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Submitted on
March 23, 2007



The Theory

Journal Entry: Fri Mar 23, 2007, 11:38 AM

<img class='logo' src='… / width='75px' height='100px'> palaeo'jconway'co'uk AKA palaeo'pterus'net
Visit my palaontographical website, and get a free dinosaur!

I'm going to take a stab at something positive, rather than just moaning about the lacklustre state of palaeontography. Let's start building a theory:

It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to palaeontography, firstly as a personal account of how we see nature; lets call it "personal naturalism", and secondly, as a visual representation of science; we'll call that "scientific visualisation".

i. Personal Naturalism
The first we've all been doing for quite some time, but without any guts. A lot of leading artists these days (not naming names), have virtually indistinguishable styles. No one's style is "out there". The solution is probably to have more faith in ourselves as artists, and develop styles as if no one were looking. How we see nature is as much about what we think is unimportant as what is important. Reality is not a photograph, and what we perceive is base more on what we focus our attention on than what is out there.

Traditionally palaeoart has done some playing with this: think Doug Henderson's emphasis on landscape versus Greg Paul's emphasis on anatomy. Both often leave out, or simplify the other concerns. We need more of that, too many people are thinking "if I could put Greg Paul dinosaurs in a Doug Henderson landscape, it will be twice as good!" Surpise! Wrong! And there are themes to be explored in this way, that so far haven't been: behaviour being an obvious one off the top of my head.

ii. Scientific Visualisation
The more conceptual and challenging approach is to take the science and make it visual. What does evolution look like? What does homology look like? How could we represent palaeoecology visually?

The trick is to make this an aesthetic experience, and hence art, rather than just make neat diagrams and graphs (although that would certainly be one way to approach it). The scientific visualisation approach is about conceptual reality, not visual reality. The game is to sneak new concepts into people's brains while giving them aesthetic experience.

The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, indeed, one will inform the other. If a piece of art lacks in both regards, it shall be regarded as vacuous and be derided as drivel by all serious palaeontographers. Thoughts?

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Outlier Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2007
...marching in late on the conversation...

Nicely put - hadn't thought about the impossibility of meshing Paul and Henderson.

I think my development was some sort of parallel process, interest in art and dinosaurs since my first book (2 or 3 years old). But I drew other things as I wanted to be a good artist, and was interested in other aspects of science (cosmology and natural history being the main players). So I think I went through the more traditional 'artists' path, with an interest in other things that infulenced the subject matter (dinosaurs and sci fi), but did work at drawing from life (people, objects, landscapes) and trying different media. And was interested in history of art and different styles etc., as parents used had a couple of small art galleries over the years which influenced me as I grew up. Generally like most art up until Dali, then it all just got silly (though do like some later artists - actually really like Brett Whitely)

Personally my favourite styles are impressionism and art nouvaeu, and sketches like da vinci could whip out. So I do try to weave that in when I can. But only seem to get the chance to draw a few times a year.

Anyway, enough about me...

So, are you separating ';palaeontography' from more technical scientific illustration? If so I would place Paul more in an illustration category, he's showing informative detail that probably wouldn't be visible in real life, and Henderson edging more towards the artistic ';palaeontography'. Something about conveying for the 'look, feel and atmosphere'. Art vs Illustration

Stout, a personal favouite of mine, I would definitely put in the latter category.
It's easy to forget that in his day there were few artists depicting dinosaurs as anatomically correct as he was, or at least knew the skeletal anatomy behind the art. (I mention Stout again in another reply above)

Knight had tackled this in an interesting way - quite a pioneer (when you compare his work to those before him, which mostly was bizzarre). Cast improvements in anatomical accuracy and style.
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner May 20, 2007
Oh, and the point about Greg Paul versus Doug Henderson is very well taken. I thought _exactly_ that "why can't we have both" thing back in high school.
jconway Featured By Owner May 22, 2007
Me too. Then I saw it done, and thought "this is shite".
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner May 20, 2007
Very insightful. You've summed up most of what I think about paleontography. Its gotten increasingly hard to keep doing as I've turned away from the science aspect. What is the point of a painting of a Velociraptor other than "hey, this is what a Velociraptor looks like"?
jconway Featured By Owner May 22, 2007
If you do it, maybe some point -- because you're pretty much the only one with a really distinctive style.
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner May 22, 2007
:) So instead it should be "hey, this is what I made." :)

Thanks for the vote of confidence, John. Coming from you that means a hell of a lot.
GreenSprite Featured By Owner May 16, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
Now... this gives me a very interesting idea. I mean especially that bit about "Reality is not a photograph, and what we perceive is base more on what we focus our attention on than what is out there."
ScottHartman Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
Good stuff John; I'm glad to see you spending some more time on your paleontography. I couldn't agree more about the need for paleoartists (err, -ogrophers) to develop differnet styles, and especially to understand where Greg Paul is accurate, vs where he is simply emphasizing the musculature.

Of course my life reconstructions are flagrant offenders in terms of lacking a strong aesthetic basis, but then I don't claim to be an artist. When I do life reconstructions they are usually for a specific educational need, and are not intended as much else.
jconway Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007
Don't worry, scientists are exempt from my the wrath of the new palaeontographical (r)evolution! People (like myself) who consider themselves artists, however, better watch out.
Ashere Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2007  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Again, I'm stuck between my desire to call myself an artist and my desire to bring an animal to life to demonstrate the flesh on the bones.
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