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Charles Carter <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 1 Aug 2008 11:42:23 -0400
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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