Geoscience is a hard field, starting with its central topic, rocks. Scientific work at its cutting edge calls upon the most advanced chemistry, solid-matter physics, biology and biochemistry. It requires excellent computer skills, rigorous thinking, a lawyer's grasp of argument, a philosopher's judgment in assessing the relation of evidence to reality. It requires a mastery of sophisticated equipment, decisiveness in the field, a knack for improvising effective tools and experiments. And on top of that, geology thrives on imagination, visualization and a visceral feeling for dynamics.
The same is true for the arts. To make fresh, sound new work on a consistent basis takes a will of flint, the delicacy of fossilization, the equilibrium of a talus pile, the persistence of a glacier and sometimes the abandon of a landslide. Artists have a lot in common with geoscientistsindeed, I know some outstanding geologists who started out with degrees in the arts.
One of those who I don't personally know is Johanna Kieniewicz, the writer of the PLOS blog At the Interface. In her most recent post, "Why scientists should care about art," she argues that actual collaborations between artists and scientists, even to the point of spending institutional funds on them, are valuable to scientists in four ways: they bring out the cultural penumbra of scientific problems, improve communication skills, recalibrate visualization habits and are fun.
I would go a little farther. There's a widespread idea among the public that scientists are enemies of wonder, while the truth is that scientists are expert wonderers. Wonder is the very engine of science, and all the skills and talents I mentioned earlier serve to harness it to good scientific ends. That is true of artists in the same way, and I think the two communities can have mutually fruitful exchanges.