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February 23, 2006
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:iconnyctopterus: - My other account.
:iconpaleoartists: - Palaeoartists group.
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To whoever bought an the Anhanguera piscator print, I am your best friend forever.

The Failure of the Palaeontographical Tradition

It is said that a lot of great art was religiously inspired, and I don't know whether that is true or not, but it's certainly true that a lot of great art has religious themes. Or more to the point, religion is backed up by a lot of great art. It worries me that  by comparison the scientific artistic tradition is poor.

Illustrating the story of creation from a scientific standpoint we have palaeoart (or palaeontography as I like to call it). And while there is a lot of palaeontological art I like, and some which I think is very good indeed, I think that it has largely failed as an artistic movement. There are failures on two levels, one one level it's quality as illustration is not high, and indeed is getting worse. On another level even the very best palaeoart fails to be what would once have been called sublime, and lacks the higher concepts one would expect in great scientific art.

Most palaeontological illustration is fairly crass, aesthetically speaking - largely made to shock the eye, and monstrificate* the subject. This is a failure of the artistic tradition of palaeontology. I understand there are time constraints, and expectations from editors and publishers that make it difficult; but the internal culture of palaeontological does nothing to resist the drift toward the crass commercialisation of style. Indeed, their is no internal criticism of style at all. Criticism focuses on the technical aspects of scientific accuracy, never on aesthetic merits. This has to change.

The other level (the one I find more interesting because I think it applies to me and all the palaeontological artists I really like) is that virtually no palaeontological art is conceptually or aesthetically innovative. When was the last time you saw a piece of palaeontological art that changed the way you thought about evolution? I have never seen such a thing, which seem to me to be a disastrous failure of the intellectual underpinnings of our tradition.

To become conceptually and aesthetically innovative, I think palaeontological art has to explore more abstract styles, emphasising conceptual aspects of palaeontology, and focus less on the straight representation of ancient life.

That's where I'm headed anyhow.

*Another new word.

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Palaeontography

Help me hijack this largely disused word and use it as a synonym for the awkward and poorly formed "palaeoart".

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My work at Paleoartists:

Solos:
[ Deinonychus antirrhopus ] [ Kakuru kujani ] [ Kronosaurus queenslandicus ] [ Leaellynasaura amigrapica ] [ Rhamphorynchus gemmingi ]

Collaborations:
[ Arizonasaurus + TarryAGoat ] [ Daspetosaurus torosus + jslice ] [ Parasaurolophus walkeri + Gondolendian ]

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Palaeoartists on DA:
Andalgalornis Archosaurian aspidel Beast-of-Chaos briankroesch chasmosaur dustdevil Gondolendian Hairen Hotherym jeffquinn Khaan little-al MattMart Outlier tuomaskoivurinne Qilong Red-Dilopho Sainte-Vincient danieljoelnewman TarryAGoat unlobogris
  • Mood: Mad
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:iconnemo-ramjet:
nemo-ramjet Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2007
My latest dinosauroid pieces were greatly inspired by your line of thinking.
Reply
:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2007
I think they're the best attempt I've seen at what I've been trying to get across. They're really beautiful too. I hope you're not bullshitting me about being influenced by what I say, because that's pretty awesome and makes me feel all smug inside.
Reply
:iconnemo-ramjet:
nemo-ramjet Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2007
I'm definitely not bullshitting, rest assured. I'd independently gotten that hunch a while before, but reading your journal consolidated it.
Reply
:iconbrad-ysaurus:
Brad-ysaurus Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2006
Damn, John. That's the most depressing rant I've read in a long time. No wonder I don't do much dabbling in palaeontography anymore.
Reply
:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2006
Yeah, it's one of the reasons I can't stick at it either. I don't feel I'm part of something intellectually worthwhile.
Reply
:iconarchosaurian:
Archosaurian Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2006
Its not depressing, its the truth.
Reply
:iconkuwaizair:
Kuwaizair Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2006
I wish my dinos were good, I'm in one Prehistoric times but I'll never be in national geographic, how do I make better stuff my heart isnt there
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2006
If your heart isn't there, then you probably can't.
Reply
:iconnambroth:
Nambroth Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2006  Professional General Artist
I will agree- everyone has said it much more eloquently than myself, but this is the direction I'm trying to head. My main hinderances are a lack of knowledge and skill.. but these come with time and patience (and work). Perhaps in 10 years I will be at a level where I can do this sort of thing.
Reply
:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2006
Well the skill is there, but you'd probably have to be a lot palaeo-nerdier...
Reply
:iconsainte-vincient:
Sainte-Vincient Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2006  Hobbyist Digital Artist
After reading your entry and then reading the comments I have to say that from what I see there may be a base in our generation of artists for a movement toward the kind of paleowildlifeart you're talking about.

I, myself, have been dissatisfied with most "paleoartists" for a long time. I've been trying to move toward the kind of art that you envision, but find myself held back by convention and a lack of knowledge and skill.

I really think that Paleowildlife Art should be held in the same regard as Wildlife art is these days. Wildlife art frequently makes one stop, completely entranced by the beauty of nature's handiwork; the artist's skill is merely the medium for expressing humankind's relationship to nature and emphasizing the importance of carefully carrying out our responsibity to care for this planet we have inherited. I think Paleowildlife Art has the potential to do the same, but not if the leading artists continue to produce monstrosities like Luis Rey's. (ahem, not to name names.) True, his work is visually captivating (I'd rather say irritating with that far to high-key, high saturation palette he uses) but it seldom does anything else. I merely choose him as an example of how Paleowildlife Art should not be.

There are artists, though, it seems, that are attempting to portray extinct animals with the delicacy and honor due them. Raul Martin for example has a very pleasant style, though sometimes a little stilted as in National Geographic's recent book on dinosaurs. He does seem to have a sense for paleowildlife though and I'm always excited to see his work.

To have paleowildlife art become trully inspiring on a philosophical level, though, may be difficult. After all, we are portraying animals that are dead and have been for millions of years and for most that is the first thought to go through people's heads. In order to pull them into the thinking mode I agree that paleowildlife artists must try out new ground and new methods, media, and venues. Focusing on composition, lighting, good choice of subject material; these things will help us to help people think about the bigger issues, even to change thinking patterns. Even making art that people would hang in their home, as they would an image of some living animal, is a worthy goal.

There are artists in the wildlife field that are worthy of emulation and that young paleowildlife artists would do well to study. For example, Terri Issac. His work never fails to capture the eye and make one stop and think. He's published a wonderful book entitled
"Painting the Drama of Wildlife". His main medium is acrylic, but the principles that he uses apply to any medium, digital or traditional--even sculpture. There is also a great bird artist, Bart Rulon, who's work is similarly worthy of study. His work is somewhat "blocky" when it comes to colour, but it all falls together nicely.

I guess in short, I agree with you completely, John. What are some ways YOU would suggest approaching this issue? I'm interested in knowing because I think it's a worthy cause. Paleowildlife art should rise above itself and achieve the sublime as it did in the days of Charles Knight, and when GSP revolutionised the field on the heels of the Dinosaur Renaissance. The field is ready for it. We just have to forge ahead. It's nice to hear someone voice the same sentiments that I have had for so long. Perhaps this means the cause isn't hopeless.

*now we need a plan*
Reply
:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2006
You named him, I didn't.

More later... on the plan...
Reply
:iconsainte-vincient:
Sainte-Vincient Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2006  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hahahah! We were thinking along the same lines though? I think so. Too bad people don't try to emulate GSP or Doug Henderson (who btw lives in Montana like me, but I've never met him). Henderson has a problem with anatomy, but his control of atmosphere and light are astounding. Mix his atmosphere with Greg Paul's command of anatomy, and Terri Issac's almost mystical power over drama and composition and you would have the unconquerable artiste.
Looking forward to hearing more on the plan. :) First I probably need a course in comparative anatomy. And an art class maybe since I've never really had one. But I hear that art classes can ruin an artist and usually encourage conformity rather than expression of genius (which I don't have anyway so perhaps it wouldn't be a problem?).
Anywho, now I'm just chattering so I'm going to shut the !@%$ up.
Reply
:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2006
People do emulate Greg Paul, but not in a great way.

But actually, I think we need to move past those guys now, bring in some fresh ideas.
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:iconsainte-vincient:
Sainte-Vincient Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2006  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Totally.
An interesting tidbit about the great GSP that I learned from his mentor, Dr. Bakker: he hates to get his hands dirty. He absolutely refuses to pick up a scalpel and disect for himself so he has no real firsthand knowledge of anatomy even though he's so good at restoring it. I think it should probably become "mandatory" for young paleowildlife artists to disect if at all possible, and to be familiar with how living bodies work.
And something that is interesting about that other master, Doug Henderson, is that he didn't start out as a dinosaur artist. He actually started by hiking and sketching what he saw on his nature walks. That is a very good idea. Observing from nature how living animals interact with light and their environment would greatly improve the artistic quality of paleowildlife art in the coming years.
Abstractions of evolutionary ideas will be perhaps more difficult, but I'm sure it's possible.
Reply
:iconnetraptor:
NetRaptor Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2006  Student Digital Artist
I so agree with you on that. I noticed it when I was comparing pics of dragons with pics of dinosaurs. Dragon pics have that aesthetic magic to them that dinosaurs never seem to achieve. And why is that? Dinosaurs are just as fantastic, if not more so, than dragons!
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:icondustdevil:
dustdevil Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2006  Professional General Artist
Oh, Peontograph, sounds nice and even in french "Paléontographe".
John, I'll certainly use it on my next invoice. ;)

About art, I feel completely unoriginal from the begining, but I would like to improve new renderings and composition in the sense you described. I'm really fed up with "amazing details" and such. And it's entirely my fault, I put a lot, too much details and by the way, I loose my precious time.


...and remember, Paris is at two hours!
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2006
Hey, I'm coming to Paris on the 15th, and staying until the 19th - let's meet up.
Reply
:icondustdevil:
dustdevil Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2006  Professional General Artist
Excellent. When you want.
Reply
:iconnemo-ramjet:
nemo-ramjet Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2006
I think a great deal of this stuff has to do with prehistoric creatures being considered "kid's stuff" by a large part of the media world, and treated as such. Fortunately we now have pokemon to fill in that niche, so things can progress.
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2006
Yes, I think that has something to do with it, but even as illustrations for kids a lot of palaeontological art is crap. The mentality seems to be "kids like scary things and bright colours", which is simplistic, and probably wrong.
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:iconnemo-ramjet:
nemo-ramjet Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2006
when "kids" are concerned, I believe the fast and furious rule does apply. But the media and publishing world, in general, can help the situation by abondoning the logic of "pokemon > extinct creatures."

by the way, what was the WORST paleoart you can remember in recent history? =)
Reply
:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2006
I don't like naming names, since I know some of them personally, but let's just say there a few successful palaeoartists around at the moment that I am most unimpressed with. There is a particular style a bunch of them share, which I think is unoriginal, uninspiring, and sometimes downright ugly (although it might be quick). I would love to see a new up and coming Doug Henderson or Greg Paul out there, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

How about you, are you less chicken about saying what sucks?
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:iconnemo-ramjet:
nemo-ramjet Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2006
I think william stout's work (used to be) terrible. all the creeping, skinny dinosaurs...
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2006
Inaccurate, sure, but I quite like his nouveau style.
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:icondracontes:
dracontes Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2006  Hobbyist General Artist
Hmm... Do you mean one should have the same consideration to contrast and hue, framing and layout, geometric relations and object relevance found in (good) photography, for example?
Yes, it is pretty obvious when one comes to think about it, but one's so into that "it's gotta be scientifically accurate or bust" attitude that such trappings are often forgotten. But thanks for giving this food for thought and for showing that perhaps that I can get away with more simple drawings for my Dinosauricon submissions ;)
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:iconjconway:
jconway Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2006
Well, I've always thought the basic aesthetics of picture making should be as important to palaeoart as any other type of art. But I was thinking even more outside the box. I want palaeoart that makes me think about, and comments on, the big concepts in palaeontology and biology more generally. I don't think it's ever done that. To do it, we need entirely a different visual language.
Reply
:icondracontes:
dracontes Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2006  Hobbyist General Artist
Half-assed attempt at it Title's "Relations lost in time" and represents a generic basal cynodont looking through time at an icaronycterid.
Well, I've disposed the elements of the picture around an ellipse perhaps to symbolize the cycle of time, the creatures themselves are in roughly triangular areas that can be equated to arrow heads, and so on and so forth.
This is only a preliminary drawing so feel free to critique the accuracy and whatnot.
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