What is the difference between art and science?

Artwork: Fabio Governato

Artwork: Fabio Governato

Let’s start from the beginning: All your fonts look the same to me. I also find math difficult, running hard. Photography? A struggle. All of the above? Often a bit tedious, really. Me? I make a living as an astrophysics professor—using computer simulations, I study how galaxies, supermassive black holes and galaxy clusters formed out of dark matter, baryons, dark energy. I also occasionally get paid as a commercial photographer (editorial and still life) and yes, fine, if you point something dangerous at me, I will admit to a slight preference for Futura over Helvetica. I will also freely declare to love science, I enjoy art, and I’ve been known to run a half-marathon in well under two hours.

Why mention running? Commercial photography? I like making connections, seeing things or people in different ways and improving on what I did the day before. I enjoy trying as hard as I can, and I do not mind the occasional failure. (Liar. I do, immensely, but I pick myself up and move on.) I find pleasure in repetition, in dwelling on details, be it a Photoshop tool, a math formula or a training routine. I often shift from one interest to another over the course of a day. The truth is, all these processes happen at the same time, and ideas seem to come to me at seemingly random moments. (An aside: I get stuff done by writing “to do” lists. They do look funny though: Add supermassive black holes to galaxy formation model. Search for tall model for shoot. Change fonts—too big for science poster. Lop off four minutes from run time.)

That is what I am getting at: Is there a difference between art and science? With designing a new typeface or understanding how galaxies form? Not much, I believe. None, if one is doing good science or good art. In both cases, you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before and, in the course of practicing all that is tedious, learn to do what needs to be done effortlessly, hopefully noticing that one little thing connects to another, which eventually takes you to some place new. Like a good run.