Monday, October 20, 2014

[Yasmin_discussions] joining voices

Stephen, you have articulated what is on my mind about one role of
art-science: "what can art-science do to..... proactively include in its
inventory of critical meanings the awareness of a reality that is both
sublime and non-supernatural, that will reach that massive audience in a
way that science, by itself, cannot?"

Speaking to this particular role of art-science, I'd like to bring in an
unusual reference, which is neither from the canon of science nor from art
criticism. In Ellen Dissanyake's "What is Art For?" the author mined and
gathered wisdom from anthropology, art history, evolutionary biology, and
behavioral neuroscience to ask the following question: Since art exists in
some form (song, mask-making, storytelling, dance, decoration of objects,
decoration of the body, etc) in every culture on the planet, and has
existed throughout most ancient cultures as far as we can tell, then it's
likely that art-making behaviors must have conveyed (and perhaps continue
to convey) some evolutionary advantage - so what is that advantage? This is
an oversimplification, but she defines art as "making special" and
concludes that art-making serves to connect a tribe or group. Our
art-making, more-connected ancestors were thus more likely to help each
other survive (hunt together, care for each other,fight enemies and
predators together, etc.) than those non-art-making, less successful

Although I was trained in what might be considered "The Academy," I find
this idea of art-for-connectedness a much more useful yardstick when
evaluating the success of a work of art. I ask myself, does this art make
me feel connected to others with whom I have shared interests? I know
that's stretching Dissanyake's conclusions a bit but I also like to ask if
a work of art makes me feel connected to someone in the past, to someone in
a different culture, to non-humans or even to non-living elements of the

Using that "connectedness" lens, I wonder how art-science might be a more
successful vehicle for a cultural shift toward acceptance of science,
greater understanding of science processes, broader acceptance of the
science narratives that are largely understood to be true. How can
art-science makers connect to each other to become more successful at
connecting to science denialists? What would it look like if those
art-science workers who convey awe about the processes and narratives of
science join voices more intentionally, more proactively, to use Stephen's
term? What if one role of art-science is to repeat some of science's
central, simple messages, and build a sense of awe around them? Repetition
of simple message is so important to science communication - I'm thinking
about Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking Fast and Slow and the fallacy of
availability - we believe what we hear over and over, whether it's true or
not - Karl Rove uses that repetition well - perhaps art-science should use
repetition to our advantage, too. What do we call art-science that
proactively inspires awe about science and repeats its messages in order to
produce cultural shifts? Can that kind of art-science soften the
frightening message that the supernatural is mythical? Can it help people
to let go of ancient beliefs that no longer serve us? Can art-science do a
better job of communicating concepts that are difficult to convince, such
as the enormity of geological time, or the complexity of emergent

A final note of context: With this comment, I'm not addressing those
difficult grey areas such as what it knowable, or how we decide what is
"nature" and what is not. Those are important questions to address, but
where I sit in a very rural part of the Southern Appalachians, there is a
dire emergency to communicate the very basic message that science is not
evil, and that we ignore it at our peril.


*Nancy Lowe*

*Director, Symbiosis Art + Science Alliance*

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