What’s Art Got to Do with It?

For the past eight years Issues has been including art in addition to its written articles. There’s nothing unusual about including illustrations and other types of visual material to accompany articles in magazines. It’s an effective way of presenting data, attracting attention, or emphasizing a point. The graphic materials are developed after an article is written with the purpose of enhancing the impact and appeal of the text. That’s not what we do in Issues.

The visual material that appears is reproduction of art, which is very different from graphic illustration. All the art we feature was created for its own purpose, not to serve the interests of a specific article. In fact, in almost all cases the artist does not know anything about the articles that will be adjacent to the art. In some cases, the art is placed with an article or group of articles to which it has a thematic connection, but in no case is the art intended to be simply a reflection or extension of the text. This is the same approach we take with the articles. They are grouped together because they have a thematic connection, but they often offer very different perspectives and propose very different policy agendas.

Sometimes, as in this edition, there is not even a thematic connection. The art in the Forum section has always been independent of the text for the obvious reason that the letters always address a wide diversity of topics. There is no theme. And although we often choose art on themes included in the articles, just as we sometimes choose to publish several articles on one theme, we also include art that has no obvious connection to anything else in the magazine. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine a visual corollary to many of the subjects addressed in Issues articles. Take a look at the table of contents. How much art makes reference to the importance of evidence-based policymaking or the regulatory framework for geoengineering research?

Some aspects of policy are simply best treated in text. But as many participants in policy understand, decisions are not made solely, or even primarily, on the basis of empirical data and scientific analysis. It is not just the obvious need to incorporate the perspectives of social science disciplines such as economics and sociology but also the power of ideology, religion, ethics, and other cultural dimensions. Although all of these aspects can be addressed in writing, some of them are not easily approached with words. As we learning from the work of neuroscientists, psychologists, behavioral economists, and others, humans—even humans with PhDs— reach decisions by various routes. Daniel Kahneman won his Nobel prize for what might be described as the science of nonscientific thinking.

Art is one of the ways humans express and try to understand the real and unreal, the beautiful and the ugly, the uplifting and the degrading, the good and the evil, the obvious and the unknowable, the human and the inhuman.. The art we choose reflects the multifaceted relationship of humans to science and technology. It celebrates, criticizes, mocks, warns, ponders, uses, and distorts, and in so doing enriches our understanding of where science and technology fit in the cultural landscape. Without that understanding, we cannot expect to find effective ways to weave S&T into the policymaking fabric

Like most of you who read this magazine, I live primarily in the world of words, evidence, and logic, so I depend on others to guide me in the search for appropriate art. I am fortunate to have JD Talasek and Alana Quinn, the staff of the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS), to find the art and provide the text to accompany it and to Pam Reznick to present it effectively in print. Indeed, the remarkable exhibits and programs organized by CPNAS are the inspiration for many creative collaborations and interactions between artists and scientists. (Roger Molina, director of the arts and technology program at the University of Texas at Dallas, performs a similar function at UTD and though his role as executive editor of Leonardo, a journal of art and science.)

We are particularly grateful to the numerous artists who have allowed us to reproduce their work for free and to the gallery owners, agents, and museum curators who have helped us acquire high-resolution images that we need to do justice to the work. The look of Issues is feasible only because of the generosity of the art world and the belief of many individuals that what we are trying to accomplish in Issues has real social and aesthetic value.

Finally, we are indebted to the Issues readers who have supported this expansion of the magazine’s content. There have been no angry letters and no cancelled subscriptions. Perhaps the science policy community is not dominated by an unimaginative, hyper-rational, academic mindset. Readers and authors alike have been outspoken in their appreciation for what we are trying to do. Is this a sign that wonkdom has wisdom as well as knowledge?

Cite this Article

Finneran, Kevin. “What’s Art Got to Do with It?” Issues in Science and Technology 29, no. 4 (Summer 2013).

Vol. XXIX, No. 4, Summer 2013