Art versus science?
A view from Sue Unerman

Art versus science?

Have you heard the MediaCom Connected Podcast yet?

One of the issues that our chief executive, Josh Krichefski, highlighted is diversity. Not diversity of gender or ethnicity or socioeconomic background – though all of this is on his agenda.

This time, he talked about head versus heart, art versus science: "There are increasingly polarised specialists coming into the business. On the one hand, art-based, creative content-driven people. On the other hand, very scientific, mathematic data-driven people." Josh called for an environment where everybody thrives and is challenged and nurtured in the most positive way to get the best from each individual.

The idea that art and science are polarised is very widespread and actually relatively new. Look back a bit and there was not such a distinction. One of the Western world’s most famous artists is Leonardo da Vinci, who was as prolific for his inventions as for his portraits. He is widely considered one of the greatest artists of all time while he is also credited with the invention of the helicopter, the tank and the parachute – all of which would belong to the discipline of engineering these days, not of art.

Sir Isaac Newton is equally widely recognised as one of the greatest scientists of all time. He was a master of logic and rational thought. His theory of gravity (remember the apple) revolutionised thinking and dominated scientific thought for three centuries. But Newton also believed in alchemy and was obsessed with biblical prophecy, souls burning in lakes of fire, based on the apocalyptic Book of Revelation (also the source of much of The Omen).

It’s our education system that has driven the idea of a schism between art and science. At A levels, for instance, tradition and the limited capacity for schools to organise complicated timetables meant that most pupils had to choose between art and science subjects. This played to most students' preferences, perhaps. But, these days, there are computer programs to design efficient timetables for sixth-formers, so the possibility of studying English and mathematics, chemistry and theology is both easier to arrange and a more frequent occurrence.

The best media practitioners have capabilities across art and data, and across creativity and mathematics. Josh is absolutely right. Art and science do not have to be enemies. Some of the most creative people I know in the industry have titles that describe them as traders, programmers or tech chiefs. The best creative directors and originators of content and ideas are often ruled by a ruthless logic that any coder, programmer or developer would be proud to acknowledge.

The godfather of advertising, Sir John Hegarty, says selling is an art, not a science. But it is the combination of art and science working together that drives the best results.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom