Feature: Science or art - must I choose?
11 December 2012. By Matteo Farinella, neuroscientist and artist
As a child I loved to draw but, when faced with the question of what I wanted to do with my life, I chose science. Mostly because I love science, but, sadly, also because I was told that art was not a 'proper' job. I completed a biology degree, a Master's degree in neuroscience and I ended up doing a PhD at University College London. However, I kept drawing and developed a sort of parallel life as a comic artist. When my science colleagues find out about it, many ask when I started drawing. My favourite answer: "When did you stop?"
Everyone draws as a child, long before we start reading books without pictures. The modern alphabet probably evolved as a simplified, symbolic version of pictorial languages, and since the beginning of history, art has been used to illustrate complex subjects. Therefore it is surprising that comics have historically been used merely as a form of entertainment.
Probably more than any other art form, comics are extremely well suited for education. The logical and temporal connections inside a comic page are not so dissimilar to flow diagrams or scientific illustrations, and graphic novels have already started to approach historical and political subjects, to great critical acclaim. Comics about science and medicine have started to appear, which is, for me, a revelation. Maybe we can finally have 'serious' books with pictures?
That is the idea behind 'Neurocomic'. I want to talk about the science I love through my art. I use pictures, metaphors and symbols instead of the technical language I had to learn in academia, with the hope that more people, maybe even children, will find it interesting and understandable.
I do not present art merely as a tool at the service of science. I would argue that scientists can also benefit greatly from art. Looking back at history, the best ideas often came from a crossover between different disciplines. The great Renaissance men were usually polymaths, dabbling in both science and art. Even Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, was a very skilled artist, whose drawings are still used in modern textbooks. It is always useful to approach the same problem from different perspectives.
Art has always helped me with my scientific studies. I was never able to understand something properly unless I could draw a picture of it. So please, do not ask me to choose.
This feature also appears in issue 72 of ‘Wellcome News’.
Image: Matteo Farinella.