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New Perspectives on the Canvas – The Connection between Art and Innovation

Everyone one of us is missing experiences from their previous lives before Coronavirus struck. Some people miss going to restaurants, others miss seeing films. I miss going to art exhibitions.

Art is an important part of my life and if there is anything I would recommend to an aspiring innovator, is to bring more art into their lives and try to look at problems from an artist’s point of view

When I submit my bio (prior to lectures or interviews), my educational background often surprises people. I do not have a degree in mechanical engineering, computer engineering, or in any type of engineering for that matter. I studied arts and design at the Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem.

Our family shares an inclination for the arts. My older sister Sharon Poliakine is an established artist who studied at Bezalel before me and is an art professor at the University of Haifa. I took a different path, but no doubt my artistic background shaped my frame of mind, as well as my outlook, in a way that is beneficial to my current work.

An interview I read recently in the MIT Technology Review shines a light on the mental process that goes into creating a piece of art, and how similar it is to the innovative process. The interview is with Sarah Lewis (an art curator completing her Ph.D. at Yale), who just published a book about this exact topic.

According to Lewis, who interviewed many scientists and artists for the book, the path to both innovation and art is almost never direct and often comes after many wrenching’ failures (which I personally can attest to).

Just like in the innovative process, an artist too is trying to solve a problem. And just like with innovators, the Eureka moment for artists often seems to spring to mind out of nowhere, especially when they are not actively trying to solve the problem

For me, innovation is not even always a conscious process. I often realize that “hey, we just came up with something really innovative!” sometime later when something causes me to reflect.

Let me give you an example:

When developing our robotic quality control inspectors at Musashi AI, we ran into a cost problem: trying to emulate the vision of the human eye requires high resolution across the visible spectrum – a solution that would have made our robots prohibitively expensive.

Our Eureka moment came when we borrowed the concept of single-wavelength illumination, which is used in colonoscopy to detect cervical cancer (something we knew from developing the Illumigyn endoscope) - and applied it to detect surface defects.

Using only a single wavelength drastically lowered our optical and processing costs, and had the unexpected benefit of increasing the accuracy of our inspectors. The funny thing is that I only realized this later on, when being interviewed to a magazine

Ms. Lewis mentioned something else that also rings a bell to me: innovative scientists are not afraid to venture into new fields where they are complete novices.

This is something I do all the time: go into new areas and ask stupid questions. I have no choice: I am not an established scientist or a researcher with formal education. So I go in and ask the kind of questions that people in this field would not consider asking.

The ability to take a step back, “to keep trying new perspectives on the canvas”, as Lewis puts it, is exactly the same thing.

So what is the takeaway? Go and see art exhibitions when you finally can, and try to get into the artistic frame of mind.

The second takeaway? Don’t be afraid to keep asking stupid questions.

(The photo is of the Vitruvian Man, a study in perspectives of the human body by Leonardo Da Vinci, the great artist and innovator).

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