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