Are you left-brained or right-brained? If you’re creative and artistic, you have most likely been told you are right-brained. And, if you are logical, strategic, and excellent at math, then you were slotted with the tribe of left-brained people and eventually for a tech career. However, those categories force us into labels we may find constraining and suffocating. Humans don’t use just one side of their brains. Many tasks require the use of various skills, both creative and logical. Being good at math is not predictive or exclusive of who you are in your skills and talents, and the same goes for being able to draw well or craft a sculpture out of popsicles.
Take a Right, Then Turn Left
A mix of right-brain and left-brain skills will give you an edge in your career, and I mean any career. I can say this with some semblance of authority as a trained artist who transitioned to a tech career. In fact, my ability to think outside of the box as an artist allows me to solve technical problems creatively. This is primarily because of the interdisciplinary skills I picked up throughout art school and from teaching art to middle schoolers for years. I also use the emotional intelligence and resilience required for the ever-evolving tech industry while my natural curiosity nurtures the continuous learning needed to remain relevant to new technologies. In addition to these skills, the diverse network I collected as an artist gives me a unique perspective on the tech world.
Why Artists are Natural Successes in Tech Careers
The tech industry is all about innovation. It’s a vital part of being competitive and being able to follow or set trends in a tech career. Artists are trained to do this in their practice as well. When I was in art school, a big part of my studies included not only past artists but contemporary ones as well. Moreover, successful temporary artists are ahead of the game; they are setting the trends and landing the most prominent galleries as their work is refreshing and different. Essentially, tech mimics the art world in more ways than one. Let’s take a deeper look at how these two seemingly different industries are similar:
1. Always Looking for the Next ‘New’
The tech world works in a very similar fashion, where new is always better. As an artist, I can think outside of the box as well as focus on human-centered solutions so products are more user-friendly, just as my art aspires to be.
2. Relatability is Key
A key part of being an artist and creating art people want to look at and engage with is that the art is relatable. This means complex human emotions are communicated visually and, just as importantly, verbally in the artist’s statement. Besides, these interdisciplinary skills are unique, and integrating them with a technical product can result in a bigger customer base. Similarly, art behaving as such would engage a larger audience.
3. No Art or Tech Without Empathy and Inclusivity
After my studies in art school, I became an art teacher at a public school for students in grades 6th through 8th. This school was deaf-integrated, meaning it had a special program that allowed students with various levels of hearing differences to attend classes with the so-called ‘normal’ students. Before this, I had little experience with the deaf and hearing-impaired community, and working with these students taught me how to teach inclusively.
Many artists I’ve worked with have also gone into teaching, or their art specializes in different cultures, perspectives, and people. Eventually, these experiences develop our emotional intelligence, nurturing our ability to empathize and engage a new level of cultural awareness that many other people may not get the opportunity to in their regular studies or practice.
4. Resilience to Rejection and the Ability to Start Fresh
It’s no secret that the tech world is fast-paced and, often, a gamble. To the outside world, we see tech come and go. Software developers work on dozens of projects that never see the light of day, and usually, those projects go on for weeks being worked on before being scrapped. It can be challenging for a software developer with a tech career to see your work turn to nothing.
I was taught to be resilient and adaptable, that my failures were a learning experience, and to take from them what I could so they weren’t a complete wash. It’s not uncommon for an artist to spend weeks, months, or maybe even years on a piece that never gets completed. It’s a normal part of the process and expected, so when that was the same working also in tech, it was already a part of how I worked.
5. Continuous Learning is a Must
Due to the nature of that fast-paced environment, developers in the tech industry have to continually learn new technologies, software, frameworks, and programming languages. Not only is this important for innovation but also to stay relevant and move up in their career. For artists, that skill development is the same as we need to hone our craft constantly; whether painting, pottery, or sculpture, there is always the need to keep practicing and trying something new.
I can also confirm from my own experience that technical computer science people have the same natural curiosity as artists when it comes to those new things. So many of my colleagues who I have worked with in my tech career spend their free time on hobby projects, like learning how to program robots or create a plugin for software. Similarly, my artist friends make a drawing for themselves after a day of painting for a commission. This drive and passion make us lifelong learners.
6. Leveraging the Power of Networking
In 2016, I spent a summer participating in an Artist Residency at Salem Art Works in Salem, New York. During this residency, I met many other artists working in various media, ideas, and cultures. We spent two months living and working together, forming lifelong bonds in the beautiful Green Mountains of upstate New York. Many artists seek residencies because they not just provide a space for them to create their art but also because of these intrinsic communities. Even anti-social Vincent Van Gogh participated in residencies and created his artist community because it is a critical part of being an artist.
Networking and being introduced to new perspectives play a role in the way the artist makes their art and how far their art goes in the world, mainly because getting a leg up in the art world is usually about who you know. Introducing this particular part of an artist’s experience into my tech career expands accessibility capability through differentiated mindsets and holistic views.
Making Creativity an Inclusive Word
When we use the word ‘creative’, we almost always imply something artistic that is the direct opposite of technological. However, nothing about the semantics of the word ‘creative’ excludes technology. Maybe it is time to look at creativity without the baggage of preconceived notions to set it free from prejudice.
We are not bound by any left-brain and right-brain constraints. But, we can flourish in the dynamic connections our skills and talents bring. In a world that is unforgiving and ever-changing, our comfort with ambiguity is what will make us ready to take it on, and our natural curiosity to always be learning will make sure we are molding and mending with it, giving us the edge, we need as artists in the tech world.
NOTE: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and not of Emeritus.