How Art Impacts My Work


Dec. 31, 2019

Murky paste splashes the floor, the walls, and even the ceiling. A soft engine whirs in a continuous strain setting in motion a metallic wheel. The artist’s hands brace against a delicate tower of clay, set in motion by that soft engine. The hands move along the surface of the clay, altering it with every touch. The tower transforms into a bulbous figure. The artist moves their hand into position for a final alteration. A soft push, the figure alters further, and further, then, collapses. The clay body smashes to the floor, and onto the artist himself. The project is lost. With a heavy heart, the artist takes up another mass of clay, takes a deep breath, and begins again.

This extremely descriptive paragraph was the opening paragraph for my graduate admissions paper and the visual you pictured here is the version of me you would have seen in a ceramic studio. As a young man, I wasn't interested in preparing for college, learning how to do trigonometry, or sitting through government classes. All I wanted to do was get into the ceramics lab and spend all my time there. For 3-4 years, I was able to study ceramic art in my high school and early undergraduate collegiate work. My high school years were enveloped by my interests in ceramics. So much so, that in my senior year I took eight classes worth of studio time. In hindsight I should have probably taken a few more math classes with those class slots, but that’s water under the bridge. Instead of stacking collegiate credits, I spent my time mastering my form and nearly four hours a day in the studio. Long hours in the studio allowed me to master a creative process, fail spectacularly, and understand how to bring my thoughts into reality.

Through ceramic art, I was able to fail, fail, fail some more, and finally find success. If you have ever attempted "throwing" on a ceramic wheel, you know how difficult the process can be. If you haven't had the opportunity (I implore you to find a local ceramic studio and try it out) you need to know that this art medium is extremely frustrating. Clay is temperamental and reacts to even the slightest touch when it is on a wheel. The delicate nature of clay creates huge potential for failure and requires extreme focus. This delicate balance requires the ceramist to master the basics of their medium before they attempt more difficult methods and forms.

How in the world does any of this apply to data science?

As I am new to the realm of machine learning and data science as a whole, I would like to preface this section with a disclaimer. I am not a master of this field, but I aspire to be. That being said, art and the methods gained from being a ceramist help me approach data science differently than most. Ceramics taught me many a lesson, but some are more influential than the others in my career.

The first major lesson, is that any ceramics project relies first on the basics. No form or project can begin without the mastery of the required basics.This is equally true in data science and machine learning. These methodologies require mastery, or at least a solid understanding, of their basics before they can be applied to any data related problem. Without these basics, the application will not produce the insights required. I can humbly admit that the basics of data science are not my strongest qualities. While the conceptual understandings found in research papers are tangible to me, I have a great journey ahead in terms of mastering the applied knowledge gained form such materials.

The next lesson relates to the time spent learning and honing my ceramics skills. As mentioned, I spent an enormous amount of time practicing and studying the art form. Frankly, the history of ceramics and the many inspirational artists who practiced before me, provoke the need to be a lifelong learner. There is a slim chance I would ever be able to learn about all the forms and methods ceramists have presented and utilized. The same goes for data science. Advances in computing and the community of data scientists continue to grow at an immense rate. It is difficult to see a reality where I would be able to learn everything related to data science. Data science is not a one and done methodology. It requires persistent study and application to become better every day. Luckily, the study methods I practiced while studying ceramics can be applied to data science concepts as well.

The final lesson I'd like to touch on is the creative mentality ceramics requires and how that mentality applies to data science solutions. When you are a consistent artist, you begin to see patterns emerge in your work. These patterns may be found in the methods you use to complete projects. These patterns are necessary and excellent to see. Other patterns you may see are related to the work you complete. In my work, I was plagued by a single form that would present itself on the wheel. I would start with a fresh block of clay and end up with this form. Over and over I would accidentally create this form. I realized this was happening due to a single issue. When I sat at the wheel, I trusted my mind to create something I had never created before. I wasn't planning out new forms, sketching new designs, or formulating new ideas. At the bottom line, I wasn't being creative. After I had realized this pattern was a fault of my own, I was then able to break out of it. I began sketching and moving out of the creative rut I was in. I began to create forms I had never produced and finally pushed my boundaries above new thresholds. This same issue may present itself in my data science work as well. Once I've find a method that works well on one dataset, I may find myself utilizing the same method on another dataset. While this is OK, I have looked back into my own experiences and know to tread with caution. Not all data science methods are created equal and their applications are just as diverse. In recent months I have pushed myself to explore new statistical methods and techniques when I face new problems. Without a creative mindset, my projects would yield less satisfying results and result in low quality insights.

Art is important. Without art, humanity itself would have puttered into non-existence. We owe much of our longevity to the creativity we hold inside ourselves. Art is not synonymous to one medium or practice. To me, art is the creative exploration of our world. It requires only that we employ curiosity in our daily lives and trust that our ideas are valuable. I believe my background in art allows me to work in the realm of business and data science in a much different way than my peers. This background allows me to embark on creative paths and tread into unknown methods. Only time will tell if I am correct in this assumption. I suppose you and I will read about such results.