If you haven't read the news recently, there is a bit of a problem with the education system in the United States—especially when it comes to fields that fall outside of the humanities. The US is significantly lagging when it comes to classes on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
Fortunately, there are a number of individuals who are working to encourage young people in the sciences, math etc.
Hadria Beth is one person trying to get people to "indulge their inner geek." She is an artist, and through her work she has taught us about dwarf stars and supergiants, shown us that ice is kind of hipster, that oxidation is hilarious, that parallel lines are a little sad, and helped us all remember little Pluto. Nearly all of her work is science themed.
From Quarks to Quasars recently sat down to talk with her about her work and whether art can really help increase interest in the sciences.
From Quarks to Quasars: So this is the obligatory question that every interviewer has to ask an artist: When did you develop your passion for art?
Hadria Beth Hermele: The moment I was old enough to hold a crayon and draw I was obsessed. After that, there was always a pencil and sketchbook in my hands.
FQTQ: Well, I suppose you were fairly young then. What about as you grew up. Were there any particular artists that you looked up to? Are there any that still inspire you?
HBH: I’ve always been inspired by Gustav Klimt’s use of color, pattern, texture, and emotion. He has it all, and I can stare at his paintings for hours. Also, a lot of my inspiration growing up was Charles Schulz (Peanuts). I felt like his characters were so relatable and appealed to everyone. They were simply drawn, yet they had such personality. I’ve always admired artists that could make you fall in love with a character with just a few pencil lines. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist because of him. (He passed away on my birthday and I was so sad!)
FQTQ: So you've always had a passion for art, but what were you doing before you decided to become a full time artist, and what made you make the switch?
HBH: After earning a BS in Fine Art, I became an office manager. I think my lack of confidence in my abilities (plus a decent salary) made me stay in that line of work for about 15 years. There was one exception: I worked for an apparel company as a designer for a year. At the time, little did I know how valuable that experience would become for me later!
Over the last two years, my fiancé (now husband) urged me to quit my office job and devote myself to art full time. I was terrified. Eventually he wore me down. Plus, my unhappiness [with my job] overtook my fear, so I took the plunge. I am so glad I did. I didn’t even know what I was going to do, other than focus on my art. I was submitting designs to Threadless just for fun. My most popular design (Hugs are for Planets Only) scored well but wasn’t chosen for printing. However, people kept asking me where they could get it on a shirt. So I made some! Which then lead to a very successful Kickstarter campaign (talk about a confidence booster). And here I am.
FQTQ: That's great. You are clearly passionate about your work, but what about people in general? I guess what I am asking is, in your opinion, Why do people need art? What does it do for us?
HBH: Art inspires us. It challenges us. It makes people think. It’s beautiful. Art allows you to see world through another person’s eyes and share your experiences with others. I couldn’t imagine a world without art.
FQTQ: A lot of your art focuses on science, mathematics, the universe etc. Why this focus?
HBH: I’m a geek. I am especially fascinated by astronomy, space travel, and space exploration. I could ponder the universe for hours. I love discovery and the unknown. It makes my imagination run wild, and it's incredibly inspiring. Science in general is mankind’s most signification contribution to our species. If someone looks at one of my designs and it fosters an interest in the sciences, I feel like it was a success.
FQTQ: Can you say a bit more about that final point? What can art (or artists) do for science?
HBH: Art inspires people. A beautiful painting of a nebula might inspire someone to learn more about astronomy, and another astrophysicist is born. A scientist viewing an abstract painting could suddenly rethink a theory and come up with the next big breakthrough. If science is the brain of humanity, the arts are the heart. We need both, and they work marvelously together.
FQTQ: Are there any scientists that you look up to or that particularly inspire you?
HBH: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I grew up watching Carl Sagan in the original Cosmos series. He was a huge reason why I became interested in the sciences as a child. His passion was infectious. Stephen Hawking is not only one of the most brilliant minds of our time, overcoming such incredible obstacles makes him all the more inspiring. And Neil deGrasse Tyson is not only a brilliant astrophysicist, he has this way of explaining very complex ideas that appeal to everyone. He is inspiring an entirely new generation! (He is also top on my list of people I’d like to meet someday.)
FQTQ: Do you think that our society is really invested in science?
HBH: Sadly, not enough. Cutting NASA’s funding really depressed me. The sciences make our lives better, we live longer, we’re healthier, and new discoveries and inventions help everyone (not to mention our planet). Education, funding, and fostering interest in the sciences should be one of society’s top priorities.
FQTQ: What can/should be done to make people more interested in the sciences?
HBH: Getting kids more engaged and encouraging their natural curiosities at a young age, I think, could help quite a bit. Girls especially need that extra encouragement to recognize that science/math careers are not exclusive to boys. Also, having more shows like Cosmos on tv during primetime inspires children and adults alike! I really hope they make a second season.