Art vs. Science: Why I Don’t Regret Choosing Writing Over A Career In Numbers

Art or science? That’s a choice we might have to make at some point in our lives, maybe when we’re deciding what to study. Or choosing our career. Or deciding on which passion path to take.

Art is commonly thought of as abstract work, work that doesn’t always follow particular patterns, work open to interpretation. Think the fields of writing, music, painting, photography. On the other hand, science is commonly associated with logic and grounded in rational thinking, Think the fields of astronomy, accounting, law, medicine.

Choose what you love. Do what you love. Lindsey Stirling, Melbourne, Australia 2017 | Weekly Photo Challenge: Order.

Choose what you love. Do What you love Lindsey Stirling, Melbourne, Australia 2017. | Weekly Photo Challenge: Order.

I was good at both in school. But it wasn’t until much later in life that I decided to focus on becoming a non-fiction writer.

Art or science? What we want in life often plays a part in which we choose, and it’s a choice that shapes who we are.

Some of us choose arts over science because we love the free-falling, anything-goes liberating feeling that comes with creating art. No need to fit a mould, no formulas to dictate our imagination. There’s usually no right or wrong answer in the realms of creative art; what we create can be as wild as we think. When it comes to the creating process, psychoanalyst Rosa Aurora Chávez-Eakle argues the artist is in a constant state of self-actualisation while psychiatrist Kazimierz Dąbrowsk argues artists experience ‘overexcitability’, experiencing the world intensely. This kind of art often translates from within the depths of our soul, the depths of emotional feeling as we realise what we honestly feel – which makes it unique.

In high school, aside from English I studied physics, chemistry and maths. At university, I did a Bachelor of Arts with distinction. On my degree my mum frequently commented, ‘You won’t get a well paying job with that, let me tell you.

The wilderness of art and mechanics of science go together hand in hand.

The wilderness of art and mechanics of science go together hand in hand.

Typically in Asian cultures, it’s considered impressive if one can do the math (especially according to fellow blogger Autumn Ashborough’s Chinese in-laws) and each year studies show Asian countries continually come in tops in maths. Artistic professions involve more subjective evaluation and (cultural) discrimination. Hence a scientific stable job which also typically pays the bigger bucks is ‘the face of pride’ In Chinese culture.

I always liked humanities. When it came to maths assignments, I applied numerical theory against numerical problems and got the answer. It felt ‘predictable without soul’. When I wrote an essay on the rise of hybrid cuisine, I suggested cooking comfort foods like ‘bon-bon-looking dumplings’ covers up cultural differences. Touchy idea, yes, but the lecturer loved it. I loved my own idea.

Creating art with far-fetched ideas, there’s the feeling anything’s possible. You feel the possible right within you.

Going down the path of the arts, some of us artists relish listening to different perspectives around us. It makes us ask ‘why’ about the world. Learning to respect what’s been said and taking our own stance, we find our true (artistic) voice, what matters to us and where others are coming from.

Art is the colour of how we think and feel.

Art is the colour of how we think and feel.

At university, I rejoiced whenever I had to write 4,000-word essays for my humanities subjects. I borrowed countless books and downloaded countless e-Journals from the library. Hours and hours I swotted over historical and modern literature. The more I read, the more I wanted to read and come up my original literature. On the other hand, applying a maths formula to a maths problem and getting the answer yet again, each time my mind went, ‘That’s the way it is’.

When we’re an independent artist, we learn to be an adaptable jack of all trades. It’s one thing to create art but another thing to share it with the world. There’s designing, marketing, promoting, publishing, networking, copyright issues to get around, budgeting and more when it comes to the process of connecting art with others.

When I started this blog, I learnt how to use CSS to brand the look of this blog, learnt the theory behind photography, and took on freelance writing gigs. But my mind nagged at me to find a decent job. The passive, practical Asian stereotype within me told me to think for the future – because it worked for many of our forefathers, because it’s rational sense.

To be an artist, think hard. Work harder.

To be an artist, think hard. Work harder.

And so as an artist dedicated to our craft, we learn the lesson of underdog discipline. Not everyone will agree with what we create. Not all of us will be able to make a living off just creating something subjective. Not all of us will be able to spend as much time as we like on our art, especially if we have a day job. Most of us won’t sell a million pieces of our art. But if we love doing art enough, we’ll make time for it.

In 2014, The Good Universities Guide found up to 70% of those who studied a creative arts degree in Australia were still unemployed four months after completing their course. My parents liked compared me with my friends who were engineers and accountants raking stable income. My mum often said, ‘See, study arts. Now not much money.’ It wasn’t pleasant to hear but it was reality until I built up my writing portfolio.

At one point I had a regular office job to pay the bills, and outside of that, I kept writing. I write well aware of the fact that there’s a lack of cultural diversity within Australian media onscreen and off-screen, a lack of Asian role models to look up to. Dedicated artists hustle and make the most of circumstances to create their craft. As amputee model Jessica Emily Quinn said:

‘It doesn’t matter if your cup is half full or half empty, just be greatful you have a cup. Now make magic out of it.’

The heart inspires the art of our craft.

The heart inspires the art of our craft.

Choosing to pursue arts over science or science over arts doesn’t mean we’re less smart than those who choose otherwise. Arguably both arts and science go hand-in-hand, influencing each other. Arguably art is science and science is art. We might even pursue both for a living. Neuroscience has proven that we use both sides of the brain when we do any task. The world is where it is today because of both.

When we do what we love, it doesn’t mean it comes easy to us or we’re good at it as much as we like. Studies suggest practice does not make perfect, ‘performance difference’ can depend on genetics and opportunity. I never struggled with maths in school. But words and writing don’t always come naturally to me, and writing and blogging takes a lot of work for me.

There'll be crazy things we'll do for our art.

There’ll be crazy things we’ll do for our art.

Whether or not we prefer art or science also comes down to our personal preference and what makes us happy. Sometimes we’d feel something is ‘just not for me’ and other interests ‘why not’. Along this writing journey, photography (for this blog) captivated me more and more. It’s something I enjoy, something I want to do more of and put writing aside at some point.

On the topic of success, ‘making it’ is vague in the arts as art is subjective, likability subject to personal taste. In 2014, Princeton researchers found we are more biased than we think: participants in a study rated famous artists’ works higher than little known artists’. This creative journey has been such an experience in my spare time over the years – academic journal publications together with academic scholars, this educational blog from no readers to an engaged audience, a chapter in collaborative self-help book Lady By The River. As artists, when we feel we’ve shared and touched others in some way with our craft, we feel like we’ve made a difference.

Art is a team and one big ride together.

Art is a team and one big ride together.

Apart from finding self-confidence to create beyond the culture we come from, the beauty of being an artist lies in learning to be humble – learning to appreciate it’s never just about you. There’s always the ones closest to us, the believers, carrying a torch for us in spite of the ‘this is as good as it gets’ feeling we feel. Art is a team and one big ride together. On being mediocre and accepting that, Lindsey said:

‘Maybe my best isn’t as good as someone else’s, but for a lot of people, my best is enough. Most importantly, for me it’s enough.’

As a creative artist, you learn nothing’s ever perfect with yourself or your art. Or the people around you. Or the world. You deal with it.

You get some. You give more.

Are you more of an art or science person?


239 thoughts on “Art vs. Science: Why I Don’t Regret Choosing Writing Over A Career In Numbers

  1. You’re lucky you can do both. I am horrible at numbers! Choosing art over science is challenging for most people. And I certainly can see why having Asian parents makes the task even more so. As a ‘starving artist’ living with another ‘starving artist’ I can say you’re better off finding a partner who has money 😀 (Hahahahaha). After that, I think this idea that we have to be one thing or another is just dated. We can do both, as you are, working and pursuing your writing. It’s damn difficult, but I think that is where the magic can enter. I actually fear more the ‘once I’ve made it status’ whatever that means to you, because then you have to maintain or top what you’ve done. But when you’re at the bottom, you can only go up!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mabel, I am always delighted and honored to read your thoughtful essay and personal story. I felt when you were talking about Art vs. Science that you might have been speaking to me! I have a Ph.D. in science and I also have a graduate degree in creative writing. People express such surprise to hear I have studied in both worlds, so it seems rare to be at the crossroads, or intersection, so to speak, of art and science. Yet I LOVE maths and analytical research, AND I also love creating imaginary narratives.

    One thing that has taken me a long time to learn about the creative writing side is that it’s not good to apply analysis to create my stories. But for the longest time my analytical-loving brain wanted to plot, plot, plot – now I have to try to resist forcing my story to be one thing or another, but instead draw it out organically, by writing it. There ARE writers who pre-outline their stories or put each scene on an index card and storyboard it. But I am the other kind of writer, the one that writes to discover what the story is about, who does not know ahead of time.

    Which did I study first, art or science? I was getting my B.S. in Math when I started taking creative writing classes . . . and then I had a whole career in computer science where every few years I would take a hiatus and write, then go back to work . . . and I got two novels and a bunch of short stories written that way. But then I became blocked, trying to write the third novel. That’s when I went back to graduate school and studied mathematical modeling. I am excited whenever I can do research, so that was my inspiration to pursue a Ph.D. I did not write creatively at all during my doctoral study, I was so immersed in the research I was doing.

    But, the week that I graduated, I realized I really wanted to try writing another novel! Big surprise to me. That led me to investigate M.F.A. programs so that I could (hopefully) take my writing to the next level as I had my science research skills in the Ph.D. I’m glad I did! Here I am, this summer it will be 2 years since I was graduated with my creative writing degree, and I’m working on some wonderful projects. I’m even starting to get some small success in publishing. Yay!

    But I wanted to say, even if one does get a credential in science (vs. art), it still may not be that easy to find a rewarding career. With my Ph.D. the only “turnkey” job I had was teaching at the university, and that was just part-time and very poorly paid. I probably could have done more during my doctoral study to connect with industry partners and start building experience so that I could be hired afterward by someone other than the university. So, I think one still has to be creative to find satisfaction in a science career. It was like you said about your maths job – soul-numbing!

    Thank you, Mabel!

    – Theresa

    Liked by 2 people

    • Maybe writers and artistic mind sthink alike. Congrats on your Ph.D in Science AND a graduate degree in creative writing. It’s one thing to learn an art but another to explore it deeply and in depth, and also learn the workings behind it. Funny how many people think it’s ‘normal’ to choose one or the other. Like you, I feel that doing both is nothing special but essential – and also helps us to see many different sides of what’s around us.

      ‘it’s not good to apply analysis to create my stories. But for the longest time my analytical-loving brain wanted to plot, plot, plot ‘ I resonated with this line so, so, so much. You spoke my mind. At school and at university, I spent most of my time on my science and maths subjects. So in a way, my brain was/is conditioned to be analytical most of the time – and it probably also explained why I’m such a practical person in reality. This way of thinking made me think that I had to have a structure before writing as opposed to just simply writing anything and everything in any order. It took me a long time to break out of this cycle. Certainly it has its advantageous as you mentioned as you said…but then again, there are so many sides to art and a certain method of approaching it may not necessarily bring out the best artist in us.

      It sounds like you can go back and forth between mathematical modelling and writing. Funny how different strokes of inspiration strike us at different times. A M.F.A is no easy feat too – lots of research involved but since it’s what you love, it’s what you love.

      Interesting that you touched upon networking. Sorry to hear that teaching in science didn’t work out for you. Sometimes it is a matter of knowing someone who can give you an opportunity to put what you have learnt into practice – networking builds your contacts and also lets you see what others are doing. Then again, you could say that about the field of arts too… Sometimes, it’s just a matter of luck and where the heart takes us. Good luck with publishing. I’m sure there’s many more publications to come 🙂

      Thanks so much for this comment, Theresa. Really appreciate it and your support. Also, J.Gi responded to your comment – it was in the Trash earlier, but I have now rescued it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful quote from Jessica Quinn. Make magic from your cup. And you certainly do make magic, Mabel. Every time you put virtual pen to paper at your blog. Your numbers of followers and comments are testament to your writing skills and its broad appeal. You write from the heart and one can feel that in reading your chosen words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a lovely quote, one that reminds you of to always remember what you have and how far you’ve come. Thanks, Amanda. I do write from the heart. That’s one thing, and engaging others is and another and I think that’s what I need to work more on 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for writing this! As an Asian with a stereotypical Asian family myself, I can definitely relate to the ‘grow up and do something related to math/science’ dilemma! With math and science seeming to be considered more ‘important’ than the humanities and arts these days, it’s great to hear about someone who has experienced both worlds!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a great way to describe it, ‘more important’. Anything is important. It just depends on how you look at it. Personally I do genuinely see value in both arts and science. But being happy and doing what we love is another thing altogether. Even if it’s just one day of the week I get to do the thing I love, I’d do it. Good luck with your music 🙂


  5. Well written ! I have to say that I’m more of an art person…but I love it! I think each person should just listen to whatever the heart is saying. Do what makes your heart happy and what you’re good at!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful job Mabel – and it’s good to be catching up with you after a couple of months “off-line” while I had to focus on life issues. I sympathize entirely on the issues of science/math vs art in employment. I ended up with computer programming because I wanted airline flight benefits so I could travel to see art — worked for me at the time, but now I wish I could also have had more time for making art myself. All the best to you in your efforts — Sandy


    • Thanks so much, Sandy. Computer programming sounds like an interesting field. I didn’t do very well at it in school, though. Sounds like it was a field that took you places and across places. Very lucky. Hope all is well with you and take care. Stay safe and best wishes.


  7. Nice photos!!! And what a coincidence. I am currently writing stuff discussing the importance of each of the disciplines of STEM education. It is said that even science and math have to do with the arts 🙂

    Ever since I was young, math has always been my problem. Science, no, until high school happened (but I think certain things contributed to my academic problems then). Meanwhile, that was when I really began putting much more effort in my writing.

    To be frank, though, I WISH I could go back and try to be better at math and science because I certainly feel the problems of being an artist now (well, writing is an art, too, right?). I’m just thinking that I can still write even if I’m in the scientific field (like Kathy Reichs!) or the mathematical field, so they won’t be a hindrance to my writing. I personally love science (you know I’m into forensics now), but alas, I did not condition my brain to learn easier. It’s all about attitude towards learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Writing about STEM really sounds like you are making good out of arts and science. Hope it’s going well and it turns out great 🙂

      ‘The problems of being an artist’. You said it. There is a lot to worry about when you are a starving artists. Haha, forensics reminds me of the show Bones which I love and I remember you wrote about it on your blog before. Never had a problem following the scientific theme on that show 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought I replied to this, but it didn’t get posted. *sigh*

        “Writing about STEM really sounds like you are making good out of arts and science. Hope it’s going well and it turns out great.”

        Thanks, Mabel, but I’m really just writing articles about STEM and higher education for my client. It doesn’t improve my financial status. I WISH! Ha ha haaa!!! It does add to my knowledge, though, which is good ’cause i like learning about things.

        As for BONES, yup, we discussed about the show a bit. Normally, I get the idea when characters go all science-y in their dialogues. I may not know what this or that is called or how it affects this or that thing, but I still get what they mean. This time, though, I become extra-focused because I jot down notes. 😉


  8. Hi!! This is a great post and a wonderful read as well. I really enjoyed it and I definitely agree with you. Growing up in an asian culture myself it was quite difficult not to be put into a path that wasn’t science or medicine. I am an engineer and scientist (typical stereotype, I know) but it doesn’t mean that some days I just feel like doing nothing else besides taking photos (one of my favorite hobbies even though I am not very good at it). I have always been told for the longest time that I was never good at art and that it’s not a practical skill to have and the list goes on. But the older I get, the more I realize how important it is to have both in our lives. Art and science are interdependent. We can’t have one without the other. Everything has to have balance or some median ground. Though I do enjoy all the intellectual aspects of science and engineering, I also love the creative imagination and expression of art. Another reason why I FINALLY have the courage to start my own photo blog to just share my hobby. This is why I thoroughly enjoyed reading your work. You are doing very well and I admire you for continuing with your passion. I really hope to read more of your work down the road. Thank you sharing this!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ‘one of my favorite hobbies even though I am not very good at it’ I smiled when you said this. It was such an honest statement, and you have the courage to pursue photography no matter what others around you say. True, in life we need both arts and science. We can’t always be lost in our thoughts imagining things, and we also can’t always get caught up in theories and patterns over on the other spectrum. To be honest, I think all of us will never be good enough to a certain standard. That is, we’re good at something as much as someone else is or not. We’re all different with different capibilities, and we only stop be be good at something if we stop doing it all together.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Yenny. You have very crisp photos, and I hope you continue to do what you love 🙂


      • LOL. I definitely have a tendency to be too truthful sometimes. I hope that if I can write 1/5 as well as you can then I am golden! Yes, I do have a habit of snapping pictures everywhere I go and of everything I see. Usually food and random nature stuff. LOL. Thank you for the kind words, I’m so glad I found this blogging platform, everyone has been very supportive and I have been able to meet so many wonderful bloggers on here as well. I am quite a happy camper.


  9. I cannot agree more, arts and science go hand-in-hand, influencing each other, art is science and science is art. But in the mind of some people, it looks better if you have studied science than art.. and I wonder why this stereotype is still so strong these days… very nice post Mabel!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I think science will always have a good reputation…because so many of us want certainty. I so enjoyed writing and putting this post together = combined my passions for writing and photography 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Those violinists look like they are having so much fun!

    As a fellow Asian, I can totally see where you’re coming from. If there was one word to describe the Chinese, it’s practical. Sure you can chase all your artistic dreams, but how are you going to get money to feed yourself? Man can’t survive on air and water alone… although apparently a “breatharian” couple have been doing it for years. Hocus pocus? More than likely.

    I guess my point is, passion can only take you so far, and it is the rare lucky few who can make a living off their artistic passions. I admire you for your passion and your talent. Good luck chasing your dream!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true. Practical, practical, practical. I’m actually quite a practical person when it comes to a lot of things, and admittedly I think that brings out the perfectionist in me – and being perfect is impossible so…not all good at times.

      But you are right when you say ‘passion can only take you so far’. Living a comfortable life is another ball game altogether. I hope you continue to pursue your passions too!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s such an interesting article, Mabel. Throughout the world, the art vs. science controversy is a popular one and often people draw a strong distinctive line between the two. I loved the way you have analysed the two streams and narrated your personal experiences with them. Great to know you’re equally competent in both!

    I had Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology in High School and I chose to deal with science. But then, I gradually fell in love with literature and creative writing and opted English as major during my graduation. Later, I did my Masters in Linguistics.

    After working for a few years as a teacher, I wanted to start my own business in the Indian Stock Market and again started giving exams, the syllabus dealing with nuances of economics, accountancy and, of course, numbers. So, it’s a total mix-up, you see… 😀 But, my first love still is writing and reading…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi
    Nice post! I’m making posts about scientific explanations behinde everyday appearance and other stuff so if you have time and will please go and check it out! If you like it pls follow me, I follow you.
    Thank you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I was hopeless at Maths, but when it came to Physics I was ‘rather’ good (as my last School teacher said). I was terrible at English but excellent in English Literature. My last school report for Art said ‘Hugh draws like a three-year-old child’. Not very nice words to hear from your school teacher, but I’m hopeless when it comes to drawing and I know it. However, in one art class, we were told to draw a word and sketch what it meant, around the word. My entry went on to an exhibition (the only one where any of my work was exhibited). I wonder if we can be good and bad in both Art and Science, Mabel? 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    • So sorry to hear your teacher’s words about your Art subject. Sounds brutally honest, but also very harsh at the same time. Like you, I am hopeless at drawing. Even my stick figures don’t come out right so I will probably never get my work exhibited like yours – which goes to show just how creative you are.

      It is an interesting question you pose there, if we can be both good and bad at something. I think in your case, it is probably true but you make the most of it 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I so admire you little sis, you are an inspiration to me. I love that you are following your passion and so obviously succeeding too. Your photographs are wonderful and your writing always makes me think and remember ‘stuff’ from many years ago.

    And Lindsey Stirling, I found her through you. So thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is so sweet and kind and warm for you to say that, big sis. Don’t know where I am going with writing and photography but anything’s possible. That said, there’s more to us than each of our passions…we’re really what we do, think and think about others, and that is also what makes us us.

      Thank you for inspiring me, big sis. I was so head over heels when I discovered your put-together professional blog ❤


  15. I’ll choose art over numbers anytime. I shun numbers, I am dyslexic to numbers (if there’s such a thing), I couldn’t remember any of my family’s phone number to save my life! Let alone birthdays… so thank god for iPhones… haha. I once score 10/100 in my math test when I was in primary school and my mum broke down in tears… happy tears because my math tests usually come back with a big fat zero and a request to have a parent-teacher meeting.

    Fast forward today, I still hate numbers but I’m excellent in sales, great in pie charts and wonderful in presentations. But for the love of God, I still can’t remember my husband’s birthday. Wahhhahaha!


  16. Pingback: Art vs. Science: Why I Don’t Regret Choosing Writing Over A Career In Numbers — Mabel Kwong –

  17. Art vs science is as popular a debate as mac vs pc. When I was a kid I wept when I had to do algebra. The only thing I have ever done is the visual arts. But as I grew up I released how science is intricately linked in art. How trigonometry helps judge heights, distances and length of shadows in Cinematograohy. How Rembrandt used to make his own paints. How a bit of coding helps me create that artistic look I wanted in a compositing software. How, so many young writers can’t spell and depend so heavily on their complex word ‘processing’ softwares. How musicians have to understand nuances like timbre, pitch etc to define tuning their instruments…


    • I like that comparison, Mac vs PC. True that art and science are dependent on each other, and one can’t truly exist without the other. Interesting that you pointed out some writers can’t spell without spell check. It’s sort of similar to how anyone can take a photo with a smartphone these days. On one hand, one might not learn the nuances of a certain craft. On the other hand, these days it is so easy to go after any craft we desire to pick up.


  18. Hi Mabel!
    Born to literary parents with philosophical bent if mind it was only natural that I was inclined towards arts but due to peer pressure ( which we no one exerts on us but ourselves) my inclination towards Human behaviour, Genetics and Embryology, and, wanting to take a ‘practical’ decision I chose science as my main subject. I still lament this fact that in Indian Education System we can’t mix n match our streams. We can either study Human. Biology or Human art! I tried and searched a lot about an institution where I can study Contemporary Literature or Regional literature like Bengali and Hindi along with Life Sciences but all in vain. Now I am content with my life-science job but I do want to attend classes where Dante and Maupassant are being discussed!
    Congratulations to you for managing a balance between these two. I still don’t understand why we consider Arts, Music and Science as choices and not as an integrated study!
    Your post touched a nerve.


    • It is interesting to hear that the Indian Educational System doesn’t allow you to mix and match streams. It seems quite similar to the high school curriculum in Singapore: in the earlier years you might get a couple of years of Literature and History but in the later years it really is mainly science and maths. Genetics and embryology sounds like two very in-depth fields about the human body, and hope that you find a sense of purpose among wahat you do.

      For the average person, balance between what we do for a living and our true passion is hard to find. Sometimes we might find it, and sometimes feel completely lost all over again. I see that you write poetry. Keep doing what you love and you could go far with it. Thank you for your kind words and for stopping by, Kokila 🙂


      • Thank-you, Mahel! Its just that the ack of integrated studies leave people like us craving for that inner satisfaction and connect. AFTER my University degree in Immunoparasitology I did a Software development course and later, a Masters in Arts and Education even resigned from my government job! Now, if my innate abilities and desires are honed or they have been mixed-up nicely, can’t say… But, yes, I love what I do. Kudos again for this wonderfully intriguing post!


        • It seems like over the years and now you are following your heart. Congratulations on all that you have achieved in terms of education, professionally and personally. It sounds like you can do anything 🙂


  19. Pingback: Author Mabel Kwong- PRIORHOUSE INTERVIEW (MAY 2022) – priorhouse blog

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