giovedì 14 febbraio 2013

Palaeoart interview # 2: Matt Martyniuk / A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and other Winged Dinosaurs

Martyniuk, M.P. (2012). A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and Other Winged Dinosaurs. Vernon: PanAves.
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Welcome back to the Palaeoart Interview post series!
In the previous episodes, we have explored the general historic background of palaeoart (A “Palaeoartistic Enlightenment”: Dinosaurs as (Deconstructed) Scientific Iconography), and we have enjoyed what Steve White had to tell us about Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart.

Today, I am delighted to present the second installment in the palaeoart series: Matthew Martyniuk of DinoGoss fame will talk about his Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and other Winged Dinosaurs.
Many thanks to him for having accepted and happy reading!


1. As Andrea Cau pointed out in his blog (Recensione di "A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and other Winged Dinosaurs" di M.P. Martyniuk), you «have fully captured the profound meaning of the “feathered Revolution”»: your book brilliantly illustrates avian dinosaurs as normal and real animals, very far from the “zombie–saurus” (a term coined by Marc Vincent), so typical of the innumerable clones of the original paulian design, or the poorly feathered monsters that are still en vogue. The animals you depicted are drawn in a way that nobody today – with your Field Guide at hand – could ever possibly detect the presence of a “dinosaur” (in the classic, Victorian sense) disguised under that fluffy integument (which is likely to be the case for the proverbial Neanderthal dressed up and waiting with us at the bus station). We visually need to go beyond old conventions, and your book is a very good achievement in that sense.
Your style seems also to have changed a lot during the years, as witnessed in a picture featured in Naish’s book Tetrapod Zoology (Naish, D. 2010. Tetrapod Zoology Book One. Bideford: CFZ Press. p. 77, fig. 38: Oviraptorine Heads Compared). In the Acknowledgements section of your Field Guide you cite John Conway, Scott Hartman, Jaime Headden and Ville Sinkkonen, whose works have inspired you the most.
Could you please tell us more about the process that guides your aesthetic and/or scientific approach during the reconstructions? What are your artistic roots and main influences?

Matt Martyniuk: I guess my artistic style has gradually gone from being heavily influenced by Gregory S. Paul to being heavily influenced by John Conway. My current art is mainly guided by a naturalistic philosophy. I grew up seeing dinosaurs and other prehistoric life depicted as these really fantastic looking, otherworldly creatures with no real analogue to the wildlife of today—that’s definitely a big part of the appeal of dinosaurs in general to many people, I think. But a few years ago I started to drift more into the influence of Conway and similar artists who have a more naturalistic take on restoring fossil animals, like Emily Willoughby and Dan Bensen, who once did a really great series of watercolour paintings depicting pterosaurs and prehistoric birds as if they were preserved museum specimens pulled out of some drawer by a researcher. I’ve steadily become more interested in showing prehistoric life as basically like modern life, things that could fit in among the kinds of animals we see today, rather than as an extinct class of dragons. In some ways this can be kind of subtle, like having dinosaur tails droop a little at the end, or using slow-walking rather than running poses. It’s not a return to the tail-dragging dinosaurs of the 1960s, but it’s also a rejection of the gravity-defying super-animals often depicted in various media. I guess the biggest shift came when I decided to start drawing a lot of prehistoric animals in a field-guide style—simple, neutral poses making identification and comparison of distinguishing features easier. Field guide style plates are, in a way, as “naturalistic” as you can get short of full-on wildlife art.

2. The taxonomic stance you adopted (i.e., the outdated nomenclature, not incorrect but quite obsolete) raised some eyebrows in the first reviews published on line (Cau and Mickey Mortimer, for instance). In the absence of the official PhyloCode, and the possible target audience for a popular book like yours notwithstanding, you have chosen to use such a taxonomy (e.g., Deinodontoidea for Tyrannosauroidea) and previously justified your decision in a post on DinoGoss, your blog.
Could you please summarize your reasons?

M.M.: I can tend to be a stickler for rules and priority, for better or worse, but the decision to use “old-school” taxon names is only partly out of a sense of fairness to the original authors who named them. It’s also something of an aesthetic choice. At its heart taxonomy has always been more an art than a science, and while I fully support the recent attempt to make naming conventions more rigorous through efforts like the PhyloCode, part of me misses the structure and predictability of old-style Linnaean classification. I use Caenagnathiformes instead of Oviraptorosauria, for example, in my book. Caenagnathiformes has never been phylogenetically defined, but it is an older name for approximately the same group, so in the absence of any rules to the contrary, why not use it? It may be unfamiliar to must people, but in context it is obvious what group of animals it is referring to. At the same time, names that have that air of early 20th century science matches my artistic style of re-imagining dinosaurs in a modern but somehow pre-dinosaur renaissance fashion.
In some cases, the names we use now are demonstrably wrong. Deinodontidae is a great example. This was the universally accepted name of the group containing Tyrannosaurus rex up until the 1970s. As Mickey Mortimer notes on his Web site, Dale Russell unilaterally declared Deinodontidae invalid in a 1970 paper because he considered the genus Deinodon a “nomen vanum”. None of this is supported by the rules of nomenclature set forth by the ICZN. Even if one considers Deinodon a nomen dubium since it’s based on fragmentary fossil material, there is no doubt that it is a close relative of T. rex, and therefore there was no reason not to keep the family name in place, especially when other names based on very fragmentary fossils are still in universal use today (Hadrosauridae, Ceratopsidae, Troodontidae, etc.). Despite all this, everyone else seems to have followed Russell’s recommendation without question. In a way I find it sad that Deinodontidae was abandoned for such an arbitrary reason, and attempting to bring it back is my way of trying to right a minor wrong perpetuated by the Dinosaur Renaissance era. Of course, I fully support the efforts to implement the PhyloCode, and hopefully it will go into effect soon. As much as I will miss the aesthetic value of the “old names”, I hope to be able to use official names in any future edition of the book, if official, PhyloCode sanctioned names exist by that time.

3. The first reviews being published (the already mentioned Cau’s and Mortimer’s critiques, as well as Alan H. Brush brief description), is there something that you think you might have add, expanded or explained in a rather different way? 

M.M.: Well, I think in hindsight it was a mistake not to include an index! My goal for the book was to make an art book with unusually detailed entries useful for comparing and contrasting Mesozoic birds, which are unfortunately often depicted rather generically. For that reason I organized the book by both family and gross similarity and basically thought navigation would be done by group rather than species. Of course as a major synthesis of data on these things, I realize it would be useful to be able to find one by name rather than flipping to its family and browsing, so this is something I will try to include in any potential second edition.

4. Is there hope for an expanded edition of your Field Guide, possibly covering different kinds of ornithodirans with feathery of fluffy integuments (if you are interested in such an endeavour, of course)?

M.M.: That is something that I would consider, but it would depend on the circumstances. Dr. Brush noted in his review that the inclusion of only dinosaurs with pennaceous feathers was completely arbitrary (i.e. why not include all feathered dinosaurs?), but it was a necessary line to draw in order to limit the scope of the project. Including all feathered dinosaurs would have at least doubled the number of original restorations, and probably added years to the book’s production time! If anything, I’d definitely consider doing additional field guides to non-aviremigian dinosaurs. Interestingly, even with my chosen scope, I may have to significantly expand the book in any future editions thanks to the discovery that even ornithomimids may have had pennaceous feathers.

5. What is your own definition of palaeoart – or what should palaeoart be?

M.M.: This is a tricky question, and lots of very strong opinions exist in the community—there was a whole series of posts on this published at a blog I (infrequently) contribute to, Art Evolved. I personally think a distinction should be drawn between pop art and scientific restoration. Many people are incredibly talented at making art involving dinosaurs that are not necessarily scientifically rigorous, but are stylized in some way, whether they reference historic depictions of scaly dinosaurs, or movie dinosaurs, or fantastical/alien looking dinosaurs. On the other hand, there are artists who insist that only rigorous, evidence-based restorations are acceptable… but then you have very “liberal” movements like the current ne being spawned by the publication of Conway et al.’s All Yesterdays, where the illustrations are consistent with the scientific evidence but contain a major dose of pure speculation.
The problem I see with paleoart is that we’re short on terms for sub-genres. If I look at a picture of a Jurassic Park style Dilophosaurus with a big expandable frill, my first reaction is that it’s not worthwhile as paleoart because I just spent two decades trying to convince amateur artists not to do that, that there’s no evidence Dilophosaurus really had a frill, etc. But then I read a blog post on Cau’s Theropoda blog talking about the avant-garde depiction of an Apatosaurus with big double dewlaps hanging off its neck and think, “Wow, isn’t that interesting, and not that implausible!”. I guess the real problem with the Dilophosaurus is that I’m reacting to the unoriginality of the myriad copies it spawned, not the implausibility of the depiction itself. I guess my central point in all this is that paleoart is a spectrum from pop art to scientific reconstruction to “paleo wildlife art.” I think much of my own art would fit into the latter—it’s very hard to depict a fossil species in a naturalistic way without obscuring scientific rigor with lots of plausible speculation. I think the paleoart community should make room for all those styles.

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