A response to NPR’s article “When Art Meets Science, You’ll Get The Picture” by Nancy Shute.
“Science inspires art. And the art inspires questions.” Pretty cool idea, but I sadly disagree. Art is definitely a way to pique curiosity. It begins when people want to engage in the work. Art has been relegated in this society to a small subsection of society. The artists, visual communicators, are not valued in a way that when people see a painting that they ask themselves the questions that the article says that they would. People are numb to visual information when it is obscured by symbolism and masked in artistic rendering. Essentially, I think that a painting that transforms an idea into a piece of eye-candy destroys the meaning of the scientific work.
It’s not that paintings are inferior to photographs or slick charts, but that in our culture, there have been many movements to take understanding out of art. See the Dada, surrealist, modernist movements. They are not communicating “Scientists have discovered.” They are saying “blue, like you’ve never seen.” I am not going to engage every painting as if they are trying to communicate new discoveries. It’s a combination of text and image that makes the series in the article have power. A painting that “describes” a fact is not inspiring. I’m not going to ask the questions. It’s merely a supplement to the message. We are not skillful decoders of paintings. It’s like dancing about architecture. It might give further insight, but it’s not enough.