Shifting Perspective and Starting Again

Bridging my uncertainty through the arts of science.

Written and Designed by Drea Garcia Avila, Design Editor

My journey with art began at the age of eight in a small, local studio in Toronto. Colourful surrealist and impressionist artwork coated the walls, wooden easels bordered the fringes, and fluorescent lights shone softly across the quaint, narrow room.

After watching me draw with printer paper and crayons at home, my parents decided to enroll me in art classes, and I was beyond thrilled to try my hand at formally learning fundamental art techniques. After months of practice, I discovered my niche in both a talent and a passion for realism. Replicating the intricacies of the delicate human eye and the more structured forms of hand sketches was enthralling. I would practice drawing delicate wisps and bold brush strokes, their motor movements integrating themselves into my subconscious. However, despite my enthusiasm, I always feared that while I was artistic, maybe I wasn't creative like everyone else in class seemed to be. I could envision known objects, but when it came to creating original concepts, I struggled. And as I got older, any previous creativity continued to diminish, forgotten and unattended.

I considered my strengths: An aptitude for spatial reasoning, which I gained through learning to draw and think about my subjects; surprising memorization skills, which I found after I realized I had unknowingly committed numerous books to memory upon a single read-through, including a 300-page illustrated animal encyclopedia; and a deep interest in visuals and diagrams. So, I found myself drawn to life sciences such as anatomy and chemistry, fascinated by the patterns in life and the interconnection of seemingly different topics and beings. I loved seeing how nature could perpetuate patterns and designs in virtually everything: Waves and spirals, branching and symmetry, dispersion and diffraction. I adored seeing innate art and beauty in science.

But with every complex calculus equation and convoluted signalling pathway I encountered as my journey in science progressed at McGill, I found my original passion for learning life science had dissipated. A subject that once left me enthralled, now left me uninspired. With every class that followed, I felt that the art in science had been reduced to just a premeditated formula.

As I advanced through my post-secondary science education, I began to realize that these formulas demanded rigidity from their creation, leaving no room for imagination or creativity apart from the minds who created them, with us only to input the calculations. I encountered a dilemma: Should I have just pursued art from the beginning?

Upon identifying my feelings, a resentment for science surfaced. I thought my choices were limited: It was either art or science--always shown to be innately disconnected. But why did I feel an obligation towards a single, linear path? Perhaps I felt too drawn to the appeal of an academic career, with all its rigour and praise. But more importantly, what was stopping me from trying again?

Approval: The illustrious idea of standardized intelligence

The craving for approval did not make an explicit appearance. It crept up slowly, manifesting itself during high school with the growing pressure to get into a university, and has lingered since. Parasitically leeching off of the praise that came with the rigorous path of science, I found myself unwillingly wishing for some unknown being to see my work and deem it, and by extension, myself worthy.

Perhaps the fear was less about being undistinguished or "ordinary", but more so about not mattering enough to be remembered. The thought of insignificance in both my artistic and scientific efforts haunted me, along with the worry that I was bound to be forgotten.

Time: The feeling it passed me by

Time: Another aspect that plagued me. I worried that changing my path would make all the time, money, and energy spent on science ultimately futile. Was I wrong about myself and my capabilities? But then, I remember my father’s story, of how he wanted to study computer science but didn’t win the raffle for his study permit. Instead, he redirected his efforts to becoming an industrial engineer. But with his dreams ever-present, he continued studying independently; now, he has been in IT for the past fifteen years. His circular journey took him on different, unexpected paths that led him back to where he always wanted to be. Only now, he arrived at the start again with a different experience, a new perspective, and the knowledge that his drive and determination are the few aspects of life he can control. His story made me consider, if we leave, can we ever come back? I think yes: We return in distinctly different ways.

How often can we start again?
As often as time allows us.

Fear: The Ubiquity of Failure

In high school, it took me some time to settle on what I then considered to be my path. But after extensive deliberation between my two passions, the lustre of science and research ultimately won me over. I feared not being able to decide on one specific discipline, forever teetering on the border of two fields, halfhearted on both. But, I have found that an interdisciplinary path would have been more rewarding for me. I was not satisfied with science alone as a stoic, unimaginative discipline, and I wanted my art to be critiqued on its ability to communicate an informative purpose rather than my personal creativity or style. I wanted to dedicate myself fully to both. By merging art and science, so many options were open to me: Scientific illustration, graphic design in the medical field, 3D prosthetics, conservation photography. And no matter my apprehension about being too ordinary in my art, or too uninspired in my research, all I can do for myself is be willing to fail as often as I am willing to try again.

My time in university has allowed me to find others who share these conflicted feelings; I have met so many others who struggle with the same: Painters, potterers, and poets--all with a wonder for STEM, but a longing for the return of art in our lives. I wondered, when did I fall under the false guise that these two fields were so vast, that there was nothing connecting them? I have come to realize otherwise.

Interconnecting these Forces:

Creating art can require many skills. Any piece requiring precision and accuracy, or even work that strays from the realm of the feasible, demands the comprehension of the subject's anatomy, reasonable physics of motion, and logic in perspective. These components are imperative in the realms of physics, life sciences, thinking, and reasoning.

Mathematics can uncover incredible patterns, beautiful laws, and phenomena when we visualize numbers and formulas: Colliding blocks encode pi; prime numbers create spirals; material forms unravel, extending their reach like the branching of trees, river beds, our capillaries and bronchi, all working together to create something the other requires. The spirals in Nautilus shells, unfurling ferns, galaxies, and fingerprints. These elements demonstrate an intrinsic link between the bounded realms of logic and numbers and the free field of subjective creativity--where we bend the rules. There are infinite ways these dimensions can--and should--be intertwined. Why do we think we can only be limited to one discipline, when the world itself shows us how reliant these fields are on one another?

I decided I might be unsure of my decisions. Dissatisfied with my path. I may even be unhappy. How can we go back to something we were? Something we always wanted to be? For myself, I know that I've let fear hold me back for too long: The longing for approval from something I believed to be "greater" than myself, that time could never allow me to return to something I used to love. But having been trapped with this sentiment for so long does not make it binding. Like meanders in nature, which transform their linear paths into sinusoidal curves, taking longer routes to accommodate their sheer force and power, we are not always meant to have an unchanging path.

Now, I make space for art: On my walls, in my books, and within my heart. And I decided to approach science with optimism and excitement, knowing these fields have an integral reliance on each other. My journey with art and science might not look like what is typical or expected, but I know now that I can approach it in a multidisciplinary fashion, with all its exhilarating surprises, monotonous moments, and vastly unexpected circumstances. Both are fine by me. I know I can try again as many times as time allows me, and I'm excited to see how my path changes along with me.