Art Is Everywhere When You Look At The World Through A Creative Lens

Sort of dovetailing with my post yesterday about art and science nourishing each other, you may have seen that scientists have named a new species of gecko after Vincent Van Gogh.

Yes, everyone reporting on this is calling it Vincent Van Gecko.

The scientists were inspired by the markings on the lizard which reminded them of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

This is one of those instances when having a smidge of artistic exposure allows you to create an engaging story around a scientific advancement which may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

In the conversation between the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and Director of the Census Bureau I posted about yesterday, they talk about the importance of good data collection methodology to decision making and reporting about the impact of arts and creativity on society. But they also discussed how creativity and artistic expression facilitates effective storytelling and communication about the relevance of  scientific discoveries and achievement in our lives.

How Important Is Creativity? Let The Census Director Count The Ways

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) posted a slightly longer than usual podcast episode a few weeks back with a conversation between NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson and US Census Bureau Director Robert Santos.

If you missed the introductions at the art, you might be forgiven for thinking Santos was the NEA Chair the way he went on about the importance and value of creative practice in one’s life. He talked at some length about being a live music photographer at the SXSW festivals in Austin, TX for eight years and the different perspectives he received while watching all the creatives present their work. He talked about how innovation doesn’t just emerge from scientific hypothesis and data, but by creativity fueled by an artful life.

Later, he discusses the use of art and creativity in healing, relating it to his time as President of American Statistical Association during the pandemic and using his monthly newsletter to depart from the usual messages about checking out webinars about statistic practice, but rather

“…send personal messages and reflections that would help folks understand that we’re all in this together and that we need to help each other out and we can do so virtually. So I would tell stories about of resilience and how we need to tap into them and I told stories of creativity and mentoring and it was specifically focused on thinking as creatively as I could to help the folks that were suffering so much because they were stuck in their homes.”

At another point, he mentioned the way the Census Bureau had used familiar cultural touchstones to engage with people to navigate the challenges Covid presented during the 2020 Census:

…we had artistic reincarnations of things like the Loteria, — there are cards that have little icons, very colorful, of different types of characters, and birds, and skeletons, and scorpions, and things of that sort. And because of the pandemic, we could not use our usual face-to-face methods, or community organizations couldn’t do that. So rather than having a table in a grocery store saying, “Come fill out a census,” they were going out and distributing in community centers that were giving out water, and talking about best practices for vaccines and things. They were handing out these Loteria cards that, instead of the usual icons, they had different census characters on them, like an enumerator, or a little graph, or things of that sort. So it was reinforcing the necessity and the importance of civic participation, but doing it in an artistic way that was very pleasing to the eye, and got you to think, “Oh, this is really interesting.”

The example of Albert Einstein playing violin is often used as an example of a scientist who embraced his creative side, but I am thinking it is time to find new examples to amplify this concept, starting with Santos and anyone else he might identify. Not to relieve the NEA and other creative entities from doing the same, but Santos seems really adept at identifying the bridges between creative and science based approaches and is a vocal advocate.  I mean, there was a point where he was saying, credit where credit is due, the NEA inspired me to think all federal departments should have artist-in-residence programs.

ASL As Part Of The Performance Rather Than Reporting The Performance

There was a really interesting article in Dance Magazine about artists using American Sign Language (ASL) as part of dance performances or to underscore movement in shows. One choreographer, Bailey Ann Vincent, says that she knows most of the audience is hearing, but if there is someone that communicates using ASL, they will have a richer experience:

For Vincent, using ASL in her choreography—which might mean incorporating a sign to emphasize an emotion a character is feeling, or to communicate what a lyric is saying—is both an artistic choice and an accessibility-related one. Though her audience is mostly hearing, “I still try to approach all our shows assuming there might be someone who is Deaf in the audience,” she says.

Another dancer said when he was asked to move beyond the role of an interpreter for a performance, it changed his perception about the role of ASL as a medium of communication.

…“She asked me to represent all sounds in sign language, and also use my body as a dancer,” says Kazen-Maddox. “It was the most mind-shifting thing for me, because I was seen as an artist and a dancer and a performer, and was also representing in sign language everything that was happening.”

The experience was the beginning of a shift in Kazen-Maddox’s career, away from simply facilitating communication between­ Deaf and hearing individuals as an interpreter­ and towards an emerging genre Kazen-Maddox calls “American Sign Language dance theater.” But it was also indicative of a wider shift in the performing arts, one that is more artistically fulfilling for Deaf and ASL-fluent artists and that also repositions accessibility: Rather than something tacked on to and separate from the performance, it is something deeply ingrained and integrated.

But as you might imagine, as the use of ASL as an artistic element increases, there are concerns about it being co-opted. It is important to remain conscious and thoughtful about the intent behind the use of ASL as an artistic element and avoid employing it in a superficial manner or in the service of ill-considered goals.

…And when hearing artists and audiences value how signs look over what they mean, the fusion of dance and ASL can become offensive rather than enriching. Antoine the example of a hearing choreographer asking him to “reverse” a sign because it would look cool, which then made it meaningless or changed it into a distasteful word.

“When people who are not native signers see ASL incorporated with movement, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful,’ ” says Alexandria Wailes, a Deaf dancer and actor, through an interpreter. “Which is valid in its own right, but ASL is a language that is tied to culture, communities, and history. It’s not just something that you look at or do because it feels cool and it’s beautiful.”

Artists, They Aren’t Making The Community Any Worse

Title of the post today is intentionally leveraging a statement in a study conducted by Jennifer Novak-Leonard and Rachel Skaggs for the National Endowment for the Arts of public perception of the arts during Covid. It was the topic of an interview/post with Sunil Iyengar who heads up research and analysis at the NEA.

The full quote is:

Nearly two out of three respondents shared the opinion that, quote, “Artists who work or live in their area make it better to live,” and roughly one third affirmed that it doesn’t necessarily make communities better, but artists certainly don’t make them worse.

The encouraging takeaway is that people have a positive view of the artists across all demographics:

In 2022, however, over half of adults expressed the perception that artists uniquely contribute to U.S. communities healing and recovery from the pandemic. Fifty three percent in open-ended responses offered specific ways that artists promote that healing and recovery. I will say, Jo, that one of the surprises of the study to me is that it found virtually zero differences in social or demographic characteristics as playing a factor in the likelihood of respondents to identify positively with artists.

As the authors say, quote, “Most adults in the United States across its many socio demographic groups and perceptions of artists, roles, and communities view artists as being able to contribute to the healing and recovery of communities directly and positively from the pandemic.”

Another interesting takeaway from the research is that people are equally likely to view artists as hobbyists (30%) as they are to perceive them as wage earners (27%). I may have to seek the report out to discover what the perceptions of the other 43% are. Perhaps a combination of some hybrid perception and/or not having any opinion on the matter.