Tinkering versus engineering

I have just filled in a questionnaire by the excellent http://www.kobakant.at/DIY/.The difference between crafting and engineering was one of the questions asked. I realize that in my answer on this question I shifted the focus from crafting to tinkering, without a second thought as I do not consider what I do as to be crafting. So on tinkering versus engineering, a little story:

An artist friend of mine organized a visit to an engineering school. The engineers had set up a lot of very nice experiments (we learnt a lot: on different types of batteries, on power, on solar and wind energy…) and at the end we were supposed to build a circuit, a set-up by the engineers. The engineers totally rely on a set of skills (formula’s, math, physics, proof, understanding) and they get well documented results – within a certain timespan following the “scientific method”. We, the tinkering artists, seem to work the other way round, we start with an idea and we try. Failure is an inherent part of this. The engineers were baffled on how much we accomplish without knowing the ins and outs of the physics and the math.

One big difference I think, is the applicability of topics we work on. “Useful”, applicable, sellable, patentable are criteria which an engineer has to take into account. We realized that quite often the industry is funding a particular research topic and they expect results. We can start a whole discussion on whether art should be “useful” or “usable”, but let’s not fall into this trap. Your whole starting point is just very different.

We – artists and engineers – were kind of fascinated by each other. The artists by the knowledge of the engineers – it would be nice to have all that knowledge available in your head from time to time – and the engineers liked our freedom, I think (well, I like it a lot anyway!). But I don’t think the artists want to become engineers or vice versa…

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