AI: Sure, It Looks Nice. But What Are You Trying To Say?

Here at Mad Art Lab, one of our goals is to communicate science and skepticism through our artwork. One of the challenges (at least for me) is balancing aesthetic choices with clear communication. It can sometimes be a fine line to walk.

Even I don't know what this painting means, and I made it!

While thinking about Maki’s article from last week about the defacement of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, I was struck by a comment made by MAL reader Ryan M on that post. In part he said, “Perhaps all this anger suggests a failure on the part of the art work itself to adequately communicate to a less informed audience. I think it is reasonable to be skeptical about this works ‘true’ meaning, how am I to know the difference between a crucifix in urine that is a criticism of the business of religion from a crucifix in urine that isn’t?”

This is something I’ve thought a lot about since deciding to try my hand at communicating science through art. Am I being clear? Do the artistic choices I make sometimes detract from the message I am trying to communicate? I want to speak my mind and make art that is interesting to look at. But sometimes I wonder how successful I am at balancing the message with the aesthetics.

Does it behoove artists to be as clear as possible, especially when they are trying to communicate a specific message? When, if ever, should aesthetics take a backseat to clarity? Is there an artist that you know of that is consistently successful with this balance?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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  1. Oftentimes the reaction to a piece of art will tell you more about the reactor than it will about the artist, the art or the intended message. Art interpretation is largely subjective and is dependent on the viewer’s history, personal and cultural experience and existing biases.
    The three questions that you ask at the end are different than the questions from the paragraph above. Most of the time, science is not subjective, and in those cases when you are “communicating science through art,” then clarity should be first and foremost.

  2. I think it depends what your goal is. Rarely are you trying to communicate science through art, more often you may be trying to communicate the love of science through art. What you find interesting, beautiful, exciting or important.

    I like my art to be beautiful &/or communicate a meaning or emotion.

    This is where I begin my rant about contemporary art X P. My main complaint is that much contemporary work has to be displayed with an essay beside it explaining what the work is and how it is suppose to make you feel.

    If I have to read a thousand words to understand a piece of art. Then to me at least, it has failed.

    The blurb under art should add or enhance my feelings to the art, not be my sole reason for enjoying it.

  3. @sisyphusrocks: Maybe I could have been clearer: the paragraph prior to today’s “Questions” pertained specifically to questions that I ask myself when making my own art, relative to communicating science. The AI Questions are supposed to be more broad.

    @dpeabody: I just gave myself cognitive dissonance reading and formulating a reply to your comment. I have the same beef with conceptual art. A piece of string taped to a wall, that needs an essay to explain why it is significant, pisses me off like you wouldn’t believe.
    But then I started imagining walking through the American Museum of Natural History with all of the beautiful displays, dioramas, ancient art, etc. only all of the information had been removed. Suddenly, all of the context is gone. Is that the same as the string on the wall? All of the displays are there for a specific reason. But the viewer would have no idea.
    Is this making sense? Ugh, this is why I shouldn’t skip lunch. I need to reboot my brain. BRB

  4. That was exactly my point when I said

    “The blurb under art should add or enhance my feelings to the art, not be my sole reason for enjoying it.”

    The story or history behind a work of art acts as a multiplier to my enjoyment of it. A great piece of art with a great story or context becomes greater. A hypothetical Zero on the art scale is still just a zero no matter how great the story is. 0 x 10 = 0

    A museum exemplifies (Or even science) that. How much more magnificent is the nights sky when we have an understanding of what we are looking at.

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