What makes art relatable?

It has been a few weeks since the SciArt Center residency ended, but our philosophical discussions with Darcy are still going strong.

Here is an example of some of the topics we have covered.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with my 8 year old daughter.  She was telling me that a friend at school is very interested in art and tends to bring (what sounds like) art history books to read during after school.  Not surprisingly, there are some works by da Vinci and maybe Michelangelo.    Apparently, my daughter gets very uncomfortable due to the high level of nudity in Renaissance art (despite our multiple visits to the Metropolitan Museum).  She kept asking me why the artists wanted/needed to depict naked bodies, as opposed to dressing them in outfits that could still show the skills of the artist(s).  An example she gave was a dress with very small and intricate flowers that might need to be made under a magnifying glass.  🙂

Without putting to much emphasis on nudity, I tried explaining to her that the human body is so complex that it takes a special level of skill to depict it correctly and that it probably served as a benchmark for the artists’ abilities.  We went into discussing the importance of the artists educating themselves about the correct human anatomy and how da Vinci was dissecting cadavers for this purpose (along with his scientific curiosity).  All of this got me thinking about the fact the human body is probably the most familiar subject to the audience, which allows them to instantly relate to the art and feel a personal connection.  (Not a very novel thought, I know.) 

With or without medical/scientific education, people are able to judge the accuracy and believability of the depiction.  Something like a landscape or a still life, despite being very familiar subjects, do not trigger the same emotions (even if let’s say a sculpture doesn’t have a head and we cannot see a face expression).  So this brings us to the original question – how can we expect the common audience to relate to sciart?…

If we depict things like cells and tissues, can we (do we need to) have the audience make the connection between the subject and their own bodies? In contrast to a portrait/sculpture of a particular person, these elements are common to all of us. How do we need to educate the audience to feel that connection?

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