“I guess the question is not so much: “how do I understand your art” but rather “can you help me appreciate your art?”
Last Tuesday, we invited Russ Hodge, science communicator at the Max-Delbrück Centrum Berlin, to give a talk on his models and understanding of how to transfer scientific knowledge. In his career, which began with studying linguistics, he developed a model for a common barrier to communication: Ghosts haunt our thinking when we think within a field.
That is, many barriers exist between two people with different backgrounds in their assumptions of what the other might know – and these assumptions are constraining their own ability to think outside their own box.
We learned a lot, individually and as an audience in a rolling discussion afterwards, which lasted for 3 hours that felt like 30 minutes! Eventually, the sky outside was dark, but the room still buzzed and talking points were sharp as tacks.
Along the way, we honed in on concepts in linguistics, art theory, science, and communication. We realised that the benefits of communicating in new ways include thinking in new ways.
We successfully agreed on common terms and definitions, and moved onward and inward into the core of the matter: what are the differences between art and science that emerge from their intentions, their agendas, and their content?
How do we bridge gaps between two fields that can be so similar, yet so opposing, depending on which incarnation of art or science we encounter?
How can we come up with schemes and strategies for engaging with and conceptualizing art or science, when they are individually and together varied, complex, and faceted?
A few take home messages emerged, presented here as quotes (paraphrased from memory):
“What is quite different about science and art is that science tries to bring knowledge to a point – to achieve an incremental increase in our understanding or conceptualisation of the world – and in doing so pushes the edge of what we ‘know’ further forward. Art, on the other hand, often lives in, and points to, exactly that edge of knowledge, and can be ambiguous and non-understandable on purpose. They share commonalities in their experimental methods, and their drive toward innovation and new experiences, but have a different approach to what the end goal might be.”
“While science has a self-defined identity, in the scientific method, the artistic method is totally variable. Many artworks in fact can be accidental, or have totally different meaning to the artist and the observer. In art there isn’t necessarily the intent or even possibility of transferring direct knowledge or concepts, whereas in science and science communication, that’s the goal.”
Russ’ talk was packed with insight and inspiration, and laid out with clear examples of what might prevent us from communicating, and in doing so, prevent us from thinking clearly.
For anyone who’s thought or tried to transmit concepts (as we defined communication as), or wonders why they can’t understand some scientific writing, we highly recommend reading his blog articles at:
And more on him at: