Thursday, September 1, 2011

Philosofossilising: Want accuracy in palaeo-art? Do something about it!

This time ART Evolved's Craig Dylke responding to the question:

Just how important is scientific accuracy in Palaeo-art? Is palaeontology, and by association those who follow the technical side of the science, becoming too judgemental towards the artistic efforts of palaeo-artists?

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 on ART Evolved.

Are you someone who wants more accuracy in modern palaeo-art?

If so, I want you to help us here at ART Evolved develop a new method for bridging the gap between the science and the art. The current tactics by academically literate people are not working with many palaeo-artists. So stop complaining about the situation or the art, and follow me through what will hopefully be a drafting of a new glorious future for more accurate palaeo-art.

I see the main reason (many) artists are ignoring (or missing) modern palaeo understanding is that too much of the important information from current research is contained (only) within the academic literature. While there are many great science literate people out there telling us artists this information exists, I don't feel they are going about it the right way.

Simply pointing out to many artists their picture is wrong, due to a certain paper, isn't helpful. Even if the intention is trying to helpfully get the artist to look up the paper. Many of us don't have easy access to academic papers (if you're not attached to an academic institution this can be quite time (or money) consuming. Time (and money) we could use for art). Even if we had the paper, many artists don't have the scientific literacy to precisely decipher the information from a full on technical document.

Artists are visual literate, and they will reference things in this "language". This is why artists often reference previous reconstructions, and end up copying mistakes from older palaeo-art. For more obscure creatures we can even find the genesis of palaeo-art "memes" (as Darren Naish has coined them) that can continue to crop up within the field.

To break the cycle of palaeo-art memes, scientifically inclined people need to stop simply complaining about them, and help us artists out in a way that is actually helpful! I think it is fair to say the artists are carrying out their end of the palaeo-art equation. We've seen an ever increasing number of reconstructions emerging recently. However the technical literature side of the equation hasn't properly adapted to the new situation of many amateur palaeo-artists not being as science oriented as one might hope (again for many of us this is a hobby we do on the side of our otherwise busy lives!).

If you are going to spend the time to call for accuracy, spend it constructively for all of us! Go grab that technical information out of the literature and translate it into a public artist friendly format!

Things like nitpicking reviews or full manifestos of rules for palaeo-art, essentially deconstructive responses, won't cut it anymore!

Instead go through your paper(s) of choice and write up a quick brief on what an artist should do or include in a reconstruction of *insert prehistoric critter of your choice*. We here at ART Evolved are aiming to launch a date base (whether it be hosted on this site, link to other blogs, or on a separate site) for such briefs/kits that artists can reference to get their reconstructions correct.

I think having something public and accessible, that we can point artists to, will be a far more powerful means of improving the base quality of all palaeo-art being created in the modern era. If we translate the technical language into artist language than people can start legitimately complaining.

We will do a more formal announcement on how we're planning to launch the database, but this shouldn't stop you from launching briefs for your favourite prehistoric critters!

ART Evolved member Matt Martyniuk (who is a very lucky individual being both science and artistically literate) has been doing an outstanding job of tackling papers and extracting the relevant information for a reconstruction on his own blog. Just check out how fantastic he took on Hesperornis' toothed beak and Theropod Wrists. You're brief doesn't even have to be this detailed as his!

The only problem I see with these briefs is the visual examples. Some technical people might be daunted by having to illustrate concepts. That is where ART Evolved comes in! There is bound to be someone out of our talented pool who would love to help you create the definative illustrated guide on how to accurately recreate your prehistoric critter.

So please don't just complain about the lack of science in palaeo-art, do something useful about it!

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 "Just how important is scientific accuracy in Palaeo-art? ", please read the brief criteria here, and send your essay to


Alessio said...

Nitpicking just for nitpicking' sake is not only a waste of time, but it also alienates "simple" dinosaur/prehistory lovers from the real source of all we know about those magnificent creatures, aka paleontology.

Albertonykus said...

I'd certainly welcome and be glad to help with such a database. Though I do learn most of this stuff from Matt Martyniuk to begin with, so I think he's got maniraptors covered. XD

Even as something of a nitpicker myself (sorry), I can certainly sympathize. Without people like Matt Martyniuk, I'd never have known as much as I presently do. And even for those who do read the scientific literature, it's probably still useful to have someone synthesizing all the different sources into something substantial.

Mike Taylor said...

Good stuff.

Just one thing: getting papers is nowhere near as hard as it was even just a few years ago. See

A much-neglected route: just email the author and ask for copies. 99% of authors are delighted that someone cares about their work and will be glad to help.

davidmaas said...

I think its fair to add that scientists are working towards outreach in general and requesting a specific subset for artists is done with a defty advance gratitude. So, thanks to anyone out there who wants to do one!

Also, there's a lot out there already... Matt's Pimping Haid Pods
( in response to Brian Engh's cool illu query, Darren's frustration-born Pod Hands guide (
and I recall detailed Pterosaur stuff, Dave Hone and the others at

Many of these have been borne of queries directed at them by artists, so I'd extend this ide to us artists... when you contact someone and get feedback, put it together in a package for the rest of us. I'm working on one with Heinrich Mallison called "Mammals vs Dinosaurs - drawing the difference".

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Alessio- I couldn't agree more.

Though let’s not dub the vast majority of palaeo-fans "simple". For lack of a better term let’s say "casual", though I don't even like this term, but it is certainly less insulting. Just because one can't out latin someone else doesn't mean their interest in the field is any less valid. If anything I grew very tired and unimpressed by academic role players, who simply read and quote other people's research, but yet produce nothing themselves (be it research or art).

Albertonykus- Just because Matt is doing an amazing job doesn't mean you're off the hook :P

We'd love any and all help you could give us. You do a fantastic job keeping me on task over on Mass Imagination. Just transfer those skills (including your art :P) over here!

Mike- Thank you for reminding me of this strategy of getting papers. For our artists who can make use of papers this will be quite helpful.

I still see there being many otherwise capable artists who don't have the knowledge and/or patience to actually wade through a paper and find the information relevant for their reconstruction.

I'm suggesting a division of labor as it were, with people doing the part they enjoy the most. Researchers, such as yourself, have been doing their part for over a 150 years :P So I have no complaints there.

Artists (especially in the past 5 years) have also been doing their part. However when it comes to looking through papers, I don't see this as an enjoyable (or productive) task for every artist...

This is where I see the literature enthusiasts (those who read papers, but don't actually write them) being a huge, but relatively underutilized, part of the palaeo-art chain. Especially as they are the principal group I notice complaining about art. Time for them to offer a useful fix to the situation.

David- A very valid point. One I know very well having had the privilege of working alongside 5 professionals who kindly donated their time for free to help me out.