Jan 30

Explaining Art to a Scientist

When a non-scientist walks into a scientific talk, they often wonder if the science will make any sense to them. Will I learn something? Will it be interesting? As a scientist firmly entrenched in my left cerebral hemisphere (yes, I know it’s not that simple!), I often have the same reaction to visual art. Will I understand, or at least appreciate the art? Will it make sense?  I know, art isn’t always supposed to make sense, at least not in a logical, science-minded way.  Still, as a scientist, visual art often leaves me scratching my head.

Velo-24 Kindra and sculptureThat’s why I’m so excited about last Wednesday’s Velo Cult talk on neuroscience and memory, sponsored by NW Noggin.  These regular talks pair a neuroscientist with an artist, merging the two seemingly disparate disciplines to better reach wide audiences. Wednesday night found neuroscientist Dr. John Harkness of Washington State University Vancouver matched with Ms. Kindra Crick, an internationally recognized artist…and the granddaughter of Nobel prize winner Francis Crick, who helped to discover the underlying structure of DNA. Ms. Crick is a scientist in her own right, with a background in molecular biology and a broad understanding of neuroscience. Kindra exemplifies the type of expert communication I preach in this blog – she explained her art to a mostly scientific crowd, and I got it! Granted, she also worked in a heavy dose of science, and her sculpture depicting perineuronal nets surrounding neural networks was both visually stunning and scientifically (mostly) accurate.

As scientists, we can learn from Kindra’s example.  She straddled both worlds – art and science – and brought both to life. How can we, as scientists, bring art into our work, or at least into our public talks, in a way to bridge the divide? Post with your favorite examples!

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