Art Works Blog

Arts or Sciences?

Washington, DC

Nebeleuse Nord America by Luc Viatour via Flickr

This past Tuesday, 150 arts leaders from across the country were invited to the White House to hear from officials across the administration who are interested in making the arts a part of their agencies' everyday business. Peter Cunningham, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, shared a personal anecdote that was both fitting for National Poetry Month and as a continuation of the Art Works blog's ongoing "Art & Science" conversation.

Some people would also have you believe that we have to choose between the arts and other subjects---but that's a false choice. We need them both---and I'll give you a quick story that makes the point.

I studied philosophy in college and somewhere in the middle of my junior year I learned that I couldn't graduate unless I took at least one science course.

This administration is deeply committed to science education, but if this was a science event, I wouldn't be your speaker.

In any case, I did my due diligence and checked with all of the other philosophy majors and I found the one science course most likely to get me a passing grade with the least amount of work: introduction to astronomy.

For a few weeks we focused on the planets and I was feeling pretty confident, but after about a month we got into a dizzying discussion about far-away suns and galaxies and vast distances expressed in billions and billions of light years and it all kind of swam together in my head when one day a student raised his hand and said---"Billions of light years and billions of stars---who cares?"

This teacher, who could not have been more mild-mannered, instantly turned from Jekyll to Hyde and without missing a beat shot right back at him---"Who cares about poetry?"

For a minute I thought I was back in philosophy class.

The answer is, of course, we care about poetry and we care about the stars and---believe it or not---there's a literary magazine devoted to poetry about stars. It's called Astropoetica, and you can find it on the internet.

We live in a great country. Let's keep it that way.

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