Although there are real differences between art and engineering, the social gap between them may be due to misconceptions. The impersonal and equation-oriented image of engineering doesn’t reflect what engineers do at work.
As I commented on an article in The Atlantic:
Since I spent so much time in machine shops and garages during engineering school, I’m not sure that there really is a solid line one can draw between engineering and hands-on activities.
When I took art classes, students there were doing the same activities that I was already doing at the machine shop. Math classes use visualization and design skills frequently. And engineering is much more about problem-solving than memorization.
In other words – art and theater tech majors do many of the same things engineering and math students do…. but they end up with different jobs later.
The article encourages educators to value 3D design skills. I agree that 3D skills matter – but not just to designers and architects.
As a college freshman, I realized I would need shop skills that went beyond anything I learned before college. I’d been using art supplies and building small objects since grade school. As a high school student, I’d learned more about woodworking and auto repair. But that wasn’t enough. To expand my experience, I began working in electronics and machine shops.
The day-to-day life of a mechanical engineer involves building and visualizing products continually. Having solid math and computer skills is only one part of that equation.
Design and construction are some of the building blocks of engineering. Intermediate art-related fields like architecture and product design require similar skills and experiences.
Occasionally, I hear people say engineering isn’t creative. But brainstorming is integral to industrial design. Engineers know that if they spend more time and energy in the design phase of a project, that will prevent costly retooling later on.
So, yes – engineers are creative. But the field’s impersonal image doesn’t match that reality. In college, I saw women taking theater tech and art classes and learning to solder, weld, and use shop equipment. My male friends took engineering classes, learned to use exactly the same equipment, and had relatively good job security after they graduated.
I’d encourage other women who are interested in design to consider engineering. My engineering degree gave me access to many resources. Those doors might never have opened if I had an art degree.