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
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 Jobs 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 greater intertwinement with artists would invigorate technology 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 art 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 art 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 or suggestion. 2) Please suggest people, books and/or organizations involved in the nexus of arts, science and technology. Thank you.

18 thoughts on “Silicon Valley Tech Frontier and Art Desert

  1. You raise a very good point that relates to the impact of arts on our life and our society development. I share entirely your view. I aggree that arts, science and technology ultimately proceeds with similar but specific approaches that could drasctically enrich each other, stimulate innovation if they dare get together.
    . .

  2. This is a very interesting article, Sylvie, and – not only as an artistic/art-critic and co-founder of a tech-start-up – I share your feelings about the question.

    Some of my posts – like this one: – have been clearly inspired by my study of the philosophy of arts.

    Designers are now regularly invited to Innovation Conferences, “Design Thinking” is fashionable.

    What I miss is a proof of concept of the impact artistic thinking can have on business and innovation way beyond design. The feeling that there’s something to it which you and I and a few other people share won’t be enough to convince people. And, yes, I’m willing to join you and might come up with a list. Get in touch.

    1. Klaus, nice to meet you, and thank you for your comment! Yes design is the first thing that comes to mind, when we think of the intersection of arts and technology. I think the design thinking movement is very beneficial (I am a fan). But I think there is something more to explore, beyond the realm of design. This post is an introduction to plant some seeds. I have several ideas beyond, and would love to speak with you. I will contact you. Thank you so much for getting in touch!

  3. Thanks for your post.

    You asked for more books — here are a couple of interesting books for reference:

    Art & Physics – Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light
    by Leonard Shlain

    Mind Sights by Roger N. Shepard

  4. Hi Sylvie- nice article. You might look into the literature on technology and economic development. A lot of folks have investigated how art, music, and tech/science professionals interact within an urban landscape. I did some research on this a few years ago and published an article in a journal called MEIEA. The references may have some interesting literature for you, but that is the abridged set of references. Also writing by Rich Florida, Richard Caves, and Charles Landry might be of interest- most is U.S. or Europe-focused. Feel free to ping.

  5. Sylvie,

    Excellent article that is hopefully inspiring others with the same unique set of strengths. I’m a medical and scientific illustrator/left brain-right brain thinker who ‘sees’ things differently than my more technical colleagues at NASA but I’m accepted and cherished for it since I have insights they don’t have. There is hope- it all depends on the company who employs you. I highly recommend you read, “Visualizations: The NATURE Book of Art and Science.”

    1. Katherine, thank you for your comment. I will check the book you recommend, thank you. I’d be curious to learn more about your work at NASA, and interactions with scientists.

  6. Hi Silvie,
    I’ve heard others voice similar sentiment to the issues raised here.
    I run a chamber music organization based out of San Francisco called Classical Revolution.
    We specialize in bringing live music to places where its not usually heard.
    Usually we play in cafes and bars, but also have a museum residency and a theater series starting up in the fall.
    We involve lots of different musicians including several who work tech jobs at Google and Apple.
    We also have musician friends who live in the South Bay who’ve been asking for Classical Revolution to establish a presence in the area.
    There are a couple venues in mind, such as Philz Coffee in San Jose / Palo Alto.
    This might be a way for techies to be exposed to classical music in a way that is not uncomfortable or restrictive.
    We’ve thought about the possibility of coming in to present casual performances at Google, Facebook, etc.
    I think its really important to be able to collaborate between different disciplines – we all have our individual skill sets and available resources – if we are able to work together, we can combine our talents to make our communities stronger.
    Music and science are eternal cousins – both are ways of defining / characterizing nature – it makes sense that their practitioners should have more conversation and share ideas.
    Check out our website
    You can contact for further inquiries.

    1. Charith, thank you so much for your comment. Music to my ears. I would love to learn more, and possibly collaborate with your group. We have very synergistic goals. (I also have a degree in classical music). I will email you to speak further. Thank you for getting in touch!

  7. Great Article! I think the pendulum in SIlicon Valley is starting to swing back towards creativity and design, sparked in no small part by Apple’s success and Job’s comments. More significantly, Professor Richard Florida has written eloquently about research quantifying the correlation between creativity and economic output in his books “The Rise of The Creative Class” and “Who’s Your City?”:

    He’s shown some very interesting correlations between creativity, diversity, gender/class/race neutrality, and economic output.


  8. Sylvie,

    This is definitely a worthy topic. I suspect every company has artistic people floating around, but very few of those companies have a culture that empowers those people to make an artistic contribution to the business product.

    That’s no surprise, since it’s so hard to measure things like fun, positive corporate culture, inspiration, communication and branding. I suspect you need someone at the helm who (like yourself) is both an technologist and an artist at heart, and can value these things without needing to measure them.

    Once you have the culture in place, it seems like artistic contributions can happen on almost any front.


    Office space management?

    Company theme song?


    1. Jeff, thank you for your comment. I do think there are (some) artists in technology companies, but their talents are regrettably under-utilized (designers set aside). I would like to change that. I think artists have much to bring to technology/business innovation. A culture that embraces and stimulates artistic sensibilities in the workplace would be very beneficial.

  9. Sylvie,
    Very interesting post and the exchanges should go both ways. The access to engineers and technologists is also quite stimulating for artists. It reminds me of local initiatives such as Breadboard Philadelphia, a program that “facilitates cross-disciplinary art exhibits, community outreach initiatives and special programs offering public access to a new generation of fabrication technology and workspace in an effort to empower individuals and convene communities around creative applications of technology.”
    Also NextFab studio, which is a membership-based, high-tech workshop and prototyping center- it’s Philadelphia’s “gym for innovators”. Check some of the projects seeking an upcoming award
    Looking forward to a future post on this topic.

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