Photos cannot fully replace paint in the best field guide-books for the larger mammals

With the proliferation of photos on platforms such as iNaturalist, it is easy to assume that the kinds of paintings seen in field guide-books such as Dorst and Dandelot (1970), Haltenorth and Diller (1977) and Kingdon (1997) are 'so last-century' that they can be discarded.

Well, not so fast in the case of artist Pierre Dandelot (see https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Dandelot).

The advantage of good scientific art, in the context of identification of species in the field, is that it reduces distracting detail and 'caricaturises' the appearance usefully. Just as the candle was not made obsolete by the electric bulb, the deceptively rough-and-ready water colours of Dandelot (see https://www.buteobooks.com/product/D361.html and https://www.ebay.com/p/11086 and https://www.amazon.com/Field-Guide-Larger-Mammals-Africa/dp/039510839X and https://en.todocoleccion.net/second-hand-books-sciences/guia-campo-mamiferos-salvajes-africa-jean-dorst-pierre-dandelot~x127166079) will never be fully upstaged by technical progress.

The best paintings in field guide-books can be compared to portraits of human faces. No number of high-tech photos will ever make artists like Anh Do obsolete (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anh%27s_Brush_with_Fame). This is because seeing is ultimately done by the mind, not just the eyes, and even a realistic artist should subtly guide us where and how to look (e.g. see https://en.todocoleccion.net/second-hand-books-sciences/a-field-guide-to-the-larger-mammals-of-africa-fauna-ingles~x19002352#sobre_el_lote).

Helmut Diller was a peer of Pierre Dandelot, but his busy style (e.g. see https://twitter.com/serpenillus/status/926157045002317824 and https://www.biblio.com/book/field-guide-mammals-africa-including-madagascar/d/859560444 and https://www.luckyleeslabyrinth.com/listing/483953363/world-wildlife-fund-helmut-diller-prints) is memorable more for how not to than how to. The paintings are unnecessarily painstaking and miss the key points; they confuse with detail as much as photos do but without the accuracy. The difference between these scientific artists is that Dandelot understood intuitively that search-images depend on interpretation and emphasis.

And so we can greatly add, by contributing photos to iNaturalist, to the quantity of descriptive material; but beyond a certain limit it becomes quality rather than quantity that sharpens the eye for species-identification. And the value added by Dandelot (and to a lesser degree by Jonathan Kingdon) is similar to that added by making certain kinds of movies by artificial animation instead of real actors.

Publicado por milewski milewski, 07 de julio de 2021

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