Our audience is a human one, and humans want to connect. Personal stories can make the complex more tangible, spark associations, and offer entry into things that might otherwise leave one cold. The goal is not to “dumb down,” but rather to give audiences something relatable to sink their teeth into. Whether you’ve discovered a new species or made a new art piece, there is a generosity in inviting your audience to form a personal, substantive relationship with you and your work. Declarations become conversations, and a world of possibility can open up.
Rachel Sussman on storytelling for science, echoing Vonnegut’s insistence on the power of personal experience in storytelling.
I’ve always thought it is my job as an artist to answer some questions, but to ask many more.
There may be more that unites artists and scientists than divides them. Practitioners of both search for answers – Truth with a capital T, even – hoping to invent or discover or craft something that shakes up old thinking and makes a lasting impact on the world. They both employ analytic and synthetic approaches, take risks, and engage in sophisticated thinking in uncharted territories. There are a lot of happy accidents. Both art and science can be filled with passion and frustration, setbacks and breakthroughs. But, most importantly, the work is never meant to exist in a vacuum: whether it’s receiving a vaccine or being moved by a painting, it is the audience that completes the picture.
Complement with Sussman’s moving photoessay about visiting early polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s grave.