Perceptions of the Field
How do paleoartists view their field, its challenges, financial sustainability, and their peers?
Respondents were asked to weigh in on a list of contentious practices, indicating which they personally took issue with. The percentages all dropped a bit, with "copying a piece of paleoart in a different style" taking the largest drop. 2% of respondents seem to have no ethical qualms about any of the practices offered, remaining the same as the first survey. 28% saw doing client work for free as ethically problematic; compare to the 36% of professional respondents who report that they never work for free.
Which of the following practices do you find ethically problematic?
Respondents chould choose multiple answers.
While most artists did not believe that they themselves had been plagiarized, they were acutely aware of it happening to other artists.
To your knowledge, has your artwork ever been plagiarized?
Do you know of other artists whose artwork has been plagiarized?
A new question was added to this second survey, hoping to find what qualities paleoartists see as important to their role as members of this community. The two that rose above 50% indicate that adherence to scientific understanding and creating unique work are highly regarded qualities. That doesn't necessarily carry over to working with scientists, suggesting that paleoartists are confident in their research abilities. The 36% here who report "consulting with scientists" is important to their credibility matches the percentage who reported the same as one of their research methods.
What do you think is most important to your credibility as a paleoartist?
Respondents were unsure about the sustainability of paleoart as an industry. Regarding whether their craft is given respect by the scientific community, we added a "not sure" option this year, which gained about as many responses as "yes." Most respondents report that they stay engaged with the current state of paleontology and paleoart. The most interesting result here was that we saw a significant drop in the number of respondents who "keep informed about the history of the discipline, as well as the methodologies and philosophies of fellow paleoartists."
Do you view paleoart as an industry with a sustainable and prosperous future?
Do you think that paleoart is well respected by the scientific community?
Do you keep informed about the history of the discipline, as well as the methodologies and philosophies of fellow paleoartists?
Respondents were asked to provide a list of their influences in a short answer format. They were able to list multiple artists. The 21 most named influences are provided here, with their 2017 numbers given for comparison. For a full list of mentions, please see Appendix B.
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Four short answer questions were provided for artists to share their thoughts about a range of concerns. Ten from each section are provided here, but if you'd like to read all responses, each question includes a link to a Google Doc containing nearly all answers (responses like "no" or "I don't know" have been excised). In retrospect, the first two questions were probably a bit too similar and had significant overlap in the sentiments expressed - paleoartists in part see paleoart as worthwhile because they see it as important to society's understanding of life's history on earth. Answers have not been edited.
In your opinion, why is paleoart a worthwhile and valuable pursuit?
To read all responses, please see this Google Doc.
- "Dinosaurs are cool, have always been cool, and always will be cool. The same applies to any other extinct animal. It's great to always be learning about all the freakazoids who used to call Earth home."
- "Paleoart is the most easily-accessible medium for understanding prehistory. While technical papers and academic publications may be indecipherable to the layperson, even the youngest children can understand a piece of art depicting extinct life. It's also a unique combination of scientific methodology and artistic expression. There's endless opportunities for artists to draw inspiration from the deep past and create something new, which broadens the scope of a centuries-old art form and contributes to our understanding of the world we inhabit."
- "It’s art. Art is always worthwhile."
- "I find it mentally stimulating. I'm forcing both "halves" of my brain to work together in synch, and I'm always better informed after every piece I do. It's a "niche" artform that seems to have plenty of room for growth and (on the more "greedy" side of things) profit.
- In short, I think it better helps us understand how the past directly effects the present and future."
- "I think being able to imagine what these long lost animals must have look liked is a privilege we as animals have. Plus, just like any other animal, they're really cool and learning about what they must have looked like is like a time machine into the past."
- "Paleoart allows me to develop and present ideas about anatomy, evolution, and deep time in a non-verbal, sensory format that complements what I can learn from written science. I feel it allows for a deeper understanding of the life of the past."
- "It's about expressing a connection with deep time and in some ways a method of trying to understand the past by visualising it. I think it's important to try to show how environments and species could have been to help give perspective on current times. And of course, it is simply an interesting thing to do!"
- "I have often experienced that my "stupid" questions on trivial things like skin, wrinkles, soft parts lead the scientists to new understandings of the species. So the creation of paleoart is a way to develop a broader understanding of how life were in prehistory. Specialists tends to focus on narrow fields, so meeting generalists or specialists in other fields lead to new knowledge."
- "I think paleontologist is the researcher while paleoartist is the public speaker."
- "Just as art is crucial to the modern natural world and biology, and throughout history of the fields; so too should art be crucial in palaeontology. Illustrations can help visualise synapomorphies more than text alone for some working in the field. More understanding of theories from art (for example the colour theory), can pave for new hypothesis and methods where a single experience in science alone may miss or overlook."
Why do you think paleoart is important to society at large?
To read all responses, please see this Google Doc.
- "It is (in my opinion) the most effective tool for communicating scientific ideas to the public. It also brings extinct organisms to life in a way that simply looking at fossils can’t always do.
- I feel that a majority of the public has been misinformed on what prehistoric animals, and it is important as scientific thinkers that we do our best to destroy this misinformation and misconceptions. The public should have an accurate picture in their mind about what prehistoric life was actually like."
- "Imagination is key to progress!"
- "Because paleoart serves to put our everyday lives, society, and the problems we face as a civilization into the context of deep time. It can be used to rise awareness of conservational efforts and why it is important of preserving modern ecosystems by showing the public the vast diversity and fragility of the life of the past, and how changing climate and environmental conditions have affected it."
- "Because it shows how science and art can be unified, and teaches in a graphic way.
- "Meh... That’s like asking - why is music important to society? Art is one of those things that is more important to do, rather than to define or classify."
- "I have no idea."
- "You can write many pages about that new wonderful genus of anomalocarid you discovered, but many people will only pay attention to it if there is an image attached, conveying the creature in a much faster and possibly more accurate fashion than a longwinded text full of scientific terms a layman might not even know. Paleoart closes a gap between the scientific community and those who maybe where just unfortunate and simply couldnt afford college, but still wish to learn more about prehistoric life. I collect childrens books about prehistoric life. And even in the year 2018 I have to find that 80% of all depictions in them are outdated, copied from volumes ten years old and actively hurt the perception of youth on prehistoric life as a whole. As such modern Paleoart also has to sort of counterbalance those false depictions, as hard as a task this may be. Maybe when I am old I can finally buy a book about dinosaurs that is as accurate as the book about horses next to it. We have a lot to tell in this field. Paleoart is a way to make all those things better heard and understood.
- It provides an understanding of how changing environment have not only contributed to the formation of new species but have caused extinctions. This gives us a better understanding of how our affects on climate can be detrimental to survival."
- "People at large and laity enjoy past life they can't witness. A museum of only bones and impressions gives a sense of scale, but it gives little sense of shape. By contrasting the known with the possible, you open a window into a universe these people have never seen. The past is a foreign country, but paleoart is the passport.
- "No." [Harsh! - ed.]
Is there anything that you think paleoartists could be doing to improve conditions or opportunities within the field?
As you might expect with hundreds of answers, some thoughts appeared over and over. Commonly voiced concerns included gatekeeping and elitism, urging for more tactful and welcoming behavior and a focus on constructive crticism. Charging fair rates, more transparency and sharing of process, and the creation of a formal paleoart organization also came up numerous times. To read all responses, see this Google Doc.
- "Creating a more welcoming and encouraging atmosphere within the community (by giving more constructive rather than destructive criticism, which is especially necessary on online platforms like Twitter) would be helpful not only for people experienced in the field but especially for newcomers (like me) to not be discouraged and continue creating art and improving."
- "By branching out to other mediums and art forms. For instance I don't know of many who have done comics for education, or how-to-draw guides for showing people how knowing paleontology can be a useful tool for creature design is scifi and fantasy. I also don't see sound artists even mentioned as existing in this survey. Surely there are people interested in reconstructing the sounds of ancient dinosaurs or sea critters. What about people who create physical models?"
- "I feel that paleoartists need to be more inclusive when it comes to people of different genders, sexual orientations, POC, with disabilities and with various ethnicities and artistic skillsets (beyond male, pale and privileged). I feel that the people that are showcased or who earn awards are those who are privileged, versus those who are not, and this needs to change. I also feel those same individuals are the ones who get recognized work-wise and tend to sell more art. Seeing other artists as competition versus people to work with is another issue, on top of being overly critical of new artists and their work. Seeing and encouraging potential artists is best, rather than pushing others away."
- "Stop doing work for cheap/free. Artists who do this many still live with parents and don’t have bills. I was told by an author, after I gave my price for one color image, that he could only afford a half size black and white based on my rates (which were below standard) Then I found out one single artist is doing all 60 of the other images in the book. The only conclusion I can come to is they’re undercharging or doing it for free."
- "Support women, those of the LGBT community, people of color, and minorities and bring their work to the forefront."
- "I think more paleoartists should work on smaller/less charismatic fauna, especially invertebrates and fish. Plants, too. Prehistoric plants are beautiful, but I hardly ever see art of them.
- As someone coming from a general illustration background I do not have many contacts in the scientific community or educational publishing industry, it would honestly be nice to see more workshops, events, or even just general listings for that type of work. Not everyone can make it across the country to go to one conference that they might be able to make contacts at. Heck, even a guide with recommendations for where to look or how to get your name out to places might be nice."
- "We might consider forming a standard, recommended contract agreement for paleoart commissions. There's a lot of young people on the field, just starting and not sure how to handle commissions professionally - and probably not part of any professional artist's associations that could help. Having a blank contract to use as a model might help them avoid all sorts of trouble with clients. Recommended commission prices would be a lot more difficult, since we're a global community, and the value of money varies wildly."
- "Maintain strictness on accuracy, but be wary and have restraint when it comes to critiquing people who are evidently new or uninformed. We, as a community, have a tendency to be quite harsh when we see, say, a scaly dromaeosaur drawn by somebody who clearly doesn't know any better, and it can make mingling with the palaeoartist community quite daunting for newbies. Remember that not everyone has had access to the same information we have."
- "Is there a need/desire for a formal group/organization? I know that contributors here have sought to create forums for discussion and even codes of best practices which are phenomenal for Paleoart. Maybe I’m not digitally minded enough and the survey and things like LITC are more than adequate?"
- "The thing that springs to mind is that well established, widely admired palaeoartists might provide more information about their processes. How exactly do they translate measurements from a lateral view skeletal onto a differently posed individual seen from a different angle? How precisely are areas of light and shadow referenced or thought through? How do they decide what size an original piece will be (if using trad. media?) Overall: how many of the decisions that go into the final piece are carefully, maybe even mathematically worked out, and how many of the decisions are more along the lines of 'this looks good / feels right'? However, I understand that there are a variety of reasons why any given palaeoartist might not want to be completely transparent about their process."
Do you have any other thoughts about the field of paleoart that haven't been covered by this survey?
Here, I'm going to mostly focus on responses that offered constructive criticism of the survey itself. In the next survey, I will likely rephrase this question to directly ask for survey feedback.
There are some fantastic suggestions here though, that will certainly help to improve the survey! To read all responses, see this Google Doc.
- "One thought about the survey; while it was fairly comprehensive for independent artists working primarily based on composition, I did not see a way to indicate whether we were self-employed, worked as a regular museum employee, or some other mix. As someone who works partially as museum staff, partially as a freelancer, and partially on original content, I wasn't quite sure how to respond about commissions. If this was accounted for in the questions and I missed it, I apologize."
- "Many paleoartists do other work too. It may be interesting to hear what variety of other work we do. For my part, I work as a lab manager, segment a lot of CT data, and run/use/fix a micro CT scanner."
- "It asks very little about the use and depictions of fossil species in art for uses other than science. I know that's usually the point of "paleoart" as it is often discussed, but I think there is a big overlap in areas of entertainment and media. I think the relationship among these two areas is hugely symbiotic. Entretainment and pop-culture interest in the depictions of prehistoric species brings public, funding and future academics to the scientiffic branch and the scientiffic branch ought to infuse the former with educational value, life and authenticity. It would be interesting to know hows much science entertainment-centered artists bring to their depictions of prehistoric species and what science-base artist do to reach the public at large outside."
- "Influences in the topics that doesn’t necessarily involve paleoart, artist as influence but that doesn’t focus on paleoart."
- "I would love to hear people's opinions on whether or not dedicated paleoartists feel that their work is regarded as fanciful or fantastic by natural history artists depicting purely extant organisms. I have met a few well regarded wildlife painters that do not understand the rigorous scientific study that goes into good paleoart and, thus regard the field as being akin to fantasy art."
- "I think it's worth noting in this survey that this year I took on some huge projects and needed to hire an art assistant for finishing some of the art for. The tone of the most of the online paleoart community is so confrontational and generally whiny and obnoxious that rather than hire people who fancy themselves as paleoartists I turned to friends who are professional artists in other fields and hired them, which required I give detailed instruction and explanation to ensure scientific accuracy, but I honestly I think that bit of extra time was worthwhile because the work was executed well and the working relationship was pleasant and fun. There are extremely few paleoartists I am currently aware of that I would even consider hiring to help with large projects I can't complete by myself (exhibits etc) either because of a lack of a real physical/positive presence in the paleontological community or because their art is generally uninspiring or amateurish technically. I wish this weren't the case, as I have other big projects lined up that I will need to hire help for in 2019.
Be friendly, show up, work hard and deliver on time. This is how to be professional and get work."
- "I think a note should be made about what the different types of careers as a paleo artist one would like to go into, such as anatomical diagrams, book illustrations, sceneries, museum displays, etc.
- "I only can think in that a survey like this is not doing for example, for Latin America. I don't mean that you must due make a version, but that it is a symptom of that outside of the English-speaking world, the community involved or interested in paleontology is more dispersed (and maybe, smaller)."
- "I love this community, even though I haven't been participating of late. It is the best group of people I've found on the internet, who really care about what they are doing and about helping each other."
- "Acknowledge that paleo pop culture is here to stay. We may all be annoyed about the JP/JW franchise for various reasons, but we can NOT ignore the fact that THIS IS WHERE IT BEGINS for a portion of the next generation of paleontologists and artists. Find a way to interweave it into your dialogue and interactions in a way that speaks your truth, but doesn’t punch down at those hoping to find a door cracked open and waiting for them to enter the room where the rest of us are hanging out. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Welcome that without ridicule."
- "The paleoart community is so welcoming, and friendly. I am proud to be a part of a community with so many kind, critical thinkers."