So there’s something that really makes my jimmies rustle on deviantArt, particularly within the spectrums of the paleo community.
Paleo community as in paleoart/ism, of course, not the cuisine.
And that is the kind of “constructive” criticism some people provide and how some people take actual constructive criticism. Now, constructive criticism is important. We as users joined this social platform as its rather convenient for giving and receiving feedback. Feedback is important as it enables us as artists to grow and improve. A lot of us experienced skill boosts after joining deviantArt as it gives us motivation to practice our art skills as well as enables us to grow from our mistakes through the feedback we receive.
This is of course especially important in scientific illustration as in the cetacean art community, the space art community, the paleoart community or others, but also for realistic creature design within the specevo community, which is strongly tied to scientific illustration when it comes to proper world building. The very essence of scientific illustration is to represent something as beautiful and complex as nature as precisely and close to the original as possible. An impossible task for mortals, yet we have the ability to create the atmosphere of what our human minds perceive. But it should also be noted that it is impossible to create accurate paleoart. We might never know to hundred percent how the ancient inhabitants of this world looked like, how they lived, how they bred. But we are getting closer and closer to being able to represent them as close to the original as possible with every new discovery. From fossilized pigments to parts of dinosaurs preserved in amber, we live in an age where a lot of information that used to be impossible to figure out is now known. Yet we don’t know everything. For example the true colours of long extinct animals. The melanin that is preserved shows us which parts were brown, ginger, white, grey or black, but blue and green are results of reflection whereas a strong red results from an animal’s diet. Thus we as artists who depict prehistoric life are only able to recreate it as believable as possible, but never accurate. For now paleoart may always be inaccurate. Paleoart is like palaeontology full of mistakes. As time passes by ornithischians turn out to have cheeks, pterosaurs are found with branching pycnofibres and tyrannosauroids turn out to have stage three plumage. We as artists grow from our mistakes. Yet one shall not forget their own mistakes. A lot of us used to shrink-wrap the antorbital fenestrae or pronate the wrists because we grew up with outdated paleoart during the mid 2000s. Looking back at the drawings I used to create when I was 15, I wouldn’t call them paleoart. I messed up the proportions of the animals or got the integument wrong, like covering big ornithopods completely in fuzz. Now, if this isn’t paleoart, how should it be called instead? Let’s be honest, the term “dinosaur art” sounds downright childish and also doesn’t apply to anything outside dinosauria. Andrea Cau coined the fitting term paleoartism.
Now to the point of constructive criticism, if something isn’t meant as a technical reconstruction, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, for example in speculative paleoart. A depiction of a small sauropod covered in a coat of filaments does obviously not represent what the artist thinks this animal actually looked like. It is a thought experiment that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, being made mainly to stimulate inspiration or surprise within the viewer’s mind. When it comes to speculation it should however stay within the realms of possibility. And it certainly is possible that such adaptations existed, but it shouldn’t be criticised too much. Basically a sauropod covered completely in filamentous structures is as likely as a tyrannosaur without feathers. Speculation in paleoart is important as it reminds us of how weird animals can be. Lately we also find evidence of odd soft tissue adaptations such as blood vessels in the crest of Allosaurus enabling possibly the growth of a thick keratinous crest, wattles or enabling the animal to let its crest flash up in a bright red. But still speculative reconstructions shouldn’t outnumber conservative reconstructions, especially when it comes to educating the general public. Speculative paleoart has its place and is important thus it shouldn’t vanish. But when it comes to providing a first encounter with the past, reconstructions should stay conservative, yet as precise as possible at reflecting the evidence from the fossil record. Of course we see a lot of variation in soft tissue, mainly integument, in modern animals, but when you present reconstructions in lectures, presentations, documentaries or literature to the general public, keep in mind that the first encounter with these animals should be through a conservative reconstruction that represents the fossil evidence as good as possible. People should get introduced to the speculative aspects after this first conservative encounter to know what is actually known and what speculation on the animal’s appearance or behaviour is.
Also when you criticise people, make sure to be constructive criticism. Constructive criticism enables artists to grow. We joined this website to not only share our art with the world. We could have done that with platforms like Tumblr as well. DeviantArt however enables us to gain feedback, but feedback should motivate us to improve to be effective, not to demotivate. So in order to motivate you have to appreciate the effort put into the art. When you criticise someone, stay polite. It is obvious that you don’t motivate anyone by being a cuck, leaving only a critique, making fun of the work, speaking to the artist as if they are lowly and unworthy or whatever and don’t post any status updates where you make fun of the artist and make your followers attack their art as well. That kind of behaviour crosses the border to the realm of cyberbullying. First of all it is important to imagine you were in the artist’s place. What kind of response would be constructive to you? What kind of response would motivate you to continue creating art while improving your own skills?
It is important to note that not everyone knows everything and that goes without saying. I know jack shit about astrophysics, so I’m honest to myself and consider myself an idiot in this field. The same goes for palaeontology. Just as not everyone is a space kid, not everyone is a dinosaur kid. If a representation of an extinct creature seems “inaccurate” to you it doesn’t justify criticising it into the ground, especially if it isn’t meant to be a technical restoration.
For example a cartoony drawing of an extinct creature with supposedly wrong anatomical features should obviously not be criticised too hard if criticised at all. As ridiculous as it seems people doing this, I’ve seen this happening a couple of times. When it’s a cartoony featherless tyrannosaur there is no reason to be bothered too much since it’s an average way to depict it, although it is rather unlikely the animal looked like this. If it is an allosauroid or a megalosauroid completely covered in plumage, appreciate that the general public is getting more open to dinosaurs being depicted with such an integument in general. It is an indication that despite pop culture holding it back, science is still making great leaps in outreach and that there are people responding positively to it and not just oldschoolers clinging desperately onto the retrosaurs of their childhood while refusing newer depictions. But yes, you can still like retrosaurs for nostalgia reasons and being open to modern depictions. I for my part love old kaiju movies. Just remember to not take cartoonish illustrations too seriously as they aren’t meant to be and often just drawn for fun. And taking that fun away with harsh criticism or even blowing the situation up to a YouTube level of drama shouldn’t be a thing. Keep in mind that by doing so you are not only hurting the reputation of that artist, but also your own since a lot of people would consider you a jerk for acting like one. Not everyone might know what you know. You certainly don’t know what others know. Even within your own field of interest. And remember how much you knew when you started, how far you came and at which point this other person is at the moment. How would you treat your past self? How would you treat someone who is right now at the same point where you used to be? Remember what you’ve been taught by your family, by your friends, by kindergarteners and teachers. Remember to stay polite to others because when you treat others nicely you might get a nice treatment in return.
And that goes for all aspects of society, whether you give a homeless person a sandwich, greet your neighbours or you leave a motivational comment under a piece of art. What you do or how you do it is up to yourself, just be a nice person in this already grumpy world.
But seriously, I’m not wikiHow, just some late teen! I don’t know why I’m teaching here proper manners. That should happen automatically. Not being a jerk in a comment section, attracting followers to the case to let the situation escalate, deleting your comments, complaining in a journal about being blocked for good reasons and then after all this mess already happened questioning your behaviour afterwards, when it’s already too late and that multiple times. What’s wrong with you, guys? This isn’t YouTube. The paleo community is already divided enough and I’m sick of this mess.