Art as Knowledge Portal

The painting above is by Victorian-era painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw from Leeds, UK. Have you seen one of these around? Seems like a peculiar question, but that is part of the attraction of art. Art is unique. Art is stuff that you rarely see. If you look around you now, many things are familiar and plentiful. The grass, the wall, the cup, the ice — you’ve seen many examples of these objects and while these are interesting, the word “art” is synonymous with that which you do not often see. Art has another attribute: artists excel in viewing the world differently and so, unlike in mathematics where the emphasis is to use a globally social agreed-upon notation, with art, it is the opposite — finding new ways of seeing one thing. These two attributes, 1) seeing a thing in many different ways, and 2) celebrating unique things, are key to understanding the arts. But things get more interesting when we consider what we might learn from art. We might feel that to interpret art, to understand it, we need to be artists, art historians, art aficionados, or art teachers. But art goes much deeper. Grimshaw’s painting shows what is possible. There are sailing ships in the dock, street lights, and buildings. We can learn about the engineering of ships, the mathematics of hull design, the chemistry of different lighting methods, the weather at the time and its effects on light. STEM subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, are easily studied with Grimshaw’s painting as a knowledge portal. The object is a literal gateway to all knowledge, not just knowledge normally associated with studying within an arts-based discipline. You can connect many types of knowledge to this object. That the object is unique makes it enticing for learning. That the object is one of many ways of seeing a dock provides the impetus for a new way of art interpretation based on STEM.

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