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.
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