Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Article-Philosofossilising What is Palaeo-Art (Manabu Sakamoto)

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.

It has been a while since I contributed anything to Art Evolved, so I thought, 'when better to start than "Philosofossilising" (if I can ever pronounce it, let alone spell it right!)?'.

As a professional palaeontologist, I owe quite a lot to palaeo-art; palaeo-art is pretty much the sole inspiration for me to I go into palaeontology. I didn't grow up hunting fossils, neither did I grow up going to museums to see fossil on display. I can't even remember being fascinated by fossils as a kid. No, I grew up mesmerized by life reconstructions of dinosaurs. It was mostly books, but also Betamax (remember those?) recordings of TV shows featuring stop-motion dinosaurs, and the occasional roaring dinosaur animatronics that at museums and exhibitions that my dad would take us to. So for me, it has always been life-restorations, or palaeo-art, that drew me to palaeontology.

There was one book in particular that I liked very much. Some of the illustrations in it were so realistic to me, I thought for a long time that they were photographs. Of course, all the bipedal dinosaurs are rearing up like GOJIRA so it's not terribly accurate any more.

Photo of the book cover

But they did what they were supposed to do; bring extinct creatures back to life. Some may argue that research on fossils brings extinct creatures back to life, but I would argue that raw research output is not necessarily easy to visualise. What I mean is that research output wouldn't necessarily make it into a kids book of dinosaurs; but illustrations do. Palaeo-art puts the flesh on the bones, breaths life into fossils, and places the organisms in their living environment. Fossils and research on them provide evidence and educated inferences on the life-anatomy or life-function of some physical traits but it requires some extra steps for that information to be incorporated into a 'life-restoration', the organism brought back to life in a way people can see. People (not just kids) need to see these extinct creatures as they may have looked in life, in order for them to appreciate that such creatures existed as living, breathing creatures on this very Earth. Life-restorations have the power to convince people that fossils were at one time living organisms, eating and frolicking like cats and dogs (or maybe scuttling around like bugs or just swaying in the current of the ancient seas). And palaeo-art, whether it be painting, sculpture or animatronics, is pretty much the only way to present them as living organisms.

To close, I guess I should answer the question 'what is palaeo-art?' - for me, palaeo-art is the art of bringing long dead creatures back to life, and giving us excitement and inspiration as a result. Inspiration, because here is one palaeontologist that was inspired to be one thanks to palaeo-art.

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 artevolved@gmail.com.