Friday, September 16, 2011

Andrea Cau's Palaeo-art Commandments

So I'm way behind on things I wanted to say in our recent discussion on accuracy in palaeo-art(funny how a move to Hong Kong with less than 4 days notice can really disrupted everything in your life... this is why I've been pretty quiet as of late if you were wondering by the way!).

I wanted to touch on a tangent of palaeo-art discussion from earlier this year that didn't really take off (which is due to the tremendous year it has been in meta palaeo-art topics!). These are the commandments of palaeo-art...

In his essay, Taylor Reints touched on the "ten commandments of palaeo-art" drafted by Italian blogger extrodinare Andrea Cau. This list of directives is intended for us artists, and they have sat somewhat untouched or discussed within the palaeo-art community beyond David Maas and Stu Pond.

I thought why not throw the spot light on the commandments right now. Do artists need such a code for palaeo-art? More to the point is this code the one we should be using?

In case you don't know the commandments here they are as translated as I could collect. The fact these were originally written in Italian is probably why they were missed or skipped by most. The original set that hit the net in English was very babblefishy, and many of the commandments were unreadable. Hopefully I haven't botched them too bad, and if any of our Italian readership could correct me on mistakes or misinterpretations in the comments that'd be appreciated!

  1. Science is the source of paleoart

  2. Thou shalt have no other reference than the living creatures, because they represent the only available animals; before representing those extinct you must be able to represent the existing

  3. Thou shall not make an idol, model or inspiration out of any paleoart, and you will only be inspired by living creatures

  4. Thou shall not call a work “paleoart” in vain

  5. Thou shall honor anatomy and ecology

  6. Thou shall not plagiarize

  7. Thou shall not create mythology

  8. Thou shall not create false reconstruction

  9. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s techniques

  10. Thou shall not desire to impress others

So there they are again. Soak them in and please do let us know your thoughts in the comment section or your own post (send us an email at with your essay on the topic if you're not a member of the blog). Are these the rules we palaeo-artists should all be following?

For what their worth here is my two cents... I don't think these are particularly helpful. They read to me as a desired rule set imposed by an outsider. While I can understand the motivation behind them, as the one who actually has to follow them I just don't like them at all!

I also really dislike the connection to the 10 commandments. Sure it is a cute literary reference, but I have problems with trying to connect palaeo with something so overtly religious. I'm also not a big fan of dogmatic rule sets. In my opinion THE palaeo-art rule guide should approach the artist like their a descent human being, and talk to them not at them.

Much like David Maas I had problems with 9 and 10 as an artist. Every artist I've ever encountered seeks praise and recognition for and through their work. Otherwise we'd hide it from the world and you won't know we were an artist! I can't see this ever flying in face of artists being some of the greatest attention seekers out there!

Number 9 might suffer from translation issues, but to me the not coveting what other people are doing or how they're doing it doesn't work. I'm going to be using the same techniques recreate prehistoric critters (painting, CGing, sculpting etc). Not being able to copy style is equally meaningless. How different do the pieces have to be? How do you judge? Why does it matter anyways? To me the issue is if I'm copying someone to the point where we're indistinguishable. In that case I'm plagiarizing, and that is a real problem!

Speaking of plagiarism, rule #6 is a pretty no brainer for any creative field (whether it be art or science or whatever), and I don't think we need to codify it. Those who are violating this rule are beyond a simple 10 step set of guidelines in their moral conduct in the first place, and we probably need to engage them a bit more aggressive manner.

Number 4 not calling something Palaeo-art in vain... means what exactly? This verges on scientific snobbery in my opinion. Being palaeo-art does NOT mean something has to be a scientific reconstruction...

Number 2 while I understand an infusion of living analogues is a good thing, misses the point. Fossils should be the number one reference, and the living animals should merely be additional inspiration. Looking through many of the palaeo-art memes that people complain about it is funny how most are due to the artist referencing ONLY a modern animal (here for an example)!Number 3 is okay, but again very preachy. While you shouldn't outright stick to someone else's reconstruction, taking some direction or inspiration from them is fine.

Numbers 7 and 8 I will tackle in my next post. I really am skeptical of this attempted paradigm for palaeo-art (as I'm sure you've noticed over the years!), and I think a proactive approach (rather than retroactive name calling/criticisms) is needed. This I will be getting to in my next post.

I do really like number 1, and it can stay (however I consider any picture or a Dinosaur, no matter how bad based on science if I can tell what it is supposed to be... it is funny how much even terrible pictures still get right)! Number 5 is also a reasonable request (though I don't know if I'd want to REQUIRE it of non-scientific illustrations... and people this can not be over emphasised, there are scientific illustration pieces of palaeo-art, but not all palaeo-art is a scientific illustration!)

These are just my thoughts, and totally feel free to disagree...