Saturday, March 9, 2013

All Yesterdays the new movement(?)...

So of course by now, especially if you're into palaeo-art, you've no doubt heard about the new book All Yesterdays.

Now I will be up front right away, I haven't read it yet. At the same time I've been keeping up with the blog posts, opinion piece, palaeo-art community's commentary, and also watched the video of the book launch. So while I'm not claiming to know all the details, but I think I got the main gist.

This book has caused quite a stir by finally articulating the thoughts and feelings of the "modern" era of palaeontologists and artists (modern as in those who started in the science since the millenum). While many were calling for and suggesting what All Yesterdays is about, the book is a solid rallying point for a possible new movement in palaeo-art.

While I certainly dig a lot of what I've heard and read, I do have some slight reservations about how this new  paradigm of palaeo-art could materialize, wait till the end on that though. Most of what I have to say is good.

The Good
By C. M. Kosemen from All Yesterdays
One of the best things about All Yesterdays is its attack on the shrink wrapped look of Dinosaurs the past 20-30 years. The illustrations of modern animals in the style of palaeo-art is certainly an interesting slap in the face to most palaeo-artists (though I'd argue Louis Rey should get credit for fighting the shrink wrapping for years now).

Hopefully we'll see some more realistic Saurian body image shortly in the future, and less Dinosaur super models :P

The Great
By John Conway from All Yesterdays
The advocating for more variation, variety, and imagination in reconstructions (while hardly new) is refreshing (none the less). Especially in trying to depict new novel behaviour.

I especially love the fusion of John Conway's artistic talents with Darren Naish's encyclopaedic biologic know how as a inspiration point.

The Fantastic

By John Conway from All Yesterdays
There is a hope (possibly slim, but hope none the less) that this could lead to the end of palaeo-art memes. Perhaps we'll finally see artists dare to recreate prehistory in all manner of new and non cliched manners.

The Bad

By John Conway from All Yesterdays
Where I worry about this push for the new and novel, is the possibility of outlandish and completely fictional misconceptions that could get out there.

Yes the authors urge for caution and reason in the speculation artists pursue. However out of the images I've seen I can't help but notice the authors themselves already have taken, in my opinion, a flight of fancy.

Now for what I'm about to say, I openly say I haven't read the book, so perhaps there is some explanation I am unaware of...

In the above picture of the "Carpet Pleisosaur" we see a Pleisosaur engaged in extreme camouflage. It is an outstandingly beautiful piece of art, and I was drawn to it from the moment I saw it. Yet the (amateur) scientist in me was immediately very worried about it.

This overall concept is based on a carpet shark. An animal that has devoted its whole morphology to this lying around ambushing prey. Superficially it sounds like an ideal energy efficient way to catch your prey. Only problem is it relies on the shark being able to breath underwater.

Plesiosaurs couldn't do that! Okay what about some species of turtles I hear you asking. Well yes they do do this. However they are much smaller than any Plesiosaur I know of, and these turtles (as far as I'm aware) all live in fresh water.

Further more the Plesiosaur has too many adaptations for open water fast swimming for this to be an ideal life style strategy for it. Again back to the turtles. The ones that lurk still at the bottom of the water ambushing stuff have stubby limbs. The ones with long flippers, aka sea turtles, actively swim around. The carpet shark has very minimized fins compared to other sharks.

Overall this doesn't just strike me as fanciful speculation, it is outright ignoring the science we have on Plesiosaurs.

I worry with this new movement based on "speculation" for the sake of nothing but speculation, we will get a lot of fiction and misinformation out there about prehistoric life. More to the point it takes the science out of scientific reconstruction. We would then just be engaged in imaginative reconstruction. I don't see this as helping palaeontology constructively...


Ian said...

Great post! Like you I haven't yet read the book, but you have nicely summed up my own thoughts on the "movement." I'm all for putting more imagination into paleoart, but we need to make sure we don't overdo it.

Hadiaz said...

I wouldn't say that size is necessarily an issue, given that Thalassiodracon (100-200 lbs) overlaps w/the alligator snapping turtle (150-180 lbs). However, I agree w/everything else you said.

Hadiaz said...

Almost forgot: If I need ART Evolved's help w/something dino-related, should I ask you guys here or email you at Many thanks in advance.

Craig Dylke said...

Hadiaz- Thanks for the species of Pleisoaur. Like I said haven't read the book, and no one posting this pic on the web named it anything other than Plesiosaur.

While the Alligator Snapper and the Thalassiodracon match in weight, their overall body proportions (which I would argue are more important) are completely different. The Thalassy spreads that weight over 2 meters, while the Turtle is a compact brick at under a meter typically.

Craig Dylke said...

Hadiaz- a comment or email works just as well for the help.

davidmaas said...

It's interesting that you react adversely to the plesiosaur. I love this illustration, reacting adversely to the duck penis (as described on my blog). The book - and I highly recommend reading it before summing up conclusions - says this: "as an air-breather, the dive-time of our camouflaged lurker would be limited, but could theoretically still be long enough to allow fruitful hunting in areas of rich prey density."

As a snorkel who has followed a sea turtle for nearly half an hour hoping to witness it surface, I certainly find this plausible. At any rate, I'd certainly give Darren Naish the benefit of the doubt on knowing more about this than I do.

Craig Dylke said...

However Sea Turtles don't lurk on the bottom with paddles that big, because they are adapted for open water swimming.

I would expect a Plesiosaur to reduce its fin length for this lifestyle. It is unnesseary for shallow water swimming and the fins would make it harder to lie on the bottom of the water (all the modern bottom lurker analogues I'm aware of are very compact not long necked and long finned).

davidmaas said...

The flexibility of the fins also come into play... to push up away from the bottom. Perhaps combined with other life style elements.

Thing is, the speculation has in this case done what good speculation should, as it launches a discussion of plausibility in regards to specific morphological traits. Whereas a duck penis remains a duck penis.

Hadiaz said...

@Craig Dylke: "Thanks for the species of Pleisoaur."

Sorry, but I actually don't know either. I picked Thalassy as an example b/c, based on what I've read, it's the smallest known plesiosaur. It's too bad there aren't any shallow-water plesiosaurs b/c then 1 could argue that they used their long necks as snorkels to get more air w/out having to move much. ;)

@Craig Dylke: "a comment or email works just as well for the help."

I recently posted my 1st 2 dino-related Amazon Reviews & was wondering if you guys would help me in the following ways.

"My favorite serious dino book" ( ): I just need you to vote "Yes" under "Was this review helpful to you?" It needs all the "Yes" votes it can get b/c it's for a great book that deserves more attention.

"More of the same old nonsense" ( ): In addition to voting "Yes" for this review, it'd be cool if you'd vote "Yes" for Emily's review ("More than misguided, but with small nuggets of value"). Our reviews need all the "Yes" votes they can get (especially mine) to make up for being outnumbered by the opposing (BANDit) reviews which, unlike our reviews, don't give a good idea of what to expect.

Long story short, voting "Yes" for both of my reviews is for the sake of promoting education & awareness. Many thanks in advance.

P.S. I'd also appreciate it if you'd spread the word to any like-minded friends/family/colleagues/etc. w/Amazon accounts. If you want, you can just forward them this note while adding how you know me & what exactly BANDits are.

Craig Dylke said...

Hadiaz- I can try to type it up.

However I won't lie, I'm pretty busy at moment. So I may miss some details (and may not get to it for a few days).

If you wanted it up in full detail and in a timely fashion, I can either:

Cut/Paste/Post a write up of this.

Or I can add you to ART Evolved's membership and you can just post it yourself.

Hadiaz said...

Craig Dylke: "Or I can add you to ART Evolved's membership and you can just post it yourself."

Does that mean I'd be able to post dino-related stuff here on a regular basis? Sounds good to me! What do I have to do as a new member?

Craig Dylke said...

Hadiaz- It is pretty easy.

If you have an existing google/blogger/G+ account just email me ( the address this account is based on OR if you don't have one of those just email me an active email account you won't mind a blogger account getting based on.

I then just enter your email into our blog's authorship, the blog emails you a notification, you accept it, and you can post anything and everything palaeo-art related on here that you like.