Piet Hein on specialization across disciplines


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“Of course I see the necessity for specialization,” he says. “Nobody more strongly believes in the need to specialize than the person who has trespassed from one field to the other. I do not dispute the need for specialization, but I don’t think the way we do it is the right way. The specialist must know more of the total human activity.

“It is not just a question of listening politely to a few lectures from people in other fields, or of a few cross-technical conferences. We have to cut over the whole attitude of our civilization.

“After all, what is art? There is no way of defining art except from the inside. Art is the creative process and it goes through all fields. Einstein’s theory of relativity – now that is a work of art! Einstein was more of an artist in physics than on his violin.

“Art is this: art is the solution of a problem which cannot be expressed explicitly until it is solved.” Stop there, says the listener, hold it. This man who claims to dig through the English language as slowly as a mole repeats it slowly on request: “Art is the solution of a problem which cannot be expressed explicitly until it is solved.”

“‘Art’ is a word,” he explains. “Ideas go in and out of words as air goes in and out of a room with all windows and doors widely open. Most words are just a scrap heap—what do you call it?—an attic, where you put old things. Now I have had the good fortune of working both in the arts—painting and writing poems and prose—and in the sciences and technology. The creative process is the same in all these fields. The creative process is in formulating the problem. Once that is done in the right way, it’s all routine tablework. The problem is solved.”
Piet Hein in “A Poet With a Slide Rule: Piet Hein Bestrides Art and Science” by Jim Hicks in the Close-Up section of Life, Volume 61, Number 16, October 14, 1966, p. 64. Cited by Angus Stocking in “An Appreciation of Piet Hein: The Man Who Wrote 10,000 Grooks”.

Piet Hein Posted on behalf of on Friday, January 8th, 2010 under Quotations.

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