Hi! I’m Raven. I am a bit slow to get started because the same day Mad Art Lab launched, my partner and I moved to an off-grid homestead, and it took a bit of time to get solar power set up and internet running… quite an adventure. But, of course, that’s not what I’m posting about here! My MAL posts will mostly focus on communicating science through art and craft.
I’m surprised by the disinterest and sometimes downright hostility so many adults have toward science. I believe that communicating science in visual, immediate, and artistic ways can lead people to view science more favorably.
By my scale, science art communication is successful if it makes someone think, “Huh, that’s cool.” Maybe that person will be enticed to read a book on the topic or watch a Nova episode or in some other way further explore a path of discovery. Because we all thrill at edifying our natural curiosity – and science really is for everyone.
I trace my current trajectory as a creative science communicator back to grad school. I was studying at Yale in Connecticut, which meant many cross-country flights to visit my family in California. I was young, and blonde, and cute-enough, and a girl, so strangers often engaged me in the classic airplane conversation. These usually started when someone asked me what I did and then responded to my answer with: “That’s sounds hard. You must be smart.”
I think that was supposed to be flattering, but I found it really annoying because it effectively ended the conversation. No one wanted to hear what my project was about, how my research touch on fundamental question of the origins of life on our planet. Like most scientists, I was in love with science and my project. It wasn’t that I was a smarty-freak, but because the stuff I was researching was kick-ass cool. With the conversation ended, I would spend the rest of the flight stewing and thinking about the situation.
I soon realized that I did not have to let my flight companion off the hook. I could ignore the obvious social signs of disinterest and take on the challenge of explaining my project in a way that my plane-mate would think, “Wow, that is kinda cool.” Sometimes that happened.
These experiences led me to realize that one of the reasons people don’t think they like science is because they don’t want to feel dumb. Who could argue with that? I hate feeling dumb. But the perception that to understand the concepts of science means that you need to be a genius is more a product of our educational system than a fact based in reality.
Since my own life is so much richer due to the wonder and awe I experience through learning about the natural world, I think these folks are missing out. One day about eight years ago, while staring at the ocean waves in Kauai, I decided to be an evangelist for science: to spread the good word of Nature and thereby influence people to have richer, more meaningful lives.
In my work, I focus on two reasons that adults might not think they like science: that they don’t want to feel dumb, as I mentioned above, and that they are afraid that science’s cold gaze takes the meaning out of romantic things, which I will be sure to discuss in the future.
My current main project, the hobby that has kind of taken over my life, is Made With Molecules – jewelry and some other stuff inspired by molecules that have symbolic meaning for people. I made my first serotonin necklace for myself, as a symbol of happiness, with no intention of selling them, even though my friends kept encouraging that. It was a conversation spurred by someone noticing my necklace and culminating in a science lesson to a teenage stranger in a Gap store that made me realize that molecule jewelry could be science communication.
My designs are chemically accurate, but in a streamlined, more aesthetic way than many molecular representations. My intention is to make chemistry friendlier and more approachable. I hope non-scientists find the pieces attractive as objects, then to learn of their additional meanings. Of course, each comes with a card containing a little science lesson.
Another recent project is Science Tarot, which launched last year at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. This large, collaborative project included three creators (including me) and five artists. We re-interpreted the traditional meanings of each tarot card with a concept from science. Not only do I love this project because it turned out to be such a beautiful piece of science art, but it is also an excellent way to expose people to the wonderful stories of science. More about that later.
Also, a genius-friend Brandon MacInnis and I made a short, humorous documentary called OoL: Origins of Life. Brandon developed a style he calls “handimation,” which is very much like when you were eight and played with dolls and/or Star Wars characters. Brandon’s engaging and hilarious story-telling style makes his films disarmingly engaging. I thought, with a few hand-sewn bacteria dolls in the place of Annie and GI Joe dolls, handimation would be a great way to set an audience at ease, allowing us cover a lot of real science. I think the skeptics reading would especially enjoy the “Biblical Bloopers” scene. I’ll work on getting it posted.
I would love to hear about your ideas, projects, and experiences related to the communication of science through art!