A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

STEM and art

Jun 8, 2017 - By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

They aren't so very far apart, and both are needed in public education

As we continue working on the 62nd annual Ranger Mining and Energy edition - three sections down, two to go as of Thursday morning - many references to STEM have been encountered. These days, that's an abbreviation that many people know. It stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Those four letters are the focus of a huge concentration of money and thought in American schools, colleges and universities these days.

The STEM subjects are viewed by education experts to be the center point to American competitiveness in education, job training, workforce readiness, and employment itself in the future. All are seen as areas in which the United States has fallen behind other developed nations at the school-age level. Concentrate on STEM, we are told. STEM is the key. STEM, STEM STEM.

Point taken. Science and technical education is important.

But it's not the only thing that makes the world go around.

Just ask Robert Martinez or Lynn McAuliffe. Ranger reporter Alejandra Silva has written recently about initiatives involving a public schools performing arts effort in Lander, and the funding of a new American Indian native artist course through Central Wyoming College. Martinez, an artist and teacher, is helping drive the former, while McAuliffe, the college's leader in business, technical and work force development, is launching the latter with CWC faculty.

The public schools project is a supplement to day-to-day curriculum. It calls for "art observation" and hands-on involvement in visual arts such as painting and sculpture, music, other performing arts such as theater and dance, and creative writing.

At CWC, the new program not only embraces artists, but also affords training in planning, marketing and entrepreneurial skills - not quite STEM, perhaps, but not so far from it, either.

Both programs recognize that the arts are vital parts of education too - some might say just as vital as STEM itself - in that exposure to, observation of, and training in the arts is recognized as beneficial in preparing students for all other types of education.

Music is mathematical. Ask any kid taking piano lessons. Writing is critical analysis - or it better be, if you want a good grade. Dance performance is trial, error and control. There's no other way to get to the finished product on stage. Painting is expression of experimental technique. Every artist tries, tries, and tries again. All these are elements of STEM as well as art.

And, like many scientific topics, the initial outcome of art is debated and, often, challenged. Whether an abstract painting, a new combination of instruments or climate change, the purveyors of the product often are required, as visiting artist Robert Martinez put it, "to go back and honestly re-evaluate" what has been produced.

Science and mathematics have incontrovertible laws. They are the stock and trade of the mathematician and the scientist. They were not invented by human beings, but we alone have come to recognize them, calculate them, and put them to practical use.

Art is similar, but it might well be seen in mirrored contrast. We did invent art, but the incalculable ways in which it is presented and expressed prove that it represents things in human life that can never be calculated and reduced to formula.

Yet we try, because we can't help it. That, too, is part of education.

In the striving for the concrete sequences of STEM, let's always make room for the flowing, beautiful inexactitude of art. It, too, is part of our unquenchable urge to teach, to learn and to understand.

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