Close your eyes and imagine you’re a wealthy collector who’s just entered a gallery in an art museum. On the wall facing you there are two gigantic canvases, each more than 10 feet tall. Both paintings depict a harbor at sunset. From across the room, they look identical: the same ships, the same reflections on the water, the same sun at the same stage of setting. You go in for a closer look. You can’t find a label or a museum tag anywhere. […]
Just as you go to fetch a museum guard or someone who can shed light on these mysterious twin masterpieces, the head curator of the museum walks in. You eagerly inquire as to the origins of your new obsessions. The curator tells you that Painting A was painted in the 17th century by a Dutch master.
“And what of Painting B?” you ask. “Ah yes, Painting B,” the curator says. “That’s a forgery. It was copied last week by a graduate student at the local art college.”– Austin Kleon “Show Your Work!”
Last weekend was the closing Zoom reception of “Solutions” exhibition at the Tomato Mouse gallery in Brooklyn. The artists got another chance to go around the room and tell the stories behind our art. I felt a bit awkward starting my introduction with “I am a neuroscientist”. I also felt uneasy with explaining my work in layman terms and making it relevant to the general public. Most of all I tried to convey how important it is for people outside of the “ivory tower” to get interested in science. COVID-19 and vaccination debates have made it more evident than ever how essential it is for people who do not perform research to understand how it applies to their lives.
One of the people who attended the Zoom meeting had very deep and insightful questions for practically every artist. After listening to my story and how I use my art to communicate the importance of neuroscience research, he asked how I expect any of this to be communicated when I am not there to explain the stories behind my art.
How much does it matter if someone walks up to one of the works and does not even think of interpreting it as SciArt? Honestly, it made it me shudder.
As I wrote recently, in the absence of a story or a pair of scientifically trained eyes, my art may be interpreted as abstract by most people. I just don’t feel comfortable with this. I put so much time and effort into making my works scientifically accurate, that it feels unfair for that accuracy to be lost in the interpretation.
What do you think? Should art be interpreted by the artist or by the viewer?
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