How to Add Engineering to the Arts

3 Min Read  •  STEAM

As more and more schools are looking at adding the Arts to their STEM initiatives (creating STEAM), arts educators are wondering how to add engineering to the Arts.  It is fairly easy to see how math, science and technology intersect in and through the arts.  Think of the natural connections between fractions and music notes, prisms and color, or even the myriad of digital media that could be explored.  Yet, when thinking about engineering, most arts educators need a minute to pause and think.  Here are 5 tips for blending art and engineering in any classroom.

1. Think Design

A large focal area in engineering lies in the elements of design.  Working through the process of design with an engineering and arts lens can be helpful when integrating these areas together.

The Engineering Design Process:

  • Define the Problem
  • Do Background Research
  • Specify Requirements
  • Brainstorm Solutions
  • Choose the Best Solution
  • Do Development Work
  • Build a Prototype
  • Test and Redesign

The Principles of Artistic Design:

  • Balance
  • Gradation
  • Repetition
  • Contrast
  • Harmony
  • Dominance
  • Unity

Try using the principles of artistic design to work through a creative process based on a problem.  This works well with structures such as 3D sculpture, instrument creation, choreography or set design.

2. Think Problem-Seeking, rather than Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is a foundational element to both engineering and the arts.  But the true beauty of engineers is that they are constantly on the lookout for problems that need to be solved.  So are artists.  Engineers look at the world around them as a playground for ways in which to make their world better.  Artists look for ways to create something new.  Combining these two guiding philosophies can have a powerful outcome.  Create a classroom culture where inquiry and creative solutions are both valued.

3. Find Common Vocabulary

Just like in the arts, engineering has many different areas of study.  Have students explore these areas and find common vocabulary terms or verbs between the engineering fields.  This enables them to see how all of the areas both intersect and diverge from each other.  Then, compare this list to arts-specific vocabulary and verbs.  Find the common terms and use these as jumping-off points for lessons that explore a topic using both engineering and arts standards.

4. Choose to Study Artists Who Incorporate Engineering

One of the best ways to access engineering through the arts is by studying other artists who have explored these concepts before and used them within their own works.  Leonardo Da Vinci, Alexander Calder, Jimmy Lovine, Phillip Glass, and others have all used engineering, mixing, and tinkering to influence the functionality of the work they produced.  Start by studying these artists and then use their works as a platform for student design and creation.

5. Work backwards

Have students start with a finished piece from another artist or from a peer and then work backwards at dissecting its design and purpose.  Once they have broken the full composition down to its bits and pieces, they can explore how to rearrange those pieces into something else for a different purpose, or enhance the original with additions of their own.  Many times, engineers are provided with something that has already be created but are charged with improving it in some way.  Using this as a method for approaching arts study is yet another way to integrate in an through the heart of engineering.

And if you’re interested in learning more about how to use engineering in your classroom, check out our Designed to STEAM online course.  It’s full of resources, downloadable templates and lesson ideas and provides you with 10 PD hours.

How have you used engineering in your classroom?