Silicon Valley: Tech Frontier and Art Desert

Sylvie Leotin · April 21, 2011 · Short URL:

Bridging the Arts and Tech Innovation Divide

In the past decade, the world has come to recognize the need for, and importance of, cross-discipline collaboration to solve the thorny problems that plague our planet today. There has been much ink and books on the subject. I wholeheartedly embrace the movement. One discipline has been missing from the mix however, that is the arts, still downtrodden in technology circles. It is a pity! I believe the next wave of progress needs to include the arts.

Paul Klee, Contemplating
Paul Klee: Contemplating (Wikimedia Commons)

I am an artist and a technologist, with a passion for science, arts and literature. A former ballerina, I came to Silicon Valley from France, to study robotics at Stanford and never left. I love technology, but lament of the divide between engineers and artists. Technology entrepreneurs brag that they don't have time to read. That art is nonsensical. And that science and engineering only will create jobs. I think it is all fallacy! Cross collaboration between artists and technologists would greatly enrich our capabilities and innovation potential. On that note I applaud Vivek Wadhda's recent TechCrunch article: Engineering vs. Liberal Arts: Who is Right? Bill or Steve? We need more liberal arts majors in high-tech. As Steve Job demonstrated to the world: "Technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing". Amen.

Moreover, beyond design, I believe that arts could help further stimulate innovation. Let me take two luminary artists to illustrate my point. Paul Klee said, "Art teaches us to see". In many ways artists enjoy a broader and deeper vision of the world. They are sensitive to the invisible; they can hear the unspoken; they can see beneath the surface. And Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes". Artists could play a positive role in helping us stretch our vision, and expand our innovation potential. In a recent Vanity Fair article, Jack Dorsey (of Twitter and Square) was quoted taking his engineers to SFMOMA to look at modern art paintings. I had arranged similar outings at previous companies. It is not that we need to turn engineers into artists, but giving engineers exposure to the arts would greatly benefit technology companies, and scientific institutions.

The problem is that as adults working in high-tech, with no prior exposure to the arts, where can we turn to build a late artistic sensibility? Getting season tickets to the opera, or taking an art class, seems incongruous. Most art classes are taught by artists, for artists, and fail to bridge the gap. Similarly arts organizations struggle to attract Silicon Valley audiences. The divide is too wide. We need to build a bridge, and make the arts more relevant (and less intimidating) to non-artists and technologists: the missing link. Both arts and technology organizations would greatly gain.

I have a foot in both worlds, and aspire to bridge that gap. Calling interested artists and technologists to join me in my quest. How you can help: 1) Please leave a comment. 2) Please suggest people, books and/or organizations involved in the nexus of arts, science and technology.

Image by Wikimedia Commons.

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Sylvie Leotin

Sylvie Leotin is an entrepreneur, advisor, writer and polymath, with a unique approach to bridging the worlds of business, technology, arts and culture.

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Sylvie Leotin

Joined Vator on

Sylvie Leotin is an entrepreneur, advisor, writer and polymath, with a unique approach to bridging the worlds of business, technology, arts and culture.