Open Pen

Science as Art: An Open Pen Critique

For today’s critique, we actually have a fun non-fiction piece from Kikyo! Kikyo is hoping to get this piece published in a magazine soon, so she would love for us to be picky and look at details. Though she is mostly looking for a stylistic critique, she is willing to hear any feedback you might have.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to comment on this piece! Even short, simple comments can be very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to give a long, comprehensive critique.

God bless,

Gabrielle

Open Pen is a critique opportunity  on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.

 

 

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Science as Art by Kikyo

It was the last class before Christmas, and the atmosphere was strangely relaxed: the contrast with last week’s exam frenzy was astounding. We had our results now, and those who had passed were triumphant, while those who had failed were resigned to a resit. The teacher handed round a box of chocolates, and one girl had brought home-made cookies.

This was not what physics class usually looked like.

As he went over the answers to the exam, explaining where we had lost marks, our teacher came to the topic of surface tension. He suddenly paused and then scurried across the room to open a cupboard.

“I’d meant to show you this.”

He took out two test tubes, and at once we sat up and turned to see. People often think science is all about test tubes and chemicals. In fact, it is usually about textbooks and lectures and health and safety forms. When the test tubes come out, something interesting is going to happen.

What he showed us was a tube of water and a tube of mercury. Holding them up, he explained that the meniscus – or curved surface – of the water pointed down, and of the mercury pointed up. He then went along the rows so that everyone could have a look, and I watched the people beside me look intently, give quiet exclamations, and ask questions. It occurred to me then that, a few years ago, I would have thought we were crazy. I would not have understood how examining a tiny glass of water and a tiny thermometer could be exciting, because I did not know why this apparent phenomenon happened or what it meant. It was sitting through lectures and writing notes from textbooks that taught me to find it interesting.

This, I realised, is what the real scientists work for. The life of a science student is not full of these moments. Mostly it is full of getting to lectures on time and typing out lab reports for a deadline and trying to fit a presentation into a specified number of PowerPoint slides. Every so often, though, we get this glimpse of something: we “see” the molecular bonds we have studied, we watch a chemical reaction take place, or hear the waves we drew diagrams of.

Doing this gives us another ability: to look at the world around us and see more. To hear the noise the train is making and hear, not a sound that interrupts our conversation, but a real-life example of wave interference; to look at the night sky and see light travelling towards us at the fastest speed we know of; to see a baby learning to walk and gaining control of motor neurons. This does not replace the normal pleasure of an experience, but adds to it.

I think scientists are often stereotyped and misunderstood. A love of patterns and explanations is seen as an obsession with data. The need to know becomes something to separate us from other people. Delight in logic is depicted as something cold that is incompatible with emotions.

On the other end of the spectrum are artists, who are shown as over-emotional or sentimental, with that “artistic temperament” which makes treating people badly natural.
Maybe, though, scientists and artists are not so different.

I recently read a book by a physicist, and it was the first time I read someone describe science beautifully. Why not, though? Why must we communicate what we find only through bland reports? Is the human mind capable only of analysis or creativity?

Perhaps science can be treated as a form of art. We are on a quest, not to explain everything with an equation, but to understand what surrounds us. Some part of a scientist never grows up, and a child inside continues to ask: “Why?”.

But is there not a child inside the artist as well? The child whose face lights up at seeing colours and patterns and laughs with delight at something beautiful?

The difference I see is that, while the artist creates something beautiful, seeking to bring what is in their mind outside for all to see, the scientist finds something beautiful, and seeks to bring it into their minds to understand it.

Why does that seem strange to those who do not share the passion? Because they do not understand.

I remember a friend telling me: “I never liked classical music until I learned to understand it”. I think this is the key.

I admit that I do not understand art. I have read passionately-written explanations, and it means nothing to me, but an art expert can be carried away by what only they can see.

For scientists, it is the same. We can’t make you feel the wonder of the mini thermometer and tiny glass of water, because you haven’t learned to understand it. Maybe some people can’t learn it, and that is okay.

What would happen if we could understand that we lack understanding? Could the artist see science as the scientist’s art, and the scientist see art as the artist’s science? We could delight in the beauty that we see, and know that others look through different facets of the crystal. After all, we all use human minds, and it is the same world we look at.

It is these moments that we seek, that make the hours of lectures and the ton-weight books worth it. To have them, we must gain the knowledge that past generations worked for, then we can build on their work and discover beauty for ourselves.

So, the image is imprinted on my mind: an old man holding up two test tubes, and a girl with bright eyes leaning forward to see them. They look at each other through the glass as he explains what they are seeing, handing on the information he has so that she can use it to discover more, and the quest for beautiful knowledge continues.

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10 thoughts on “Science as Art: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Wow this is amazing! Your piece is so powerful. It is superbly written and I only found one thing! I feel like this sentence would flow better if you said, “People often think science is all about test tubes and chemicals, when, in fact, it is usually about textbooks and lectures and health and safety forms.” This is purely superficial so you could leave it and it would still sound fine. I couldn’t find anything else. As I said before it is very well written and there doesn’t seem to be any major mistakes😉Good luck with publishing it in that magazine!!😁
    -Red

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  2. Oh also in that same sentence you might want to change, “textbooks and lectures and health and safety forms.” to “textbooks, lectures, and health and safety forms.”

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    1. Thanks so much! I’m really glad (and encouraged) that you liked it, and I will definitely take your suggestions about that sentence; I like the flow of it much better that way 🙂 .
      Thanks again,
      Kikyo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed reading this, Kikyo! I couldn’t see anything major I thought needed to be changed, but I’ve made some pointers for things I thought were good or could be worked on.
    –There was one phrase that had me confused: “that “artistic temperament” which makes treating people badly natural”. I think I know what you mean, but I would suggest rewriting it because its hard to understand.
    –“The difference I see is that, while the artist creates something beautiful, seeking to bring what is in their mind outside for all to see, the scientist finds something beautiful, and seeks to bring it into their minds to understand it.” I think this sentence works all right, but it is quite long, so you might want to consider that.
    –I love the way you equate both artists and scientists with children who see beauty and want to replicate it and understand it! And I enjoyed the fact that you highlighted the differences but also the similarities between two very different type of people. I am constantly amazed by the way God has created us so differently!
    Over all, this was a lovely read. The style was brilliant. 🙂
    Chelsea.

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    1. Thanks for your help! I agree with both those points, and I’ll try to think of a way to fix them.
      I, also, am always amazed by both the diversity and the similarities of the human race. It’s such an incredible thought that God has created us all unique, and yet we also share so much in common. It was this realisation that inspired me to write this piece 🙂
      God bless,
      Kikyo

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  4. Oh wow this is beautiful! I thought this was very well written, and I love the concept 🙂
    So being picky, I had a couple of suggestions. Firstly, you had a repetition of ‘last’ in the opening; it didn’t really affect the flow, but I just thought i’d point it out. Also, I wondered if saying scientists were ‘misunderstood’ sounded a bit cliche and didn’t quite fit? that’s just personal preference though. Again, purely personal preference, but in your bit about artistic temperament, ‘depicted’ might work instead of ‘shown’.
    I really enjoyed reading this! 🙂
    God bless,
    philo.sophie.cal x

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  5. Dear Kikyo,

    Nice job! You should definitely continue your adventure in writing.

    A few critiques to tighten up your sentences:

    1.) I would take out “Maybe, though” in your sentence “Maybe, though, scientists and artists are not so different.” Personally, I think it is unnecessary and detracts the power from your sentence.

    2.) Avoid contractions in personal essays. It may sound awkward to write “can not” but it makes your sentence’s more impactful.

    3.) In your sentence “It is these moments that we seek, that make the hours of lectures and the ton-weight books worth it” I would instead write “worthwhile.” This is rather nitpicky, but personly I think it will give a stronger conclusion to your sentence.

    You have a creative piece, and I appreciated the point you made. I am both an artist and a science lover, and I relate to your piece. Your point is impactful. All should strive to see the beauty in both art and science.

    God’s speed.

    – Annalia Fiore

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  6. Kikyo,
    I love art and science. I see both as an outlet for creativity and imagination made by God for His children to explore His creation with. I am taking a public speaking class this semester, and one of the things they recommended for a speech, which works for an essay as well, is to tell a story to bring your point more to the reader. So, the story about the test tubes and test scores, as well as the examples and pictures all of us can more or less relate to, like of a baby learning to walk or the stars in the night sky, serve to capture our attention and make us actually care about what you’re saying. It is brought home. I saw very little problems with it. All of the ones I’ve seen have already been pointed out, so I’ll leave them alone. I wanted you to know that I hope the publishers love it, for they’d have to be blind as bats not to!
    God bless you!
    Bethia

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