Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Art of Skepticism

By Patrick Redmond

It seems at times that our education system encourages a rift between the arts and the sciences. One route will lead you to aesthetic appreciation whereas the other to a more practical destination. A false dichotomy is created between the sensual and the sensible that places the scientists in their laboratory working late into the night uncovering the secrets of the universe whilst the artists drink absinthe and discuss its spiritual nature.

This is of course all a pile of tosh as I would expect most of the readers of this blog to realise. There is a long tradition of combining science and art and it’s only the blinkered view of some that would maintain that the two should never meet. Science wants to
understand how the world works and art is a way of representing this. The relationship between the two is so much more than a practical one though and art is not just a fancy form of diagram.

Yet that stereotyped perception does exist and when we had Matt Lodder to speak at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub I’ll admit to being nervous. Here was an academic art historian booked to talk to a room full of sceptics about western perceptions of tattoos, not your normal SitP fare and I did have some people express reservations. But Matt was great. His talk was massively interesting and he was a lovely person who mixed in brilliantly.

I don’t know if some people didn’t come because of the topic, and if there are any that missed out it’s their loss, but I do know that some people did come because of it. People with an interest in body art were intrigued and turned up.  Never having been before they enjoyed the night, they chatted and they got interested. The ones that I spoke with said that they intended to be back for some of the other talks and I genuinely don’t think that they weren’t just being polite.

Art can therefore be a way into science and scepticism and indeed vice versa. This is where the people at the Mad Art Lab come in. The brains behind Skepchick have assembled a whole load of artists from a whole load of disciplines that are happy to straddle that seemingly difficult intersection. I’ve always questioned the cliché about a picture painting a thousand words, how can you measure it accurately? However art does communicate in a way that is accessible, and when you have so many different types of artists there is a whole lot of communicating going on.

This is a fun site that nonetheless carries a serious message. It tackles all the usual sceptical themes and more but from an artistic point of view, whether that’s comic art, video, song or whatever. The site is constantly updating and there seems to be no limit to the creativity of the Mad Art Labbers. You can listen to me chatting with Rebecca Watson and Amy Davis Roth (Surly Amy) about the conception and intention of the project here. Then you should check out the site and then check it out again later and again and so on.

Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) was Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub and presents the Birmingham Skeptics podcast.


Elaine said...

Great blog post, Patrick. I couldn't agree more that there should be no great divide between science and art. As I've got older I've realized more and more that our habit of pigeon-holing subjects is misleading and that there is valuable and extensive overlap everywhere you look. Science offers endless inspiration for art, and art in turn can give insight, tangibility and accessibility to scientific ideas.

(Afraid I couldn't get your Mad Art Lab hyperlink to work...)

Patrick (@paddyrex) said...

Thanks Elaine. Science and art both require inspiration and skill and can both provide that "oooh!" factor. It's great when the two meet.

I've fixed the link problem too.