Art or engineering?

Who would expect it, when I put up a new sundial at the RHS Rosemoor garden in Devon on Friday, one of the first people to see it asked me: “Is this yours, it’s wonderful. So, are you an artist or an engineer?” Well, I am an engineer, at least a retired one, but it’s nice to hear someone say they like my work. “Yes, it is artistic,” said this lady among a group who were walking round together. “We are all artists and we like it!”

New sundial at Rosemoor garden

New sundial by Alastair Hunter installed at RHS Garden Rosemoor on 4 March 2011

Yet we are nervous about art and engineering, I suppose it comes from different streams at school—the ones who did drawing, and the ones who did numbers. A big shame it was, Leonardo da Vinci would have had to rebel! And it persisted, we engineers distrusted artists, and couldn’t make anything of modern art; artists feared our engines and machines, and were bemused by grubby engineers.

Then ‘design’ appeared, which we thought was our domain, but was taught in colleges of art. And now, all the lines are blurred, probably because they were never really there. Art is design, and design is engineering. The artist commissions work from engineering contractors, and the engineer makes new designs collaborating with an artist. Is it art or is it engineering—it looks like the answer means less even than the question!