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Sharing Science Through Art: AAAS Gallery Showcases Visual Art

Courtney Mattison uses art to celebrate the beauty of coral reefs and highlight the threats they face. | Neil Orman/AAAS

A three-part series looks at the AAAS programs that communicate the power of science and technology though creative approaches: visual art, dance and literature.

There are countless ways to learn about science: a journal article, a news report, a science museum exhibit. But what about a piece of sculpture, a painting or a photograph? For more than 30 years, the AAAS Art of Science and Technology Program has boosted public engagement with science and technology by showcasing art to the public at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Most recently, at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, the AAAS Art Gallery hosted “Nature’s Witness,” a photography exhibit showcasing 50 selections from the National Wildlife photo contest. The winning images, selected from the 22,000 wildlife photos submitted to the contest over nearly 50 years, are all still available to view online through an interactive map.

In recent years, the gallery has also hosted shows on such diverse subjects as comic book art that incorporates scientific themes to artwork focused on the healing of psychological and physical injuries. Shows have incorporated work in a diverse range of media – a 2019 show called “Mathematical Beauty” highlighted the work of 10 artists working in art forms ranging from drawing and painting to origami and 3D printing.

The visual power of artwork offers viewers a unique opportunity to form an emotional connection to the scientific subject matter, according to many of the artists and organizers who have had a hand in AAAS Art Gallery exhibits.

“From the smallest insects to the most charismatic mammals, wildlife species enrich our lives and make life on Earth possible,” said Lisa Moore, editorial director of National Wildlife. “I bet anyone who sees our photograph of a baby opossum peeking out from a rhododendron bloom — and learns that these little guys eat tons of ticks — will feel a bit more tender toward these common backyard visitors,” Moore said of the nature photography exhibit.

Artist and ocean advocate Courtney Mattison noted that “art has a really immense power to communicate science in a way that’s emotionally impactful for people.”

Mattison’s work has been a fixture in the AAAS Art Gallery since 2011. Her sculpture, “Our Changing Seas I: A Coral Reef Story,” is a 15-foot-high, 1,500-pound hand-cast clay rendition of a coral reef – a subject that Mattison has been fascinated with since she was a teenager learning to scuba dive.

Through her art, Mattison aims to highlight the beauty of coral reefs – and the threats they face, including climate change.

As Mattison noted in her artist statement, “Perhaps if my work can influence others to appreciate the fragile beauty of our endangered coral reef ecosystems, we will act more wholeheartedly to conserve them.”

[Associated images: Anne Grimes/National Wildlife Photo Contest, Claudio Contreras-Koob/National Wildlife Photo Contest]


Andrea Korte

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