Visual art has the power to inspire, provoke and fascinate. I know some incredibly talented artists that focus on scientific subjects, and I think their work is a beautiful and valuable science communication tool – but I’m having a hard time quantifying that value. So I want you to help me out.
As a flack, I primarily use art (still images or video) to draw attention to a story. I rarely (if ever) use it to help tell a story more effectively. To remedy this, I started doing some homework to see if I could learn more about how to incorporate art into my science outreach. I began by going through the literature, with the goal of getting some numbers about how effective art can be when it comes to science communication. Why? Because good art isn’t free. You need solid numbers to make an argument for an art budget.
This was more difficult than I anticipated.
Ultimately, I could find very little research on whether art actually helps people understand scientific concepts or issues – much less any studies that attempted to quantify the science communication benefits of art. And the studies I did find were extremely limited.
For example, a 2012 paper published in Ecology and Society focused solely on what scientists attending the 2003 conference of the Ecological Society of Australia thought about using art to communicate about ecology (the scientists liked it). And a 2002 paper, published in Public Understanding of Science, was an overview of how science and art influence each other. Neither gave me much insight into how effective visual art can be as a science communication tool.
How You Can Help Me Out
First, if you are aware of any research that addresses this issue, please share it with me: shiplives[at]gmail.com. And if it’s publicly available, please post a link in the comments. Second, if you’re a communication researcher who is interested in pursuing research related to this question, please let me know (via email or in the comments here) – I might be able to connect you with some science artists who would be interested in working with you. Third, if you are a science artist who is interested in exploring this question, please let me know – I might be able to connect you with some communication researchers who would be interested in working with you.
I believe that art is an important part of science communication, but I want to know whether that is accurate. And if there is an emerging body of evidence that art is an effective tool for conveying scientific concepts, maybe we can get some more money to support it.
Note: I link to a couple papers that may not be open access. Citations below.
“Communicating Ecology Through Art: What Scientists Think,” Ecology and Society, Curtis, D.J., N. Reid and G. Ballard, DOI: 10.5751/ES-04670-170203
“Science and the contemporary visual arts,” Public Understanding of Science, Sian Ede, DOI: 10.1088/0963-6625/11/1/304