Among famous conundrums, the "chicken or the egg" might get the most attention. But there are others just as puzzling, such as "engineering and art -- what does one have to do with the other?" Folks will agree on an answer... when the chicken crosses the road. But here's my response: In every engineer there’s an artist; in every artist there’s an engineer.
That said, I don't mean every engineer is a van Gogh, or every artist can whip up wireless integrated microsystems. But each shares some instincts and talents.
Leonardo da Vinci was an example of the artist-engineer. He created masterworks with underlying scientific principles (optics, in the Mona Lisa, for example; mathematics in The Last Supper, as another example) and plans for eerily prescient inventions.
Today's "artgineers," nowhere near as well known, are everywhere.
Michigan Engineering grad Fred Gibbons (BSE SE ’72, MSE CI CE ’72) is a highly successful engineer and an accomplished painter with a huge body of work (For significant contributions to academia and business, Gibbons received a 2000 EECS Alumni Society Merit Award from the College.) Engineering definitely influenced the experimental art of Michigan Engineering’s Wen-Ying Tsai (BSE ME '53), an engineer whose kinetic sculptures hang in the world’s finest galleries. (Wen-Ying Tsai received the 2001 Mechanical Engineering Alumni Society Merit Award.)
All around the world, traditional art is feeling its way into the digital age. Photography is the most noticeable example. Animation, gaming and music are tied into engineering. Even a medium such as sculpture is taking advantage of technology.
The CoE curricula reflect an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between engineering and art – MSE 493/Art and Design 303, Energy, Light, Visualization, is an upper-division class that brings together engineers, artists, architects and designers who learn to make images (graphs, illustrations, photos) part of the communications mix.
The Lurie Engineering Center is itself a gallery with an impressive collection of art on its walls, something one might not expect on a campus dominated by technology.
The disciplines of engineering and art have lived and worked together for ages. There’s a good case to be made that they were born together and became two branches of one family tree. History -- far past and recent -- seems to bear that out.
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