Category Archives: paleoart

Allan McCollum’s fossil art

Click here if the embedded video doesn’t work.

My first love is natural science, but I also fancy myself an amateur art enthusiast, particularly for performance and installation pieces from the last 50 years or so. I am fascinated by art that directly engages the viewer, art that is not complete without the involvement of the spectator. As it happens, mounted fossil skeletons are a great example of  installation art, although they are not deliberately constructed as such. The size and presence of a dinosaur skeleton, such as the Stegosaurus below, necessarily incorporates the viewers’ human scale into the experience. Viewers are not merely spectators but participants in a shared performance. Nevertheless, fossils are nearly always displayed and interpreted as scientific specimens, rather than art objects.

Stegosaurus fossil mount and life-size model circa 1913. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Stegosaurus fossil mount and life-size model at USNM circa 1913. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

One important exception occurs in the work of prolific New York-based artist Allan McCollum. McCollum’s installations frequently address repetitive labor and industrial manufacturing, often incorporating hundreds or thousands of similar but subtly unique objects. Each piece is the product of many small actions, gradually assembled over time. In the early 1990s, the artist turned his attention to fossils, particularly their historic meaning and aesthetic appeal.

"Lost Objects" by Allan McCollum. Image from Art21.

“Lost Objects” by Allan McCollum. Image from Art21.

In 1991, McCollum collaborated with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to produce “Lost Objects”, displayed next door at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Using molds taken from dinosaur fossils (apparently all limb bones) in the CMNH collection, the artist produced several hundred fossil casts for the installation shown above. To me, this piece is a reflection on the global sharing of fossil material permitted by casting technology. In the Art21 video at the top of this post, McCollum briefly discusses the prominence of casts among the dinosaur mounts that are a staple at natural history museums. Dinosaur skeletons are virtually never found complete, and mounts are often filled in with casts of specimens held by other museums. For example, the National Museum of Natural History Diplodocus mount incorporates casts of the left hindlimb and much of the neck of the Carnegie Diplodocus. What’s more, casted duplicates of the entire Carnegie Diplodocus can be seen in London, Berlin and several other cities in Europe and Latin America, and casts of the American Museum of Natural History Tyrannosaurus are on display in Denver and  Philadelphia. It would be an impressive sight if all the casts of certain fossil specimens scattered around the world were reunited in one room, a monument to the knowledge gained from a century of scholarly collaboration. It would also commemorate the intangible excitement generated by dinosaur mounts, made possible only through the duplication and sharing of casts.

MCollum also comments that “there aren’t as many dinosaur bones in the world as we think.” Perhaps, then, “Lost Objects” is a reflection on the scarcity of intact fossils, by showing an impossibly large collection that no museum could hope to amass. Let’s just hope he wasn’t trying to comment on the alleged mass-production of casts cheapening the original fossils and the museums that hold them, because he’d be dead wrong (EDIT: He wasn’t, see comments).

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“Natural Copies” by Allan McCollum. Image from Art21.

In 1995, McCollum followed up on “Lost Objects” with “Natural Copies, a series of casted dinosaur footprints produced in collaboration with the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum. For the artist, this piece was a reflection on the idea that 150 million-year-old fossils can be valued as cultural history. The footprints in question were found by the hundreds in a Utah coal mine. While many ended up at the museum, others were collected by miners to display at home. The fossils took on a second life as symbols the community’s workforce and natural heritage, irrelevant to the dinosaurs that produced the tracks but important all the same. McCollum’s work separates the fossils from their typical scientific context so that viewers may reflect on their cultural meaning and even the aesthetic beauty of their form.

So what’s the point of these installations? These appropriations of fossils as aesthetic pieces has no bearing on the science of paleontology, and in fact may obscure information about how the animals that left these traces lived and behaved. And yet, from the moment a fossil is first seen by human eyes, whether it is an ammonite preserved in a split open rock or the glint of a vertebrate bone weathering out of a hillside, it becomes meaningful on a human scale. For the discoverer, the researcher who describes the fossil, the institution that holds it in its collection and the visitor who sees the fossil on display, that specimen has cultural value. This does not diminish the value of fossils as natural specimens, but rather enhances their importance.

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Filed under collections, dinosaurs, fossil mounts, museums, paleoart

Fossil mounts in the museum environment

Sue and Stan reconstructions from Scott Hartman's DeviantArt page.

Sue and Stan reconstructions from Scott Hartman’s DeviantArt page.

Scott Hartman posted the above image to his DeviantArt page the other day, comparing the Tyrannosaurus specimens Sue and Stan side by side. For those unfamiliar, Hartman is known for his rigorously measured skeletal diagrams of dinosaurs (and sometimes other animals) that are crucial references for many artists and paleontologists. I’m always impressed by Hartman’s work, but this new comparative image really floored me. I knew that Sue is the largest and most complete rex yet found, but I had never properly appreciated what a monster she is. I’ve seen the mounted Sue skeleton at the Field Museum several times, and I’ve seen at least four casts of Stan in various locations, but I never realized what a significant size disparity exists between the two.

Tyrannosaurus Sue at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Tyrannosaurus Sue at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Tyrannosaurus Stan at the National Museum of Natural History.

Tyrannosaurus Stan at the National Museum of Natural History.

It’s not a groundbreaking discovery by any means, but I’m struck by how important the museum environment is when exhibiting a mounted skeleton. I mentioned yesterday that exhibits are never neutral, and this is a particularly clear example. Sue is exhibited in the gigantic central hall of the Field Museum, and in this open, grandiose environment, her size is actually deemphasized. By comparison, the presence of the Stan mount at the National Museum of Natural History was not anticipated during the 1981 renovation of the dinosaur hall (it was added in 2001, I believe) and is sort of crammed into a corner. In the cramped space, Stan looks pretty big, and it’s little wonder I had never appreciated the marked difference in size between the two mounts.

The takeaway, I guess, is that it would do us well to pay careful attention to the design choices (or constraints) in a museum exhibit. We’d like to think that a rare and important specimen like a Tyrannosaurus skeleton speaks for itself, but visitor impressions of even these fossils are shaped by the context they are placed in.

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Filed under dinosaurs, fossil mounts, museums, NMNH, paleoart

Extinct Monsters: Murals and Dioramas

Click here to start the Extinct Monsters series from the beginning.

Fossils are the hard evidence behind paleontology. They tell us not only that prehistoric organisms existed, but hold clues as to how they lived and behaved. However, it is only through  artwork that extinct animals and ecosystems can be brought back to life. Since Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built the first life-sized dinosaur sculptures in 1842, skilled artists have played a critical role in visualizing the results of paleontological research and making that information available to a wider audience.

At the National Museum of Natural History, spectacular works of art have always appeared alongside displays of original fossils, firing up the viewer’s imagination and inviting them to visualize the world of prehistory. Although many of these pieces are now scientifically dated, they were on the cutting edge in their time. These artworks remain exquisite works of craftsmanship, invaluable for their decades of contribution to science education.

The Life-Sized Models

The charmingly ugly Stegosaurus is one of the oldest fixtures of the Smithsonian fossil exhibits. F.A.L. Richardson created this model for the the Smithsonian’s exhibition at the St. Louis, Missouri World’s Fair in 1904. Made from papier mâché with a foam skin, the Stegosaurus was based on small sculpture produced by Charles Gilmore. With its sagging belly, sprawling forelimbs, and head held well below the horizontal plane, this Stegosaurus is typical of reconstructions from the early to mid 20th century.

As legend had it, the paper used to fabricate the Stegosaurus was ground-up money from the National Treasury. The model had even earned the nickname “Mr. Moneybags” among some of the museum staff. Curator Emeritus Ray Rye got to the bottom of this in 1981. He contacted the Treasury to find out what was done with worn-out paper money at the turn of the century – apparently it was burned at a plant in Maryland. Nevertheless, at Rye’s request a group of historians from the Treasury took a sample of the Stegosaurus while the hall was closed for construction, and confirmed that it was made from regular paper.

This pudgy papier mache Stegosaurus has been a fixture at the Smithsonian since 1904.

This pudgy Stegosaurus has been a fixture at the Smithsonian since 1904. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

When the Hall of Extinct Monsters opened in 1910, the Stegosaurus was given a spot of honor right in the center of the room. In 1913, a real Stegosaurus skeleton was placed alongside it. Both dinosaurs would remain in place until the exhibit was renovated in 1963. In the reconfigured and renamed Hall of Fossil Reptiles, the model Stegosaurus was relocated to a corner display.  Most recently, the 1981 renovation saw the Stegosaurus model moved to the south side of the gallery, protected by a low plexiglass barrier. This time, it was given a cycad replica for company, and a mural of lush Jurassic jungle behind it. The Stegosaurus remained in this position until the fossil halls closed in 2014.

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The NMNH exhibits team with their nearly-finished Quetzalcoatlus. Image from Thomson 1985.

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The Quetzalcoatlus survived a 2010 earthquake, although the plaster molding above it was damaged. Photo by the author.

The 1981 renovation also saw the introduction of a life-sized model of the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus. Having been discovered in 1971, the largest flying animal that ever lived was big news at that time. In-house modelmakers spent two years on the project, first sculpting the animal in clay, then casting it in lightweight fiberglass with a steel armature. Paleontologist Nicholas Hotton served as the scientific consultant. Although he was dubious that pterosaurs had any sort of soft body covering, he okayed the use of deer fur to give the model believable texture. However, Hotton nixed the idea of placing a dangling fish in the mouth of the Quetzalcoatlus. Contemporary wisdom was that even giant pterosaurs were extremely light, weighing as little as 75 pounds, so even a 5-pound fish was thought to be enough to disrupt a Quetzalcoatlus in flight.

The Stegosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus both now reside at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York.

The Murals

The first dedicated prehistoric mammal exhibit at NMNH opened in the summer of 1961. Alongside the array of Cenozoic fossil mounts, the exhibit featured four brand new murals created by paleoartist Jay Matternes (he painted two more for the Ice Age hall several years later). Still active today, Matternes is a prolific artist of both modern and prehistoric wildlife. In addition to the NMNH murals, Matternes has contributed to exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, as well as numerous publications including National Geographic Magazine.

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Matternes’ Oligocene mural as first exhibited in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Oligocene and early Miocene murals, as seen in the 1985-2014 iteration of the exhibit, Mammals in the Limelight. Photo by the author.

Each of the murals Matternes contributed to the exhibit depicts North America during an epoch of the Cenozoic, and is displayed behind corresponding fossil mounts. Most of the animals on display coincide with life reconstructions in the murals, so visitors can match the skeletons to images of how they may have looked in life. Matternes’ hyper-detailed style is particularly striking. The environments look nearly photo-real, and not too far removed from the world today. Likewise, the artist’s knowledge of anatomy plainly shows in the utterly lifelike appearances of the animals. I particularly like Matternes’ use of familiar color patterns on the relatives of modern taxa. The Pliocene and Pleistocene murals will be returning in 2019.

Cenozoic

The Cenozoic section of Kish’s 130-foot magnum opus. Source

The “Life in the Ancient Seas” exhibit debuted in 1990 with a monumental 130-foot mural by Eleanor Kish. From the explosion of invertebrate diversity in the Cambrian to the proliferation of aquatic mammals in the recent past, the mural spans 541 years of deep time. The project took Kish two years to complete and is, simply put, a masterpiece. Within the exhibit, this meticulously crafted image defines the space’s layout and color palate. It visually separates concepts and themes, and even directs visitor traffic with its strong leftward momentum.

The Dioramas

The dinosaur dioramas were one of my favorite parts of the old NMNH fossil halls. Norman Neal Deaton created three dioramas, representing North America during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. The Mesozoic dioramas were commissioned for the 1963 exhibit renovation, and were on display until 2014. Each 1″:1′ scale diorama is set into a recessed space in the wall and is protected by glass.  The scenes are populated by a menagerie of outdated but gorgeously detailed dinosaurs and contemporary reptiles, set among dense forests of ferns and craggy rock formations. The complexity of the dioramas allows viewers to get lost in them as their eye wanders from one static encounter to the next. I’ve been admiring these scenes since literally before I could talk and I still notice minute details I hadn’t seen before.

The diorama project began in 1963 and took four years to complete. The scenes were initially blocked out by Jay Matternes and Nicholas Hotton, the Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the time. Matternes and Hotton worked together on anatomical drawings for each of the animals to be reconstructed, and planned the basic layout of the dioramas. Deaton created the final dioramas at his studio in Newton, Iowa. Deaton had been previously employed at the Smithsonian as an exhibits specialist, but had left to found his own studio in the late 1950s, where he continued to work on projects for the Smithsonian as a contractor. In addition to the dinosaur dioramas, Deaton led the creation of the iconic Fénykövi elephant that stands in the NMNH rotunda today, and has created sculptures and dioramas for dozens of other museums. Deaton is still active today, and much of his 2-D and 3-D work can be seen at his website.

Deaton mailed these slides of his unpainted models to Hotton for approval. Photos courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Deaton mailed these slides of his unpainted models to Hotton for approval. Photos courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Deaton sculpted each of the animals in clay based on the drawings provided by Matternes and Hotton. Nearly every model went through a few incremental adjustments based on notes from Hotton, changing things like the bulk of the muscles or how visible the scapula or pelvis would be under the skin. The soft anatomy was based on modern reptiles, particularly crocodiles, although Deaton found that some of the animals had no obvious analogs. Once the clay models were approved, they were casted in rubber, then painted. Deaton also created the miniature worlds inhabited by the animals, including foliage, muddy riverbanks, and sheer cliffs. The backdrops, however, were painted by Matternes.

The completed dioramas represented the most up-to-date knowledge of the Mesozoic world at that time. Of course, our understanding of dinosaurs has been overhauled significantly since then. Compared to the active, fleet-footed, and often feathered dinosaurs we know today, the inhabitants of the NMNH dioramas at first look a bit ponderous and inert. Inaccuracies are easy to point out: the Ankylosaurus has a weird clubless armadillo tail, the torso of the Diplodocus is much too long, the Cretaceous diorama mixes Hell Creek and Belly River dinosaurs that were separated by at least 20 million years, and there are sprawly tail-draggers aplenty.

Cretaceous diorama by Norman Deaton. Source: flickr.

Cretaceous diorama by Norman Deaton. Photo by the author.

Triassic diorama

Triassic diorama by Norman Deaton. Source

Still, these issues are easy to overlook when one appreciates just how engaging these scenes are. Little details like footprints behind each animal and mud splattered on their feet fill the motionless dioramas with life and the possibility of more adventures in the imagination of the viewer. And several of the models are surprisingly energetic for 60’s dinosaurs. The Ceratosaurus face-biting the Camptosaurus (above) is full of energy, and the Elphrosaurus  is running full-tilt with its tail in the air (and even has propatagia for some reason).

Many of the works of art in the NMNH fossil halls are no longer appropriate as literal representations of prehistoric animals. But that does not mean they are irrelevant relics of mid-century science. Each model and painting is a stunning example of artistry, and more to the point, every inaccuracy is an opportunity to start up a conversation about what we know about prehistory and how we know it. These pieces are time capsules in the history of science, representing different eras of understanding and the researchers that took part in them. I, for one, would hate to see them forgotten.

A big thank you  to Norman Deaton and Raymond Rye for their assistance with this article.

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Filed under dinosaurs, Extinct Monsters, history of science, mammals, museums, NMNH, paleoart, reptiles, science communication

Their hands were everywhere: the Morrison Natural History Museum

Outside the Morrison Natural History Museum. Doesn’t look like much…

Last week, I had a fantastic experience at the Morrison Natural History Museum, a little gem tucked away in the tiny town of Morrison, Colorado, on the north side of Denver. Since its opening in 1985, the Museum has served as a local educational resource covering the region’s plentiful paleontological resources. According to its website, the Museum is primarily a teaching institution. An affiliated foundation raises funds to bring local students on field trips, in support of the Museum’s mission to nurture “an understanding of and respect for the deep past.” In keeping with this teaching institution, gentle touching of all the fossils and casts is encouraged. This policy, and the design choices that go with it, are what truly set the Morrison Museum exhibits apart.

Paleontologically-inclined people are of course familiar with the Morrison Formation, the sequence of Upper Jurassic beds that extends across much of the western United States. The formation, which extends some 600,000 square miles, was named for the town of Morrison, where fossils were first discovered in 1877. The Morrison formation is probably best known as the epicenter of the “bone wars” between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, who each led competing teams of fossil hunters across the region, attempting to best one another’s discoveries. Marsh and Cope were affiliated with the Peabody Museum in New Haven and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, respectively, so the fossils they collected all ended up back east. Indeed, while the Morrison region is among the most important and productive places for finding dinosaurs in the country, comparatively few of the treasures found there have remained in the region. The Morrison Natural History Museum therefore exists, at least in part, as a dedicated local repository and interpretative center for the region’s natural history.

The 1st floor Jurassic exhibit.

The Museum’s exhibit space is tiny, only 2000 square feet, but it is chock full of awesome. The exhibition consists of three main rooms, each one representing a geological time period. In the first floor Jurassic gallery, highlights include partial casts of Allosaurus and Apatosaurus,  the holotype of Stegosaurus, trackways attributed to Stegosaurus and a baby sauropod, and some original 19th century lithographic prints from Marsh’s monographs. For those interested in the history of paleontology, and of science in general, those prints are particularly fascinating.

Infant sauropod trackway with model of probable trackmaker.

Cretaceous and Cenozoic exhibits are found on the second floor. Most of the objects here are casts, most notably full skeletons of Platycarpus and Pteranodon, and skulls of Triceratops, Tylosaurus and a Columbian Mammoth. There are also a number of live animals on display, including a very charismatic monitor lizard thoughtfully placed next to its close relatives, the mosasaurs.

Original 19th century lithograph prints of fossil illustrations by Marsh’s team.

The signs and labels in the exhibit are noteworthy for their succinctness and clarity. It can be extremely challenging for writers of museum copy to provide appropriate depth of content without confusing, boring or alienating audiences with too much text. Overlong and unfocused labels are particularly common in small museums, where most of the copy is written by a single curator bent on sharing everything he or she knows about a topic. On the other end of the spectrum, larger, committee-designed exhibit labels can be too brief, too simple and too narrowly focused on the exhibit’s educational goals to be of much use to anybody. Happily, the Morrison Museum avoids both of these pitfalls. Labels are simple and attractive, but still informative and up-to-date. I was rather impressed by the economical way in which they addressed the most important topics in paleontology.

An example of a brief but content-rich label.

Obviously, the fossils and other objects on display are fantastic, and many, like the trackways, are quite unique. However, as mentioned above, one of the most remarkable aspects of the Museum is that touching of all the fossils and casts is encouraged.  Few objects are behind glass; everything is out in the open for people to touch and examine up close. There are many in the museum field who would be horrified by such an arrangement. When putting objects on exhibit, it is a given that they are considered consumable. No matter what precautions are taken, anything put on display will inevitably suffer damage. Of course, the flip side is that exhibit designers want to allow visitors to get as close to the objects as possible. The Morrison Museum has taken this to the extreme. The fossils, many one them irreplaceable holotype specimens, are fully exposed to accidental or intentional abuse by visitors. This is a very bold move on the part of the Museum, and it makes the point that the knowledge visitors can gain from full access to objects is more valuable that the objects themselves.

I won’t lie, my initial reaction upon seeing this exhibit layout was open-mouthed horror. But after spending some time in the space, I think the Morrison Museum may be on to something. This is a great way to tap into the multiple intelligences of visitors. Obviously, this system only works because the Museum’s attendance is on the low side (I would hate to see what the summer hordes at NMNH or AMNH would do if they were allowed to run wild among the mounts),  but given these circumstances I think the open-access approach is a great educational tool.

Overall, I was very pleased with my visit to the Morrison Museum. The volunteer staff knowledgable, passionate and helpful, the exhibits were excellent, and the handful of other visitors passing through (mostly young children) seemed genuinely engaged. The Museum is well worth a stop for anyone in the Denver area, and may well be a worthwhile model for other museums to follow.

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Filed under dinosaurs, mammals, museums, paleoart, reptiles, reviews, science communication

Science, Art and Gregory Paul

Freelance paleoartist, researcher and author Gregory Paul has recently issued what amounts to a Cease and Desist to illustrators making use of his skeletal restorations of dinosaurs in paid projects. Paul argues that when other artists use his reconstructions,”often but not always the result is that other’s work possesses the ‘Greg Paul look”, and that this is a violation of copyright which has hindered his ability to secure commissions. Paul’s statement can be seen here, with  rebuttals here, and here. I would also encourage reading the thoughtful responses to the issue by artists and others in the paleontological community on the DML archives.

Torvosaurus by Gregory Paul. Image borrowed from http://www.kheper.net.

Gregory Paul is of course one of the most influential individuals working on dinosaurs today. His work, particularly in Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, is probably the most frequently cited inspiration in my generation of paleophiles (perhaps because it isn’t cool to say Jurassic Park anymore). In particular, his series of intensively researched skeletal restorations (representing virtually every dinosaur known from sufficient material) are ubiquitous resources for paleontologists, and are a beloved resource among professional and hobbyist dinosaur artists. Even when his reconstructions are not directly utilized, the white-bones-on-black-outline presentation and one-foot-raised posture (see above) created by Paul have become an unofficial standard.

Now Paul is telling us that playtime is over. He has stated in no uncertain terms that creating dinosaur art based on his reconstructions without his consent and compensation is a copyright violation. The skeletal restorations require extensive research, travel to collections, original photography, and cross-scaling (which I won’t pretend to understand). Moreover, Paul has stated that other artists need to start doing the same, personally researching every dinosaur illustrated from the ground up, rather than relying disproportionately on his work.

I think Paul makes many fair points. In particular, the practice of producing uncredited Gregory Paul knockoffs at low prices is problematic, and his financial concerns are valid. Paul is in a (as far as I know) unique position among individuals producing quality paleontological restorations in that he does not have a university or museum position; his art is his business and livelihood, a fact which should be respected.

Giraffatitan and Ceratosaurus by Gregory Paul. Image borrowed from http://sodinossauros.blogspot.com.

Nevertheless, although I have complete sympathy for Paul’s predicament, I do have to take issue with some of his arguments, explained below.

1. I am concerned that Paul has framed the argument by defining paleoart as  a commercial commodity, and not as art or science. Everybody needs to make a living and romanticized ideals only get you so far, but science (and art) is all about sharing. By performing and publishing research, a scientist is providing her community and society with knowledge. Scientists continue to make new discoveries and continue to illustrate the many fascinating facets of the universe around us. As I see it, that is the point of science, but when you say, “this information that I discovered is mine, and only I can use it and built on it,” science becomes a business enterprise. We’ve already seen some of the complications of copyrighting genes. Do we really want to extend that to other fields? Paul’s situation is a little different because he is individually responsible for the majority of useful dinosaur skeletal restorations available. The principle, however, should be the same: when research is published, the knowledge gained from it becomes a shared commodity that others can learn from and expand on.

2. In his second rebuttal, Paul addresses the “slippery slope” that if skeletal drawings are off limits, than perhaps published photographs, measurements or even museum mounts could be as well. Paul argues that this is irrelevant because no scientist would object to others making use of their work when conducting further research. This seems like a completely inadequate excuse, because it gives Paul’s work special status that he is not extending to other researchers. The question remains that if one person objects to other scientists making use on their research, than what happens if others follow suit? The entire scientific process would grind to a halt.

3. Paul argues that he was key in establishing the “new look” of dinosaurs in the 1970s and 80s. What he means by “new look”, however, is not clear. Paul’s artwork and research was absolutely central in the transformation of our understanding of dinosaurs from slow, dim-witted monsters to active and socially complex animals (the work of Robert Bakker, John Ostrom, and, undeniably, the artists involved in Jurassic Park were also important). However, if Paul is attempting to claim some ownership of the fact that dinosaurs were, on the whole, fleet-footed and active animals, that seems as unreasonable as James Watson and Francis Crick claiming ownership of the fact that DNA is a double helix (oh wait…). If however, Paul is merely referring to the many artists who’s dinosaur depictions end up with the same emaciated, two-dimensional, dynamic-but-lifeless look of Paul’s, than this is a valid criticism. I hope to find clarification before jumping to conclusions about Paul trying to copyright scientific facts that he happens to have popularized.

Quetzalcoatlus and Daspletosaurus by Gregory Paul. Image borrowed from http://blogevolved.blogspot.com.

Finally, I found what I interpreted to be an attempt to discourage up-and-coming paleoartists from joining the field to be extremely off-putting.

If you are thinking that gee wiz doing your own technical research and restorations sure sounds like a pain in the butt, or may be beyond your knowledge base, and you don’t want to risk doing inaccurate restorations or do not think paying me a fee is workable, then there is another alternative. Perhaps it is better if you do something else. I know, it’s lots of fun illustrating dinosaurs. But if you cannot produce high quality, original paleorestorations is it really a good idea to be in the business? If you for example like the Greg Paul look do you really want to be underbidding me? Does not make sense when you mull it over.

I read this as “this is my field, you will never be as good as me, so don’t even try.” Well gee wiz Mr. Paul, isn’t that a nice thing to say to the legions of fans and admirers whose image of you ranges from “brilliant” to “godly.” Yes, Paul’s work is excellent, and few can duplicate it’s quality, but it doesn’t seem especially constructive to actively discourage others from working in the field.

This is a difficult issue, particularly because the economic factors probably have to weigh more heavily than ideological ones. I hope Mr. Paul’s statement gets wide circulation, and continues to inspire debate on what we should value about science.

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Filed under dinosaurs, opinion, paleoart