Thursday, June 10, 2010

Philosofossilising- What is Palaeo Art (Matt van Rooijen)

This is a reply to the question:
What is Palaeo-Art?

This is an individual opinion on this topic. To read a number of different peoples' answer to this question click this link here. If you have your own answer, read the last paragraph of this post for details on how to get yours posted.

We have our first guest essay entry to this topic from Matt van Rooijen! We would like to thank Matt for taking the time to send us his thoughts, and hope our members and readers could take the time to show our collective appreciation for him taking the time to enter this discussion!

The administrators would just like to apologize to both Matt and our readers, that due to blogger's formatting restrictions, we were unable to underline the capital A's in Matt's essay as he wished them to be. So whenever you encounter the word "Art" with a capital A, Matt places emphasis on this as per his discussion.

Hi, my name's Matt van Rooijen and I'm an illustrator and animator living about as far away as you can get from anywhere else in Tasmania, Australia.

You might know me from illustrations such as these: or this:

I really wanted to talk about the notion of Art and art/illustration, and why the majority of Paleo-art isn't Art.

Before you rush to the keyboard to set the comments section on fire, take a deep breath and read on to discover why this is a good thing.

Now you might have noticed I've used Art with a capital A which I've underlined to make it stand out even more (insecure ain't I?).

This is because when most people talk about art what they really mean is a practice that depicts the world or an idea through human craft.

This is art with a small 'a'. People who are in the capital 'A' Art world consider this to be illustration, or even craft.

Why? Well there's a couple of things missing before something can be moved into the Art category.

Art has two significant components that move it away from illustration.

First is a conscious act of interpretation on the part of the Artist. What does this mean? Stuffed if I know.

Sorry, wine talking.

It's the decision to use the technique of the Artist(whether it be paint, sculpture, etc.) as a vehicle to interpret the meaning of the subject.

After re-reading that sentence possibly the wine is still talking.

Essentially the Artist doesn't care about accurate depiction or technique beyond achieving the second component of Art, which is:


A modern Artists' function is to personally comment upon their subject, usually to send a message to the audience of the Art.

To most people this sounds like self indulgent claptrap and their 5 year old could do Jackson Pollock's 'Blue Poles' in a frenzied 5 minutes of red cordial induced paint frenzy.

This is because the majority of people see Art as it was before the advent of photography. Accurate or even photographic depiction is what people admire because it has recognisable craftsmanship and demonstrates an ability honed with practice and dedication.(remember I said this, it'll help below)

Art had to move on and many painful decades on, guys throwing cow blood at walls elicit the same reaction now as the Impressionists did in their time.

So where does this leave Paleo-art?

Generally in the same place as Fantasy art, Science Fiction art, Wild life art, movie concept art, comic book art etc. It's for the most part Illustration.

Before firing up the flame cannon in the comments section remember: this is a good thing.
Often when I've said this to people who consider themselves Artists (who are actually doing illustration) they've become a bit insulted, for some reason they feel I'm saying what they do is somehow inferior.

It's not, it simply has a different goal. Art's job is to subjectively interpret and comment upon human existence.

So just stop and ask yourself, is that what you're doing when you paint, or draw or sculpt?
Then ask yourself, "Why the heck would I want to???? I was just painting Styracosaurus as accurately as I possibly could! Look, it's drinking at a river! It makes me happy! Leave me alone!"
So here's the clincher, Art doesn't demand what most people admire and recognise as skill: craftsmanship, realism, beauty, accuracy, style, interest.

Illustration, on the other hand, is a cruel and demanding mistress who actually asks you to make something that looks like something! Draw in your viewer! Use your understanding of perspective, values, composition! (must stop drinking wine)

It isn't to say Art can't have those qualities, but they aren't a prerequisite, and they certainly aren't valued in the same way.

After reading a couple of essays on Paleo-art, for the most part the goal of Paleo-art is to create accurate images which are the depiction of a somewhat removed reality.

People talk about accuracy and current understanding of the science as significant criteria, not whether the work will convey the deeper meaning of that science on culture and subjective human existence.(yawn)

I've seen a few works here that do actually do this, but those quietly move themselves outside the realm of Paleo-art and into just Art. The Paleo tag becomes redundant.(Art's selfish ain't it?)
So what is Paleo-art? I know it's most often not Art, but most of what we think of as Art isn't anyway. What we usually value and regard as admirable doesn't need that label.

Nor should it want it.


PS: I trained as a Fine Artist, but what I admire and enjoy most in life is illustration, art with a little 'a', in all its forms.

-- Matt van Rooijen

ART Evolved is very interested in other opinions on this topic, and would welcome your answer to this question. If you would like to enter an article on "What is Palaeo-art", please read the brief criteria here, and send your essay to