Reading Diary: Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart edited by Steve White

Every once in a while a review copy of a book comes over the transom and it just makes your day. Nothing else that could happen is going to put a damper on the bright sunny mood that springs from such a happy moment.

One that arrived a few days ago that I can wait to read is Lance Fortnow's The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible. Now that made my day! It's definitely next in line for reading.

A few months ago the book that definitely made such an impact when it arrived was Steve White's Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart. It immediately jumped out as an extraordinarily beautiful book, one that would be a pleasure to both read and with lots of artwork to admire. But as we all know, sometimes art books can have disappointing text. So as striking as Dinosaur Art looks, it still remained to be seen if it would match the beauty with brains.

As it turns out, I need not have worried. The text perfectly compliments the art, without either trying too hard to be profound or just descending into obvious filler territory.

But first of all what exactly is Dinosaur Art? It's a collection of artistic profiles of the latest generation of paleoartists. The artists profiled include: Julius Csotonyi, Gregory S. Paul, Mauricio Anton, Douglas Henderson, Todd Marshall, John Sibbick, Luis Rey, John Conway, Robert Nicholls and Raul Martin.

Each profile has an extensive selection of their art as well as some biographical information and an interview. The interviews concentrate on issues of craft and artistic intention as well as more personal perspectives on, for example, how the artist got interested in paleoart. For me, at least, many of the most interesting discussions revolved around choices the artists made between using traditional techniques (paint, etc) versus digital techniques. Personally, I found the traditionally created art almost invariably better, with a realer, more organic feel. Sometimes the digital art looked too perfect, too composed, too smooth in a way that real life isn't. On the other hand, it's not hard to see in the selection that we have in the book that it's only a matter of time and experience before most artists will be able to combine the greater speed and flexibility of digital with the dirtier, grungier feel of traditional methods. It's quite apparent that a few of the best are already there.

A couple of things that struck me: the quality, range and sheer amount of art here is just astounding; in particular, the couple of fold-outs are a highlight; Jack Horner and Robert Bakker get mentioned as influences in practically every profile.

On the other hand: an index of animals would have been handy so I could find ones I wanted to checkout of to see if there were multiple illustrations of the same animal; a bibliography of paleoart books would have been a wonderful addition; and perhaps a bit more historical information on the development of the field, there's a bit in the introduction but more would have been appreciated especially in conjunction with a bibliography.

Overall, a wonderful book that I would recommend without serious reservation. It combines the beauty of the best art book with enough meaty text to keep everyone happy. It seems that it would be primarily aimed at the gift and hobbiest market. I can see it easily in any public library collection and might work in middle school or high school libraries as well. As for academic libraries, it seems more like a niche book, perhaps mostly fitting where there are either extensive art book collections or perhaps significant research and teaching in paleontology.

White, Steve, editor. Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart. London: Titan Books, 2012. 188pp. ISBN-13: 978-0857685841

(Review copy provided by publisher)

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