)

The second reason arts are unjustly disparaged and often pitted against the sciences has to do with the perception of practicality.

My rant is long enough that I’ll pick up on this tomorrow