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david's really interesting pages | palaeoart, animation and stuff
david's really interesting pages | palaeoart, animation and stuff

What it is… paleoart.

‘Tis the season to list the do’s and don’ts of paleoart, and Andrea Cau has just posted a simple but interesting list of commandments at his blog. Beyond the potential of taking googlithic translations to seriously, here the list polished in English slightly by myself (which does not exclude misinterpretations):

I – Science is the source of paleoart
II – Thou shall take no reference beyond living creatures, as these represent the closest kin of extinct beasts
III – Thou shall not make any idol, model or inspiration paleoart between the past and living, but you will always be inspired by the only living creatures
IV – Thou shall not call a work “paleoart” in vain
V – Thou  shall honor anatomy and ecology
VI – Thou shall not plagiarize
VII – Thou shall not create mythology
VIII – Thou shall not create false reconstruction
IX – Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s techniques
X – Thou shall not desire to impress others

Okay, not sure if google was adept enough to take a swig at nr. III, (anyone able to translate that?) but I think the others were fairly close. I, II, IV, V and VIII all seem very straightforward, though I suspect any attempt to concretely define what they mean would lead to some interesting discussion.

IV has been a subject of some contention at artEvolved, with a polarization between the ‘illustrators’ such as myself and those who defend more artistic liberties such as Glendon – resolved at least for now as an issue of semantics.

Until last week, I would have said VI is clear-cut as well, but – well, now I’ll pass.

VII is an interesting formulation. I’d interpret this as a call to resist seeing what you wish to, and allow your work to be driven by what’s there. As such it echoes the others, but I like the way it rings out on its own.

With IX and X the peace fest ends, however…
why should I not covet cool techniques? Why shouldn’t I be driven by them, to learn and improve and inspire the next guy or gal? Particularly in an age of digital toolsets that offer little precedence, of 3D technologies that are perceived as ‘cold’ and expensive, but which offer an efficiency explosion? The science is so complex, the toolsets are so complex… I only see one chance of making all this proceed at a rate which is rewarding and fun… cooperation. I propose: IX – Thou shall open thy tool shed, and wield the tools of thy neighbor with respect, credit and reflection. (And no, I don’t mean those tools.)

And X is an alien thought to me, but this may well lie in the depths of google’s Italian… I’m in this to impress others. Unequivocally. I can understand a scientist being content to study bones, publish papers and dodge public opinion. But I have no chance of becoming a great paleologist, and am really not in it for that. I want to infect others with the impressions I’ve been given. I want kids, adults and aliens to look at this stuff with the amazement that I feel. So I weight this and push that and try to make a story out of it. I’d change this last one to something like: X – Thou shall tremor with excitement and endeavor to endow others with this same infliction.

I’s also probably ditch the biblical tone. 🙂 Your thoughts?

Link to Andrea’s blog.

There are 14 Comments to this article

Andrea Cau says:

Damned GoogleTranslator!
The third should be translated as:
III – Thou shall not make any idol, model or inspiration from past and living paleoartists, but you will always be inspired by the only living creatures.

It means: please, create new paleoart inspired by the Nature, and not by Greg Paul, Burian, Martin, Rey or others.

The X is exactly as you translated: remember that I’m a paleontologist, not an artist: I love scientific PALEOart and not impressive paleoART. The aim of paleoart should be scientific illustration first and not mere fiction (this is also the meaning of the IV).

d maas says:

Come on, Andrea – I’ve drooled over those reconstructions of yours. You ARE an artist! Your science credentials don’t interrupt with your abilities, just compliment them. I agree that the correctness and plausibility have absolute priority, but suspect a close second is to woo your fellow men – and yourself! To see those long extinct creatures in living colors and forms. nah… not buying X.

d maas says:

And thanks for the translation on III…. makes sense that way!

Andrea Cau says:

Read the tenth commandment in this way: if one is a real good paleoartist he does not need to surprise and impress, because his paleoartistic work is already exciting by its quality.

The X and the III are mutually linked.

d maas says:

hmmm… perhaps that might be worded better, maybe: Thou shall not try to impress with anything other than the scientific basis.

But still, wouldn’t this mean you shouldn’t rely on composition and lighting to impress? Yet those must certainly be valid tools.
Hmmm, may I ask how you feel about Henderson’s artwork? He prioritizes scene and mood over scientific specimen. That breaks with X, doesn’t it?

d maas says:

Oh man… sorry. I neglected a link to Andrea’s blog. Corrected.

Traumador the Tyrannosaur says:

I do have my own minor issue, and that is of the insistence of living animals as totally trustable analouges. Yes they are important, but there is a dogma they are the only solution.

There is no analouge for many of the cool critters of the Cambrian, no modern animal has wings like a Pterosaur, and nothing has a nose like an Ankylosaur… I think a bit of creative injection is acceptable on the soft tissue. So many living things leave no clue in their skeletons as to how crazy and wonderful their soft tissue is in life.

Andrea Cau says:

@David: I love Henderson’s works because he is great in creating scenes based on a deep knowledge of the environments. Although very impressive, his superb art is always scientific, not a fantasy play.
@Traumador: the aim of my words was to prevent the abuse of plagiarism, since most paleoartists prefer to copy other artists instead of looking at the natural world as a source of inspiration. I recognise that not all extinct species have good modern analogue, but a well founded elaboration of a natural analogue is better than a mere copying of other works.

Traumador the Tyrannosaur says:

Andrea- cool, and understood. I wasn’t taking a hostile aim at you personally.

My position is founded on the critiques I have been receiving from many up and coming teen palaeontologists, where they critize my stuff for not looking like a modern “insert” animal. They are fixating on the modern analouge model too much in my opinion. Hopefully formal post-secondary will fix them of it. At moment they follow it as dogma, and I don’t think that is healthy for the science or their outlook. Nature is extremely diverse and free flowing. I see no reason prehistoric critters could’t have been radically different from our modern ones…

I just wanted to point out this issue when drawing on modern animals. Good for ideas, but not by an means the truth!

Glendon Mellow says:

I will continue to cheerfully disagree with #IV – even scientifically inaccurate art inspired by paleontology can be paleoatr. I prefer to see paleoart as a big umbrella sheltering both scientific illustrations and fanciful paleo-inspired artwork such as my own. So long as the latter is clearly fanciful and not merely careless.

d maas says:

@Glendon: LoL!
And I’ll continually cheerfully differentiate between your cool fanciful paleo-inspired artwork and your cool paleoartwork.


Traumador the Tyrannosaur says:

Yeah I agree with Glendon. Just because something is considered accurate now, down the road it could become incredibly incorrect.

While the work of Charles Knight is still impressive, would it really be considered palaeo-art today? It is grossly inaccurate, but yet we hold onto it. Why is a winged-trilobite any different?

I’d wager 90% of “palaeo-art” is inaccurate right this moment. Within a decade any piece will most likely proven “wrong” on something, so HOW can you seriously claim accuracy as a key requirement? Than nothing will be palaeo-art for long.

I say so long as it is good enough to connect people with a concept of prehistoric is palaeo-art…

dmaas says:

I’d say 100% of palaeoart is inaccurate. We’ll never fully know what these animals looked like, how they behaved. It’s about the intention: and the intention of palaeoart is to visualize a plausible reconstruction, reflecting as much about what we know.
So, as much as I might enjoy dinosaurs battling it out in WorldWarII, or trilobites with wings, I have to accept that their intention is either entertainment or awareness or something beyond the context of a plausible reconstruction.

I actually like Glendon’s distinction: palaeoart and palaeo-inspired art. Sums it up quite nicely without implying that one is less than the other.

Andrea Cau says:

I agree with David.
Paleoart = scientifically accurate art not contradicted by (nor in contradiction with) current scientific knowledge.
Since paleontology evolves (and hypotheses should become obsolete), then paleoart evolves accordingly.
I have nothing against those creating fantasy inspired by paleontology, but a reconstruction contradicted by the contemporary scientific knowledge is paleo-inspired pop art, not paleoart.
Knight’s art was paleoart in 1940 because he reproduced what scientists had believed dinosaurs were in 1940. At the same time, now it is not paleoart, but “paleo-vintage”, a good example of what paleoart was in 1940.

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