Atheism, Science, and Art
Glendon Mellow, Anne Sauer, Amy Roth, Jason Thibeault, Emily Finke

AMY! Surly Amy, writes for Skepchick and Mad Art Lab. She also makes Surlyramics (which are the bestest things ever and we love them really hard).

Anne is not a trained scientist, but she likes to understand food and drink from a scientific perspective. Anne will do some food and drink science.

Emily is a science communicator and a costumer.

Julius (le Canadian): specializes in paleontology. Works to recreate animals we can’t photograph anymore. Tries to give an accurate view of what it would be like to see these animals.

Glendon is back! He is an artist and illustrator, which he blogs about. talks a lot to people involved in the intersection of science and art. Then he froze and disappeared.

These artists are a little different because they do talk about their art, go on panels, blog etc. Generally artists tend to use art to express themselves instead of words. Science artists usually express science through art. How? Do we have to dumb down the science?

Julius thinks his area of science is pretty popular with the public. Generally he doesn’t dumb it down because it’s so popular. Also Julius apparently hangs out with really intelligent five year olds who know crazy dinosaur names. Kids seem way into paleontology, although they might lose it later. His job is to engage everyone through imagery. People enjoy pictures. One way he does this is through working with researchers and demonstrate new ideas. Explain with pictures to support.

Are you using your own creativity to support? We’re on the edge of what we do know and don’t know…are the artists contributing ideas or to some extent creating own image of a dinosaur?

Julius does his best to be very accurate. He looks to all the research available, then tries to infer from similar environments. Generally tries to be as conservative as possible then complete.

Surly Amy is giving away surlies!

Anne thinks she gets an easy path because she works with food. It’s easy to get people interested. It’s instant gratification! By necessity some of her science is dumbed down because it’s what she can read and learn on her own. Herald McGee is a great resource for food science. At SkepChickCon, Anne does demos. It’s fun because it’s lots of people who don’t typically read our blogs and it’s a good place to reach out. Last year she did drinks that glow in the dark(backlights). Quinine is fluorescent (in tonic water). She has some home made tonic water (she’s having a G+T), she’ll let us know later if it glows in the dark.

Anne also works with a film festival that tries to make films that represent atheist worldviews (whereas Hollywood really likes fate and meaning). Generally these end up being documentaries about Bad Religion. They’d like more positive atheist movies. September 14th in the Bay Area.

Emily designs costumes and is an informal science educator. One of the challenges with that is that no one has to listen to you. One way to do that is by wearing Bat Girl costume and doing a demo. Suddenly EVERYONE is way interested. When she works at a museum she’s really excited when they have a good artist because it helps with the education piece and when you’ve got accurate art it’s easier to teach.

Using art for science communication is integral. It can act as a short cut. Think of powerpoints: most effective when you have a good visual+narration. Art and science actually go fairly well together. Surprise! It’s hard to find atheist art. There are a few types: instructive, educational. Science-based. Political cartoons. Not many pro-atheist paintings. How do you do this? What do you paint?

Amy has thought about this a lot. Atheist art shouldn’t be about the absence of things, but more about our journey and experiences. “The museum is our church”. Amy was moved by religious art as a child. We need more painters in our community who paint the human experience. What are the ideas we’re trying to express? We can find joy in the experience of not having a God. We can find joy in science, truth, etc. We need to create our own tales.

Emily’s atheism is very tied up in nature and the forces of nature. Emily would love to see more of humans making their own meaning in art.

Julius sees both possibilities of human experience of meaning and creation as well as the beauty of natural world on its own. We don’t need a hero at the center of our art, the world is beautiful on its own.

Amy likes to think about how scientists and artists are alike. There’s a stereotype that artists are supposed to be hippy dippy and unable to embrace complex ideas: making stuff up. Scientists are supposed to be very rigid and unfun and serious. Those stereotypes aren’t true and they can melt into each other. Artists can use the scientific method: take data, what can they do with the data, then present to peers and it’s peer reviewed. Not a perfect parallel, but a similar method. Scientists are also very creative. Hopefully the two communities can overlap more. Are there any scientists that have influenced your artwork, or artists that influenced your science?

Emily’s best friend is a commercial artist, and her hobby is drawing dinosaurs and fictional animals as if they’re real (creates dragons etc.) and puts a lot of work into the skeletal structure. They go back and forth a lot talking about structure. Emily gets a better idea of how skeletal structures work when she explains it to her friend.

Julius has worked with many inspirational scientists. They inspire him in the sense that he has an interest in science anyway and so he can understand their excitement. When he hears about something fascinating and exciting, he just wants to draw it/illustrate it. The beauty of the natural world and the excitement of discovery drive his artwork.

Amy wants to know about advice for artists who want to make a living and particularly make a living in a very particular area? She thinks people should get a business degree. Amy used to think that she was a painter and that was it. She opened a gallery and lost everything, but it taught her about business. She would have been better off if she had gotten a degree first.

Julius says you should be familiar not just with art but also with how to market it. Having a back up plan is good too. For scientific illustrators be as rigorous as you can, but it’s still art. Don’t stifle people’s creativity too much. Keep creativity in bounds of what’s accurate.

Emily chose not to be an artist professionally because she can’t make the kind of art she wants to make and sell it. Couture clothing cannot allow you to make a living. If she made and sold her costumes they would be very expensive. People are not used to paying premium for one of a kind clothing. She’s happy she chose to do art on the side, but she has the time to do that.

Jason’s back! He doesn’t do art…

Amy asks what is art? Jason probably is an artist and he doesn’t know it. His blog might be art. More people are probably artists than we define that way.

From chat: How can atheist artists under a secular or atheist banner make inroads into social issues as opposed to in science fields?

Amy says in the same way we make other educational art. We need more people in the secular community doing this. Shepard Fairy does this spreading memes in social justice issues. We need people interested in social justice issues creating art based on those issues. Find something you’re passionate about then make good art. Then promote!

Jason asks what outside of atheism and art gets you riled up?

Emily hates science denialism and thinks art can come into that: some of the best communication of this has been through videos and radio segments.

Julius agrees. Also conservation.

One more question from chat: at what point does art inspired by atheism become propaganda?

Amy’s been asked this before and propaganda’s just an inelegant word: it becomes propaganda when you disagree with it, otherwise it’s just art with a message.

Julius says that historically our idea of propaganda is art that is in support of harmful or simply wrong ideas. Anything in support of atheism is asking people to think freely…very hard to call it propaganda.

Let’s all make science and art together.