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Re: In (premature) defense of the USNM




On Wednesday, May 8, 2002, at 09:22 AM, philidor11 wrote:

The refusal to consider a hypothesis because it is too speculative might in
this case be considered the same as contradicting the hypothesis. The
opposing point is that unless the artist does something directly against the
sort-of feathers hypothesis, such as putting stripes on the skin, then the
issue may still be considered open.
Take another example: an artist reconstructing a face from a skull
discovered by the police completes the project except for the hair. If the
artist does not put on hair, is the artist asserting the individual was
bald? I'd say no, that the artist might be concerned about lessening the
chance of a good identification if the hair were incorrect.

What? I think that the artist is more likely to give them "average" hair. Medium length, with a nondescript style.


Let's consider a police artist doing a drawing of a wanted criminal from a description. If for some reason their hair was not known, do you think that the artist is likely to draw them bald? I don't think so. People would assume that because a bald (or shaved) head is unusual amongst humans, that it was a known distinguishing feature.

In a post some time ago, the writer quoted a friend complaining about a dino
reconstruction that used simple old-fashioned green skin. I remember
thinking that this was a good way to express neutrality about the whole
issue of integumentary structures.

The problem with this argument is that people only see drab grey and green dinosaurs, they will assume dinosaurs were all conservative in this regard. This is almost certainly not true.


Because people process visual information very quickly, and are likely to see dozens or even hundreds of pictures of dinosaurs, palaeoartists should aim to get the balance right, not just show what was strictly speaking most likely for individual animals. So, although drab colouring is probably the statistically most likely for individual animals, it becomes much more likely that some animals will be brightly coloured if we look at larger groups.

We must assume that people are going to see many pictures of dinosaurs, therefore we should show some as being brightly coloured. This will give the right "impression" of the group as a whole.

One other issue palaeoartists must consider is "countering" the decades of drab green and grey dinosaur art. Many people have only a vague notion of the advances in dinosaur palaeontology made in recent years, and a great many own books that are very out of date. If modern restorations tend toward the brightly coloured, it might go some way to redressing the balance.

Also, people are going to want read more about animals that LOOK interesting. Brightly coloured dinosaurs could be seen as a sort of "advertising" for palaeontology. A way of catching peoples attention.

I think the above arguments work for other integumentary structures as well.

If we paint and draw strictly according to statistical likelihood, then maybe 2/3rds of our pictures of theropods should show them sleeping, because that is probably how they spent 2/3rds of their time. ;-)


John Conway, Palaeoartist

"All art is quite useless." - Oscar Wilde

Protosite: http://homepage.mac.com/john_conway/
Systematic ramblings: http://homepage.mac.com/john_conway/phylogenic/