Last night I had the pleasure of talking to Professor Tom McLeish, Professor of Physics at Durham University, about the importance of play in research and the creative process. The value of rambling investigation and unexpected forks in the road, en route to your destination is, we agreed, a worthwhile undertaking. The notion of letting go of the end goal as soon as it pops into your head is, all too often, is an impossible concept for many, nevertheless, a practice destined to furnish you with unexpected 'gems and nuggets' as Tom puts it.
Both art and science seem to those within these fields, to be vastly misunderstood. As a physicist, Tom challenges the notion that it is all experiment, data, hard graft and endurance. Science requires enormous creativity, open mindedness, philosophy and even a metaphysical approach to the questions at hand. Similarly I'm often met with the opinion that all artists simply float on a sea of creativity, effortlessly producing masterpiece after masterpiece, without the need to eat, drink , sleep or pay rent; we simply survive on the ecstacy of creation gifted to us by our muses! Not the case. We too have our experiments and failure after failure after failure. You must devote your lifetime to learning your craft, you must be resilient to rejection, you must commit to the surprising mundanity your practice will throw at you, you must accept the guts and grit it takes to keep going.
Despite these misconceptions, art and science have one thing in common, they both ask the vast, sprawling, powerful and essential questions about nature and our relationship to it. They ask the questions bigger than us and this moves us deeply.
Given our common goals perhaps it's time for these definitions to blur as they once did in the age of the polymath and the Renaissance Man, when Tom would have been known as a Natural Philosopher rather than a Scientist. It's a term, I would certainly feel comfortable with for myself.
By accepting the guts and grit in the framework of play you are embarking on a journey of discovery that can be obtained by no other means. So go, be free and soak up your path of illumination and find the Natural Philosopher within.