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Frank Ippolito <[log in to unmask]>
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SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 1 Aug 2008 15:04:41 -0400
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interesting ideas about iconography, chuck. I'll have to chew on that a 
while. if true, it would be a far more fundamental paradigm shift than 
the communication media rewire.what we see is certainly an extension of 
the visual world that I was born into as a b-boomer. tv commercials 
started out as 2 minute epics but by the time I was entering college, 
the 30 spot was quite common. now 30 seconds seems like forever. icons 
like peace signs and iconic photographs like that poor saigon girl who 
was hit by napalm convey both memory and meaning to those who lived 
through that time.

I am ambivilant about the dumbing down question - though the example you 
and cindy developed seems to be anything but. to the point of 
communication that truly dumbs down the message: do we teach by adding 
to the S/N ratio or do we offer a place and a pace that restricts the 
pipeline to make sure the message is not muddied; that the information 
is actually conveyed? something keeps tugging at the corner of my mind 
that whispers rather than screams about the need to step into silence to 
hear your own inner voice. all that stimuli excites but it might not 
teach so well. and it certainly leaves no room for reflection. I have 
made conscious decisions to not listen to radio and avoid TV much of the 
time in the evenings. the internet snuck in when I wasn't looking. I 
feel like I've lost a little traction lately on following my own muse.

meike, perhaps you can draw your inspiration from the ideas being 
introduced during this year's opening keynote's talk - how imagery can 
change how an entire population understands their world. the view of the 
blue marble earth rise that was beamed back to earth has become the most 
reproduced photograph in history (I am told.) it caused a fundamental 
shift in how we as a species comprehends its world. it is both an icon 
and a symbol now. many science illustrations have done so in smaller - 
but equally important - measure.


> Hey David -
> I think when we discuss the dumbing down of information we have to  
> take reality into consideration.  I think I'll probably offend a few  
> people in here so i apologize in advance.
> Just as newspapers are becoming a thing of the past so is the way we  
> used to interact with information.  I was lucky to be part of a book  
> project for McGraw-Hill, as an illustrator/co-author on a higher-ed  
> geology textbook called Exploring Geology. (Cindy Shaw was also a 
> huge  contributor).  We took the approach to present each chapter as 
> a  series of two page spreads with each spread depicting a topic or  
> concept.  This information was followed and built on when you turned  
> the page and delved into the next two page spread.  The entire book  
> was done this way, leading us to take away the highest honor at 
> McGraw- Hill this year for a textbook.  And this book is centered and 
> built  around robust illustration.
> I feel that when we use terms like dumbing down materials we miss an  
> important point.  We live in an world where people and kids in  
> particular deal with huge amounts of information in ways we could not  
> conceive of when most of us were that age.  Dumbing down has a  
> negative connotation that I think makes a subtle implication that 
> kids  today are somehow less intelligent then we were at their age.  
> That's  very far from the truth in my opinion.  The fact is that kids 
> deal  with things on a different level than we do - and in many cases 
> (IMHO)  are becoming more right brained because of sorting through a 
> world  that stimulates the visual side of their brains.
> The book we designed was visually based in how it teaches.  It uses  
> illustrations to get the concept across quickly and used text that 
> was  succinct and clearly written.  The concept was that we live in a  
> society where we compete with the likes of youtube, IMs, texting,  
> games, TV and too many ways to gather information to name here.  Kids  
> today are bombarded with information and stimulation - as 
> illustrators  and educators I feel we need to appeal to the kids in a 
> way that makes  sense to them and makes them slow down enough to stop 
> and learn.   Dividing a book into two pages spreads was a simple idea 
> and now it's  a proven way to do that due to McGraw-Hill is following 
> this idea with  more of their books.
> I feel the book only builds on what we all do here in the guild - we  
> use illustrations to teach and communicate and express ourselves. I  
> think you have to work this way to deal effectively with everything  
> else that is also out there competing for attention. It's a changing  
> world and is getting only stranger as new and faster means of  
> information become even more ingrained into society.
> Our job as illustrators and artists is to do work that conveys  
> information in a way that society can relate to.  We need to be 
> better  than our materials and think that each and every illustration 
> we do  will rise above some of the more mediocre materials as you 
> stated.  We  are some of the creators of this new media and we have to 
> take  responsibility for the stuff that is fluff and bereft of 
> information.
> I hear you in your feeling that people are a whole lot smarter then  
> people give them credit for - I also work in the console game  
> industry.  And we get kids who come in to work as artists who can do  
> things with the software that is frankly unbelievable.  Some of these  
> kids cannot draw to save their lives - but give them ZBrush and tell  
> them to model something and the work produced is amazing in it's 
> depth  and content.  They see things in ways we could not imagine just 
> 10  years ago, with a keener eye in some ways then many of us in this  
> forum.  But their talent can be raw in nature.  Their whole world is  
> now based around visual learning and playing and communication.
> In many ways I think kids almost communicate iconically.  It's how  
> they dress with logos and expressions on their clothes - their text  
> messages are iconic in that they have almost done away with words.   
> Pictures and videos are reference points for them to communicate 
> ideas  and concepts.  And while a good lot of this is pretty shallow - 
> the  sheer amount of data they process is amazing.  Just watch your 
> kids  text or use myspace or the internet in general.  Or better yet 
> watch  how they play games - especially online games and how they 
> build  communities in ways that are visually and audio based, far 
> beyond the  things we did as kids.
> It's not that it's bad or good - it just is and we need to live in  
> this world and build a better way for us to communicate what is  
> important for them when they need to learn something.  We have the  
> tools to do this - we just need to use them and try to get a better  
> understanding of the world they live in and be able to show them some  
> depth can be had if we do our jobs right and help them slow down when  
> needed.  We need to embrace our audience and cater to them in ways  
> that is not dumbed down nor infers a lowered expectation for their  
> abilities. I'M NOT AN EDUCATOR NOR EDUCATED -  just a self taught  
> illustrator. So I can't speak to how you perceive students in your  
> class - but I do look at my kids, and work with some very innovative  
> authors, artists and illustrators and feel that today we have to  
> change how we think and this means adapting to a slippery surface  
> where education is.
> And those changes don't involve dumbing down anything... just  
> presenting it in ways the audience better comprehends it.
> Maybe we should have a myspace or Facebook presence and see what  
> happens?  We might try to get down into the trenches and see where it  
> goes.  Just a thought and then watch and learn.  There is nothing 
> that  says that those communities are just venues for advertising 
> movies,  music or personalities... why not interject some science in 
> there too?
> Sorry - getting off my horse now.
> Chuck
> On Aug 1, 2008, at 10:33 AM, David Clarke wrote:
>> On Aug 1, 2008, at 8:40 AM, Bruce Bartrug wrote:
>> think you've already selected the direction you want to go, ...
>> Hi Mieke,
>> I have to agree with Bruce, you sound like you've got a great idea  
>> brewing already. For a critical point, you might consider looking at  
>> how the new media has changed society, its expectations and our  
>> communications vis-a-vis science illustration. I work in education  
>> (so maybe I'm a little biased or warped in my view) and many of my  
>> colleagues and many folks I have spoken with in other "educational"  
>> endeavors (e.g., museums, national parks)  are complaining about the  
>> dumbing down of all materials presented.
>> There are of course exceptions to this (Cosmocyte's work for the  
>> Food Detective, for example) but it seems that while the new media  
>> has enabled us to share our knowledge much easier  and  
>> "democratized" communications somewhat, it has also lowered our  
>> expectations of audience intelligence. [I realize "thems are  
>> fighting words" but I could fill a football field with folks with  
>> examples.] I don't know whether the abundance of new media  
>> (animation, tv, games) have shrunk our attention spans so that  
>> deeper thought has become hard work or if we the creators are  
>> anticipating a dumbing down that we then are creating. Before you  
>> think me a real prig, I think folks tend to be a whole deal smarter  
>> than we give them credit and I push to challenge our students as  
>> much as I can.
>> Anyway, my point, Mieke, was that you might want to consider not  
>> only the upside of the new media and its effect on a resurgence in  
>> science illustration but it's downside also.
>> It sounds like a wonderful opportunity. Good luck!
>> -david clarke


 Frank Ippolito
 Principal Scientific Assistant
 Div. Vertebrate Paleontology
 American Museum of Natural History
 Central Park West at 79th Street
 NY    NY    10024
 (212) 769-5812
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