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Meet our student-artist: Ardria (AJ) McDonald

Hi!! I’m Ardria (AJ) McDonald, and I’m a rising senior who’s dual majoring in both Biology & Art at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. This is my second year of participating in the VI4 AiR program, where we were paired with labs and worked together with researchers to create illustrations representing their work. This year, I got the chance to be in a group with other HBCU students, which I loved since we had very similar interests in both art and science, even if our career paths were slightly different. In my free time (when I’m not sleeping), I like to watch shows and read, and the media I consume is what gives me inspiration when I put the pencil on the paper, or the brush on the canvas. This inspiration drives me to see the connection between storytelling in art and science, and this summer I got the chance to explore that more.

Storytelling, to me, is a way to get people invested in whatever you do. Last school year, I had to work with a group in my classes and develop some creative stories inspired by what we had learned in our labs. That’s when I realized that storytelling can be such a rich tool in making more complex topics digestible to everyone, not just those who have backgrounds in science. Not every detail in a scientific topic can be covered in an artistic medium, but despite this shortcoming, I still firmly believe that it can help people gain a general understanding, and with that understanding, it can help them develop an interest in science. If not, they can at least walk away with a better understanding of science for everyday life, classes, and so on.

As for storytelling in art, I believe that art is a universal language. If you draw a picture of a cat, you could travel around the world and people would be like “yeah that’s a cat”. But even for more complex pieces that could give multiple interpretations, you can still gain some sort of understanding of what the artist means to portray. Art itself tells a story, and maybe not everyone interprets a story the same way. But an understanding is there. And if not that, then an appeal is. Art is present in just about everything; there’s something that appeals to everyone. In that, the collaboration of art and science can open up new perspectives and understanding for everyone, even if the science seems confusing or daunting. 

All this being said I put these thoughts towards my proposal; I was more focused on an artistic perspective to tell a story rather than telling it with words and a visual. A simple illustration can really give more details than spelling out the entire topic, and this was my focus. I wanted to drive the point home in as few words as possible, and in this case: none. There’s nothing wrong with a written narrative or story (especially since I’ve made stories), but I wanted to keep it simple this year so the art and composition could do the talking instead. To be honest, I’m happy with the result!

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