A Scientists Perspective: The Importance of Art to Communicate Science


“I consider myself an observer; detail-oriented, noticing patterns, and that has served me not just as an artist but also as a scientist.” – Adi Khen CSA Affiliated Artist

The following is a guest post from CSA Affiliated Artist and Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate student, Adi Khen, on her perspective on the importance of communicating science, from the lens of both being a scientist and artist.

From the Editor: The following is a guest post from CSA Affiliated Artist and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) graduate student, Adi Khen, on her perspective on the importance of communicating science, from the lens of both being a scientist and artist.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend my second-ever scientific conference: the 2018 Western Society of Naturalists (WSN) meeting in Tacoma, Washington. This particular conference is mainly marine ecology-focused but also involved a student workshop on “Integrating Science and Art.”

At the workshop, my own digital illustrations were projected on the screen, showing coral bleaching and other ecological consequences of climate change. I was at this conference not just to display my art, but also to give a talk about my own research project. As a PhD candidate in Dr. Jen Smith’s Coral Reef Ecology Lab at SIO, I study the long-term responses of coral reef ecosystems to thermal stress, primarily through image analysis. Over the past few years, I’ve found ways to incorporate one of my personal interests (drawing) with my professional interests (research and education) and now, more than ever, I believe that art is a valuable tool that can be used to effectively communicate science.

Generally, I consider myself an observer; detail-oriented, noticing patterns, and that has served me not just as an artist but also as a scientist, and vice versa. I think the two are strongly interconnected in that science explains nature, while art expresses it in a way that can inspire people. I feel fortunate that the skillset I’ve developed over time (and with practice!) has allowed me to not only make sense of what I’m seeing as a scientist, but also to describe it from a more creative perspective that may reach people more profoundly. In my experience, through my art, people tend to understand scientific concepts more clearly-- ones which cannot always be captured in a photograph and I can honestly say that by trying to accurately represent various scientific processes through illustration, I have come to understand them better!

Overall, I think that art and science each offers a unique lens into the natural world. In my eyes, art and science are essentially for the purposes of getting a message across, almost as if they were telling a story. One appeals to emotion (art), and the other to logic (science), and while separately they are important, they can also complement each other, which can turn out to be really powerful! I’m excited to continue down this path, as a scientist / artist / researcher / communicator, to see where it takes me and what else there is to learn.

For now, please enjoy my latest digital illustration combining (1) the iconic Keeling curve, which originated from SIO and provides evidence of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and (2) the Scripps Pier at sunset. It was recently posted here, along with an explanation by Professor Ralph Keeling about the impact of human activity on climate change:

https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/2018/09/19/is-the-current-rise-in-co2-definitely-caused-by-human-activities/

#ArtCommunity #BuildingCommunity

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