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...