ART AS A LEARNING TOOL - AT THE CREATIVE REACTIONS SHOW

My experience as an artist at shows is that some people will stop and look at your work and others will keep walking until they see something that catches their eye. And some will back away if you happen to catch their eye or say hello, wanting to be left alone, not feel pressured to make a purchase. 

But at the Creative Reactions show where I displayed my lichens fibre art piece this past weekend, every visitor stopped to look at every piece of art and spent time speaking with the artists and researchers too. The closest I had come to experiencing this is at fibre art shows where each work includes not only a list of materials and techniques, but also the artist's inspiration. Viewers do seem to take their time looking at each picture when some context is provided. 

The visitors at Creative Reactions wanted to learn the stories behind the art. And each picture had a story to tell. Each artist had been paired with a research scientist to learn about their area of expertise, then create a piece of art based on the researcher's work. The idea was to combine visual art with science, to use the art to create awareness, for education, as a method of learning.

Art often has a hidden depth which a viewer may miss at first glance, and without tips such a materials list or inspiration. We first observe the design, colours, and possibly materials and techniques. The next layer includes messages for the viewers. At the Creative Reactions show the messages were the story the researcher hoped would be told through the art. These messages may or may not be readily apparent until one studies the art more closely and depending on the artist's interpretation of the messages into symbols. Underlying the appearance and messages in the art is yet another layer - the emotional side, a reflection of the researcher's passion for a topic, the presentation of concepts for further consideration by the viewer. These are sometimes subtle yet reflected through the many creative decisions made for each piece of art by the artist. 

It's this kind of attention to detail and love of creating that enriches an art piece. The one I created, titled "Learning about Lichens" includes 5 Canadian lichens, and because Paul, the botanist I was paired with, specializes in Arctic plants, 3 of the 5 are Arctic lichens, 1 of which is very rare and therefore meaningful to the botanists. The remaining 2 lichens were no less important, one selected for its name, the other because of a cross-Canada project the lichenologists had embarked on. 

The background for each lichen was just as important as the lichen themselves to illustrate their habitats, with materials and techniques chosen carefully. And the backdrop for the entire piece was a map of Canada on which the lichens were arranged so the names of 2 of the territories were highly visible. The last feature to be added was labels for each of the 5 lichens, styled after the labels the botanists  use to identify the botanical specimens at the Museum of Nature's Herbarium, and on which I included why the lichen was chosen, and the materials and techniques used to create it.


I realized quickly at this show just how much the viewers wanted to learn and talk about each piece of art and its story. I found there was an equal amount of interest in both the research topic and the materials and techniques I used in my work. And I'm glad I had a chance to see and learn about the other works on cancer therapies, robotics, probiotics and stress hormones, fibre optics, evolution and biodiversity, and ADHD.

Did any of the works sell? I don't think so, although some were for sale. But that wasn't the point or the goal for any of the artists. This was a different kind of show, a chance to expand our horizons, to learn about the research areas, and to see potential for future. 

The team I worked with from the Museum of Nature - Paul Sokoloff, Cassandra Robillard, Chris Deduke, and Troy McMullin - shared their knowledge with me, ideas and support, through a tour and several follow-up emails. I felt like one of the team.

And now that my awareness and knowledge of lichens has grown, I find myself keeping an eye out for them, and even found a lichen in my yard. I had seen it in the past but hadn't given it a second thought until now. I'll need to create that one next in fibre art.

Will I apply for this show again in future? You bet. In the meantime one of the botanists has challenged me to create a fibre art from a specific moss.  Can't wait to get started on this one.

Links to previous posts on my journey preparing for the Creative Reactions show:

Art Meets Science: A collaboration between artists and researchers

Lichens: Fascinating, beautiful and part of an upcoming art show

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