“Arts foster scientific success,” said Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman of many accomplishments, in a presentation I was lucky enough to catch at the Seattle Town Hall. An animal behaviorist with numerous scholarly articles published, Grandin has designed systems to handle half the cattle in America. Beyond her scientific contributions, Grandin is a renowned autism spokesperson and advocate. In 2010, HBO released the award-winning biopic Temple Grandin based on her memoirs.
In her presentation at Town Hall, Grandin broke down different types of thinking: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and auditory thinkers. While Grandin didn’t mention much about the latter, verbal thinkers love to memorize facts and history, visual thinkers love art and have natural mechanical ability, and pattern thinkers excel at math and music. Grandin herself is a visual thinker: she explained how she did not talk until she was about four, but was very artistic by that age. “You see, engineers calculate things,” she noted. “Visual thinkers can see it.”
In the early ‘70s, Grandin taught herself how to read building plans while at a beef plant in Arizona. Blueprint clasped in one hand, she navigated the plant until she could understand every line on the drawing. Using the skills gained from this “self-made internship,” as she put it, she utilized her artistic prowess to create a portfolio of detailed sketches and blueprints of livestock handling systems. This kickstarted her career in designing cattle systems all over America.
Science-related Nobel Prize winners are 50% more likely to have an arts and crafts hobby than other scientists, Grandin pointed out; Albert Einstein was an accomplished violinist and pianist, while Steve Jobs highly appreciated the art of calligraphy. Grandin believes it is critical for schools to keep classes that foster creativity and problem solving in students. Twenty-five years into the future, the same students who thrive in these classes will be the ones innovating the infrastructure of the country.
In this talk, Grandin emphasized that artists can be scientists. In fact, artists excel at the sciences. But a lot of times, creativity is positioned as the polar opposite of logical thinking. I, and many of my artist peers, have neglected the childlike joy of exploring and learning about the world around us because of these dichotomized labels. Considering the readers of TeenTix’s blog, I propose we challenge ourselves to observe and learn about the natural world through our creative lenses. If you’re a musician, read about the scientific relationship between music and emotions; this can help you if your goal is to produce a track that inspires particular feelings. If you happen to be a sketcher, learning about how optical phenomena like the fisheye lens work might be incredibly beneficial. The point is that art and science are both present wherever we go—why limit ourselves to only one side of the coin?
Dr. Temple Grandin with Dr. Jim Heath livestreamed through Town Hall Seattle on June 10, 2021 and is available to stream online. For more information see here.