Sunday 30 June 2019

Monsterising prehistory! The "how", "why" and "so what" of monstrous palaeoart

Just a quick heads up and some steering links in this post, normal service will be resumed next month.

I recently wrote an article about the palaeoartistic monsterisation of prehistoric animals for the Popularizing Palaeontology blog, a web offshoot of the workshop series of the same name organised by Chris Manias of Kings College London. The PopPalaeo workshops are a series of discussions and presentations by scientists, historians, artists and curators about the public face of palaeontology, and they're always fascinating and fun events.

The most recent UK workshop - held in December 2018 - focused on how palaeontology connects with wider scientific discussions about evolution, biological progress and perception of nature. Chris invited me to speak at this event and I chose to cover how many palaeoartworks deliberately 'monsterise' their subjects, using enhanced or distorted anatomy and compositional techniques to exaggerate the ferocity of their depicted species (opening slide from my talk, above). I think we're all familiar with examples of this: if not, just check out virtually any predatory dinosaur from cinema, or the dinosaur book covers at your local book shop. Monsterised palaeoart is a topic many of us have strong feelings about as it ties into nostalgia for childhood dinosaur media, our commitments to certain franchises, and our aesthetic preferences. But it's probably neither a wholly good nor wholly bad convention: there's lots to discuss about how and why we monsterise the past, as well as it's better points ("it's a PR win!") and drawbacks ("it distorts the truth about ancient life!").

Rather than reposting my essay here, you should steer your internet browsing machine to the PopPalaeo blog to read it there. While you're there, be sure to check out the rest of the PopPalaeo website, including recorded talks from each workshop (the latest set, including my monsterising talk, is here) - lots of goodness lies therein.

Coming soon: wrapping up our series on the Crystal Palace palaeoart sculptures with an in-depth look at the oft-neglected mammal island.

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