by Victoria Banderob
Behind the jargon and statistics in scientific research papers is a reality that we can see with our own eyes in the outdoor spaces around us—natural landscapes are changing, ecosystems are degrading, and the species within them are collapsing. Unfortunately, the reasons behind the changes are often discussed in inaccessible scientific papers. This inaccessibility is multifold—papers often lie behind a pay wall, use technical jargon, and are supported by incomprehensible statistical analyses. As members of communities surrounding these spaces, it can be difficult to recognize the changes and know what we can do to slow them down. However, when words fail, art can paint the picture.
Communicating scientific concepts through art can help non-scientists visualize complex ideas. Scientific botanical illustrations are an example of the use of art in science. Scientists are unable to describe the visual nature of new plant species with words alone. Science of all varieties is a sensory experience—it’s visual, tactile, auditory, and kinesthetic. Illustrations allow readers to visualize a scientific topic and relate it to what they see in their own world.
The creation of art is also a way to get the public engaged in science. Sketching our outdoor spaces, for example, forces us to observe the microhabitats within which different species of bugs, birds, and vegetation thrive. When you observe this closely, you can see things you might not when looking at the big picture, and you ask questions that you might not have otherwise thought of. For example, in the Wilket Creek Ravine, Garlic Mustard is running rampant and is visually appealing with its beautiful white flowers; however, when you look closely, Garlic Mustard grows so tall and widespread that it actually shades out the underlying native species and is considered an invasive species. With art, we can also record ecosystems over time. We can depict trees, waterways, and wildlife from one year to the next, and recognize any erosion on the edge of the waterways, or the altogether disappearance of certain species in some micro-habitats.
Lastly, communicating science through art allows everyone—scientists and non-scientists alike—to simply enjoy the beauty and intricacies of our outdoor spaces. These areas are for everyone to explore, but they will only be here to enjoy as long as we take care of them and do what we can to prevent their degradation. At the intersection of science and art lies a chance for the public to start enjoying their outdoor spaces. From there, they can start asking questions to understand what is happening to the outdoors and get involved with protecting it.
We invite you to come explore the Wilket Creek Ravine, sketch some native species, and learn about what is happening to the ravines in your own backyard!
Click here to register for LUNA’s free tours: Ravine Sketching Tours