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Re: Paleoart vs Fantasy (long - brace yourselves)

----- Original Message -----
From: Aspidel
Sent: Wednesday, May 01, 2002 8:12 AM
Subject: Paleoart vs Fantasy (was: Re: In defense of the USNM )

"Should I stay or should I go?" (The Clash)
I hope I'll offend nobody; I've done both paleoart and comic-stip, so I feel concerned here, and here is my point of view.
HP Michael Skrepnick wrote:

> > *** I have no problem with Gurney's work being displayed at the Smith,
> only
> > that the exhibit might be more effective at an alternative site to the
> > paleontology
> > galleries.  As you say, we don't own dinosaurs, but maybe we still have
> the
> > responsibility to separate "fact" from "fiction" when it serves the common
> > interest.
Scientists of the Museum can do it as well.
*** Your right, scientists could take the opportunity to use Dinotopia as a
platform to address the inconsistancies between science and fiction, however,
that is unlikely given that this could be interpreted as criticism, and counter to
"promoting" the aesthetic qualities of the exhibit as the fictional masterpiece
it truly is. 
> > Gurney's creation is a fictional world and while it is appealing to many
> of
> > us with a
> > common interest in dinosaurs, it still should be separated from the
> science.
Scientists of the Museum can explain why Dinotopia isn't science, if it's well done, it will perfectly work.
***That would be fine if they were willing to undertake the responsibility of explaining the differences.
It's been my experience that many museum exhibits that already exist are lacking in updated info and
sometimes include errors in everything from incorrect names or spellings on display specimens right
up to vague or archaic explanatory content.  If they can't keep the inhouse displays current, what hope
is there of addressing new and / or temporary travelling exhibits?

> > For
> > example, as has been pointed out on this list, Jim elects to render small
> > theropods
> > as unfeathered ( which suits the characters, as he's developed them ),<<
> >
HP Tracy Ford wrote:

> > Ok, lets look at this point. When did Jim start his work and what was
> known
> > at that time? NO FEATHERS on theropods. Sure he can change his theropods,
> > but then he'd have to change his whole world and explain that hey, I was
> > wrong when I started but I'll change everything now but can't explain why
> > that happened in his world.
This is a fact scientists can also explain: when new fossils are found, scientists and paleoartists have to change their way to show or paint dinosaurs, while in a fantasy characters have to stay quite the same.
In my case, I just finished a _Nanotyrannus_ drawing: it's lipless, of course, because it's the most likely. But in my comic-strip, I'll go on drawing lips on my "dinosaur-like characters" - well, all right, I don't speak about true dinosaurs here - because it's easier to give'em mimics, and because I prefer them like that.
Back to paleoart...
I began to draw paleoart after watching WWD on tv, the scaly _Utahraptor_ with wrong hands and all those kind of things, now I draw all little coelurosaurs feathered, even my _Nanotyrannus_ is a bit fluffy.
*** In the right arena or framework, there is nothing wrong with extrapolating on reality. 
I am a big fan of fantasy art when it's well executed and presented in an appropriate
forum.  I just like to take extra steps in preventing confusion amongst individuals who
might innocently come to false conclusions when the material is presented in close
proximity to science related material.  As an experiment, stand sometime in a
paleontology museum exhibit and just listen in on some of the comments and
conclusions people make based on the information before them.  You may be surprised
to see how easily they are lead astray.
MS wrote, in a previous post:
> If scientific (paleontological ) "fact" is based on physical evidence or
> repeatability, then truly "scientifically accurate" paleo art must be
> restricted to illustrations of skeletal material or paleo ichnological
> evidence.  Fleshed out reconstructions of dinosaurs, etc... although
> referenced to skeletons, myology, modern analogs and developed in
> collaboration with paleontologists STILL remain speculative in terms of
> outer integument, other external soft anatomical features, color, etc. . ..
> While this imagery remains our closest hope of experiencing a living
> terrestrial dinosaur, it is both hypothetical and speculative, subject to
> artistic taste and skill and ( as much as I might not like to admit it)
> inexorably bound to the annals of a nebulous "grey" zone, from an academic
> standpoint. 
Of course it's speculation! But IMHO it's all the fun we have, us, the paleoartists, to draw the dinosaurs as how we think they were, based on scientific evidence, and it's sometimes up to us to explain to people the difference between our illustrations and dino-fantasy (see the link below)
*** I agree.  We can only go by the best information available in assessing the "look"
of living dinosaurs and until we invent a way of retrieving live examples from the past,
or develop new techniques of recovering more detail from fossil specimens, this is as
good as it gets.  Entering into discussions with the public, based on the artwork, is a
good jumping off point from which to make people aware of the newest discoveries in
paleontology.  This is however, complicated enough in and of itself, without having to
"explain away" the false and gratuitous embellishments of movie makers. Again the
combination of movie producers and scientific advisors is a bad mix, when the advisors
are there merely as "propoganda" and the advisory recommendations are ignored in
favor of sensationalism and ticket sales.  Dinosaurs only based on information provided
by paleontologists would have been just as intriguing on the big screen as the "improved"
Hollywood versions, but would have avoided all "corrections and explanations" endured
by the academics after the fact. To avoid the confusion, either produce "state of the art"
dinosaurs using the best current information, or lose the advisors and make a glorified
Godzilla flick where there are no false impressions about what you are looking at.
> (Not that this for an instant would dissuade me from the
> pursuit of my artistic bent!)

And there I agree with you.

> > So your going to tell a child who loves dinosaurs that he can't see
> > dinosaurs from Dinotopia at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, where
> > he/she knows dinosaurs are but at an Art Museum all because of
> > 'Scientist/dino artist" didn't like it at the USNM because it was fiction?
> > Won't work, they know where dinosaurs are suppose to be. And I really
> don't
> > think it's the ones who are really into dinosaurs that need to be shown
> the
> > difference, it's the adults and those who 'fake' knowing dinosaurs (we've
> > all meet them). I say it's better at the USNM because there THEY WOULD be
> > able to tell people the difference and not at an ART museum, but the Art
> > museum would only be interested in the 'art' and not the 'science'. Kind
> of
> > a catch 22.

> *** Sorry, but go to the dinosaur halls to learn about dinosaurs and go to
> the art
> museum to enjoy masterfully painted fictional art (dinosaurs or otherwise).
> It won't
> hurt the kids to be exposed to a broader range of artwork also displayed in
> an art
> museum.  The visitors to the paleo exhibits who are unfamiliar with what
> they're
> trying to learn about will have an easier time of it without having to
> interpret the
> fictional element.

Do you wanna drive little kids to the museum ? In this case the "Dinotopia" exhibition can help very much, and scientists will explain them why the Dinotopia characters aren't feathered and why we think now dromies were feathered, they can show them photos or feathered fossils, and kids will understand very well, don't worry!!!
Plus, they'll see a big _Allosaurus_, _Triceratops_ or other dinosaurs skeletons; even if they aren't well mounted (and scientists can expain them why, it takes time to correct it), they'll see 'em; maybe they'd never came to see 'em without the Dinotopia exhibition.
And it's the same for some amateurs.
***If kids are interested enough to want to see Dinotopia, they will convince their
parent(s) to take them wherever it's on display. If they make a trip to an art museum
and a paleontology museum, it will only teach them more and increase their
knowledge of the world. If the parent(s) aren't willing to make the effort to take
the kids to see both, I consider that to be a bad reflection on their function as a
parent.  Also, I don't think I remember a single instance of visiting a paleontology
museum or exhibit, where I've encountered a paleontologist sitting out in the
public galleries, addressing questions by random passersby about the content of
gallery displays.
>> but to onlookers who see his reasonably portrayed "naked" small
> > theropods
> > in relatively close proximity to a display that is teaching people about
> > an insulating
> > covering on small theropods, there is then ambiguity
There's NO ambiguity if it's well explained.
*** But there is ambiguity when it's not, which is the more common occurance.

> *** The way lay people will best be able to understand issues concerning
> feathered
> dinosaurs is if the information is presented in a clear, concise and
> unambiguous way.
If you show them the true things for comparison, it's done.

> Exhibits like Dinotopia are not helping in this matter, they have a
> completely different
> purpose that being strictly entertainment, which is what makes the comment
> in the
> press release about people gaining a greater understanding of dinosaurs
> through their
> fictional encounters with man, so erroneous.
Dinotopia is fantasy, it's a dream, and it's easy to see it's a dream. There's a difference with showing dino-fantasy, poesy, and going to the pictures to watch again this §#6*ù&&!! JP which is really confusing for common people and show 'em erroneous things - sorry, I definitively don't like JP.
*** Dinotopia is fantasy, but you know what, there are a lot of impressionable young kids
who have a lot of interest in dinosaurs and will "believe in" anything they're exposed to. . .
including Dinotopia, Santa Claus, the EverReady Bunny. . .you name it.  And there's nothing
wrong with indulging their fantasies ( it helps foster great creative minds), but all the same
they are susceptable to drawing incorrect conclusions based on the material they are
presented with and the context it is presented in.  Dinosaur exhibits and Dinotopia are both
valid and legitimate in their own ways, but still require separation.  I even vaguely remember
reading accounts regarding a small component of the adult population that believe there are
places on earth where you can encounter dinosaurs in the wild.  I'm not referring to people
who are dillusional, cryptozoologists, or the like. . . just misinformed everyday individuals who
didn't learn in school ( for whatever reason) that 65 mya we had a little bump in the night with
a big rock from outer space.  No different than the percentage of the population that still
believe dinosaurs and cavemen existed together. Science and media access have gone a long
way to dispel popular myths, but the information hasn't reached everyone yet, not by a long

> >   If the skeletal mounts, etc... are problematic,
> > they should be corrected also,
>> but the situation still should not be further
> > exacerbated by
> > perceptual problems related to additional fictional imagery.<<
But Dinotopia is simply NOT CREDIBLE!!!

> > > So, it's ok to EXPLOTE other natural science (or Science Fiction for
> that
> > > matter) and not paleontology? We can't tell people that it's not ok to
> do something but ok to do it with others.
> > Since most of these unfortunate subjects have succumbed to mutilization or
> > "mutantization" in typical Hollywood overkill style,
It's JP problems.
> > >>Besides do we really want the movies
> > > to be 100% accurate? Then people would really believe everything they
> see.
Unfortunately, it's still the case in JP, but IMHO one has to be very stupid to believe that what's in Dinotopia is true. There's a big difference here.

> > ***You mean show them the truth?  What a concept!!  I can't think of a
> > single
> > instance wherein anatomical distortion or embellishment of any of the JP
> > dinosaurs made them any more "groovy" then had they gone with the real
> > thing. The thinking is, "let's spend millions to make it look ALIVE and
> then
> > let's screw up what they look like, just because we cannnn. . .
BUT WHY DID THEY NEED TO DO SO??? (I'm shouting here)
***NO LOGICAL REASON I CAN THINK OF ( shouting back, can you hear the
echo? . . .   :0)
 >>But how
> > many people went to museums afterwards asking why the T.rex skeleton
> > has a funny long bone hanging down between it's legs ( or was it just
> happy
> > to see ya' ) or why the Dilophosaurus doesn't have the "frill" and poison
> > spitting apparatus.  If we just assume that the public should know better,
> > because they "know" it's only fiction, then. . . why don't they?<<
Because JP is presented as something REAL, even if they didn't want to, but the pain is done. In Dinotopia you see Utopia. Ya know what it means...
Enough about JP, snip...
> > > This is why I write my How to Draw Dinosaurs articles for Prehistoric
> > Times.
OK, I don't have a PhD, I'm only an amateur paleoartist for JUST one year or so, and this discussion made me ask questions to myself, if I should go on with paleoart, and especially the following:
*** My opinion is that paleo art is still a noble endeavor.  We all want to know
what dinosaurs looked like and we're not likely to see any of the extinct ones
any time soon. So, the nice part is that by using the information available to
reconstruct the appearance of dinosaurs, many artists (in spite of their individual
styles) are developing a sort of "collective" image of what various species of
dinosaur probably looked like. As new information is made available and
processed through artistic renderings the relative inconsistencies are gradually
eliminated and the result is a roughly "reliable" impression of what dinosaurs
may have looked like. Since our choices are hypothetical imagery tempered
by artistic flare or no imagery at all, I elect to go with some visual semblance
of the truth rather than a visual "void".  A dinosaur book without illustrations or
photos is like cake without icing, you can choke it down but you better have
that glass of milk handy! (My personal opinion, but I'm biased and proud of it!)
> > > >>Artwork that includes dinosaurs within modern fiction stray much
> farther
> > > afield, but don't do any favors in helping the public make the
> distinction
> > > between dinosaur art "extrapolated from real fossil material" and
> fantasy
> > > art that resembles the "real thing". In the end, the forum in which the
> > > artwork is displayed may make a big difference in how said art is
> > perceived
> > > by the masses and while I wish Jim every success, I think the exhibit
> > would
> > > have better served on display at an alternate venue.<<
> >  I hope you don't mean that people shouldn't include dinosaurs in their
> > > science fiction? I doubt many of us would be here if we ever did.
Agreed, and I'm not afraid to explain little kids why I don't draw _Velociraptor_ like in JP;see
BTW, the drawing published a while ago in Prehistoric Time isn't totally correct, the hands are very difficult to draw and I just begin now to draw dromie's hands quite accurate. I really admire your reconstructions, dear Michael, and the same for Tracy, Luis, Mark, Todd, Dan, and others I've forgotten, and I work hard to get a hi quality, as I did for comic strip, and it's not that simple, but I think it's easy for an artist or a scientist to make the difference between paleoart and fantasy and to explain it to people and to lil'kids.
*** Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm all for continuing the discussions of
the differences between paleoart and fantasy art, just interested in keeping the
explanations down to their simplist common denominator.

> > ***Not at all, some of the best fiction out there has a dinosaurian
> > component. My
> > ONLY concern is to draw (no pun) a clear distinction between what is
> > considered
> > fact and fiction, for those members of the populace who lack the
> familiarity with the subject matter we have.<<
And that's also what I try to do.
It took me nearly 2 hours to explain my point of view, but I needed to.
Back to work now.
*** I hear ya! I've just about spent more time on the DML over the last
couple of days than I have on my artwork.
Mike Skrepnick
Always friendly (I think, at least) - Luc J. "Aspidel" BAILLY.