Art + Science = Inspiration

| July-August 2008

This article is part of a package on creativity. For more, read " The Future of Creativity ," " Why Essays Are So Damn Boring ," " Bright Ideas from Baltimore’s Citizens ," " The Creativity Conceit ," and " Putting the Arts Back into the Arts ."

Just down the street from the Louvre in Paris is Le Laboratoire, a new “idea accelerator” where experimenters’ lab coats are more apt to bear traces of chocolate or paint than splotches of formaldehyde or hydrochloric acid.

The center brings together practitioners of art and science to collaborate on unconventional experiments like the Whif Bar, a tasty space-age treat combining espresso with a breath of aerosolized chocolate.

“The idea behind the Whif concept is to move beyond the fork and spoon to a higher level: inhaling food,” says Le Laboratoire founder David Edwards.

Le Laboratoire’s practitioners spend a lot of time exploring interdisciplinary ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day, such as the Bel-Air, a futuristic-looking “living filter” that purifies air by passing it through absorptive plants. “We value creators in business, culture, education, and society, but somehow we struggle to create institutional environments to welcome them,” Edwards writes in Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation (Harvard University Press, 2008).

This problem starts early, right about the time each of us chooses between the mathletes and the drama club. We’re encouraged to take our place on one side of the art/science divide, a break that stifles creativity and innovation as we move through higher education and beyond. In his concise book, Edwards, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard, shares the stories of people who have found ways to cross this barrier—artscientists, he calls them—and elegantly communicates the catalytic effect of their interdisciplinary leaps.

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