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restricted access Jean-Michel Basquiat, Charles Darwin, T. H. Huxley, the Origin of Cotton and Gregor Mendel (Inventor of X-rays)

The drawing Untitled (Charles Darwin) (1983), by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, incorporates portraits of biologists, geneticists and genetical terms. What follows is a personal reflection on how the text and symbolism of Untitled affected the authors as plant breeders, causing them to pause and reflect on their own work and that of their field. They learned how art speaks to the spectator differently from direct conversation, allowing for subtler, but perhaps more effective, criticism and a unique opportunity for public peer review. By employing emotion and invoking empathy, art places scientists in the depths of the ethical, sociopolitical and historical contexts in which their work unfolds, urging them to see more fully. In the end, the authors expose their own biases.