Sunday, October 16, 2011

An actual prehistoric Palaeo-Artist?!?

By now I'm sure you've heard about the supposed Triassic Kraken, eater of whale sized Ichthyosaurs, and self aware artist using the marine reptile bones as its medium. If you haven't it was just presented at a conference last week.

While this would have been an amazing find, it sadly just sounds stupid based on the evidence (I heard was) presented. It was claimed that due to strange arrangements of many whale sized Ichthyosaur vertebrae, a giant squid was using the bones to compose a self portrait of itself. A basic examination of taphonomy and/or comparisons with modern sunken whales provides plenty of legitmiate ways for an Ichthyosaur to end up a in funny resting position. Read Brian Switek's review of it all for more detail.

Yet if if the squid was found to exist and it did indeed create such self portrait art (I am NOT advocating or supporting this claim though, to be clear!!!) this brings up a very interesting philosophic point for us palaeo-artists...




This post and the philosophic idea it presents were inspired and triggered by this great doddle by Nobu Tamura.

If there were a prehistoric creature that had created its own artistic reconstruction of itself or its world, that would have a significant impact on our own modern palaeontologic artistic efforts. It could call into question what is palaeo-art, and whether we are accomplishing our mission properly!

The mission of any (worthwhile) palaeo-art is to somehow capture the prehistoric world, and bring (part of) its essence up through the well of deep-time. Up until now we have only known humans to engage in this activity. Thus all of us humans have all been on an even playing field, we are all removed from our subject matters by millions of years...

Our art recreates these worlds through indirect and comparative observations. None of our art can claim to be directly influenced by the things it is trying to represent.

Yet if there were a prehistoric organism that had itself engaged in artistic recreations of anything directly from its time, that would render our efforts completely mute conceptually. Yes the squid's (or whatever's) art is not true palaeo-art, but rather contemporary art of its own prehistoric time. However that is the point. It is not pretending to emulate prehistory, it actually depicts prehistory!

To me, philosophically, this is a fascinating potential challenge to our palaeo-art. Not that it would stop me from creating it, or talking about it pretentiously like this :P I just think the concept of something back in deep time actually recording its world fascinating and somehow appealing...

Not that I think we've found it yet!

Your thoughts?

(Hat tip to the Palaeontography people I've been debating with in private emails for getting me to think about the old definition of "palaeo-art", which in the 1800's referred to art created by prehistoric humans. This definition of palaeo-art is the reason for their desire to push for Palaeontography as the new name for what this site acknowledges as palaeo-art.

A very interesting discussion, but I stand by the Dinosaur related art definition of Palaeo-art, given it has an accepted non-formal definition within palaeontology, and the cave painting meaning hasn't been used in ages. Wikipedia only has an article on dino-art as proof our definition of palaeo-art is the only one commonly accepted these days...

I'd be more inclined to accept Palaeontography, if there were a giant squid creating art in the Triassic! That would be real palaeo-art :P)

4 comments:

Tommy Leung said...

I did a quick sketch which wasn't directly about the "Triassic Kraken" itself, but I guess you can call it a satirical cartoon of sorts if there is room in palaeontology for satirical cartoons. I posted it here:
https://plus.google.com/111479647230213565874/posts/PTkX4Hp96zj

Albertonykus said...

Speaking of cave paintings though... cave paintings are direct depictions of prehistory! They're created by humans instead of squid and are inevitably stylized to some degree, but they fit perfectly if you're looking for art from contemporary "artists" in prehistoric times.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- The cave paintings may be "prehistoric" in a sense, but to me they are still human. More to the point they were created on the temporal borderline of what we define as palaeontology.

Yes 5, 10, or 100 thousand years are arbitary cutoffs for Palaeontology to begin defining its "juristiction" or not, but the fact of the matter is cave paintings are not really prehistoric in a true deep time sense. The fact cave paintings are the realm of Anthropologists says it all to me.

Compare the significance of a human painting mammoths (which are recent enough for us to have frozen ones to DIRECTLY reference ourselves today) to a giant squid reconstructing itself with dead fish lizards...

I personally feel cave paintings don't threaten our legitimacy in reconstructing deep time as much as the squid's art would have(mind you I don't ice age mammals... so maybe I'm biasised :P)

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- I do acknowledge how many cave paintings have been used to help our research and understanding of ice age mammals however...

I just again think something over a million years old would be beyond cool... especially if it were not directly related to humans!