Dick Buchanan is in Lisbon for the 2006 Design Research Society International Conference, so today Carl DiSalvo filled in, and nearly stumped us by asking a basic question about our current topic of interest: the arts.

“Why learn the arts” he asked.

There was a pause, perhaps because it was a tough question to start the morning, or perhaps because we hadn’t considered the why.

I mean, I hadn’t, which led me to think that I should think more.

Looking back over my notes from Buchanan, he made a point of saying that our culture, and by culture I mean human culture, is grounded in the arts. If this is the case, and we’re concerned with human-centered design, then the arts seem significant indeed.

But what did Carl have to say? Why learn the arts? Because it provides you with different ways of seeing the world and making sense of the world, taking it apart and putting it back together.

Making sense of the world, taking it apart and putting back together, sounds cool, doesn’t it? Actually, this sounds a lot like Dick’s mantra about making connections.

Carl warned of becoming too attached to a particular technique, and that arts fall apart when they are reduced to a technique. Also, if we get wedded to a theory, it becomes difficult to step back and produce and use other theories, methods, and techniques. Methods and theories are constantly evolving. This makes sense, of course. But I had not given it consideration.

He continued by saying it’s important to know the art and to not simply take on a technique without understanding the driving questions, theories, and methods that formed the technique.

Part of me thinks this is obvious. Another part of me thinks it’s good stuff. Which part of me will prevail?

Regardless, I think it’s really cool to think about. And I am intrigued about our continued learning of the arts and how it will apply to solving design problems.