Art influences: Dinosaurs

Ever since I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in theaters, I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs and Blue in particular.

Don’t get me started on the feminist undertones of a film where female characters are selectively bred because of assumptions that females are more docile, kept in captivity, used for entertainment, then escape to wreak havoc.

But my obsession goes further than that. I’ve lived dinosaurs since I was a little kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, and I was lucky dinosaurs were popular but not yet completely child commodities. I had a dinosaur encyclopedia meant for adult enthusiasts, which suited me fine. It’s how I learned much of my foundational biology, evolutionary theory, ecology, and even a smattering of Latin. However, my endless drawing if dinosaurs and looking at dinosaur art, literature, and debate was also influencing my development as an artist. Here are just two of my top influences.

William Stout, illustrator of “A Sound Of Thunder” from Ray Bradbury’s anthology Dinosaur Tales. If you’ve never read this anthology, you really should. There are plenty of cheap copies on Ebay, and I’m sure they’re in better condition than the one I had in my backpack for years. Each story in Bradbury’s anthology had a different illustrator, but Stout’s work was unsurpassed beauty. I can’t imagine reading “The Sound of Thunder” without them. I later learned he also illustrated Conan and EC comics, which went on to lead me slowly toward Lovecraftian horror. In looking for images for this post, I discovers he has a coloring book available!

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and, later, the Spielberg film adaptation. I had a paperback copy of this book as soon as it was available. I keenly remember reading and rereading it in middle school and junior high. My parents didn’t shy away from giving their kids challenging reads, and it was about dinosaurs with a scientific twist and a punch of horror — they knew I’d love it.

“I’ve always had a lot of younger readers, and I hope they like this book, too. But I don’t really write with anybody in mind.” Crichton, Writers Write interview, 2002

When the film release day rolled around, we were among the first in line. The line, by the way, ran outside and around the building, and we had to drive a good way to get to the theater in those days. I remember being disappointed that Dr. Wu, my favorite character, didn’t get more screen time. Luckily, Jurassic World revisited him.

B.D. Wong reprises the role perfectly in Jurassic World.

Despite the recurring drum beat of criticism this latest Jurassic World film received, it still carries Crichton’s essential problems of ethics and the balance between humanity and technology.

“Not so long ago, parents did not name their children for a while, because so many of them died young. Often they posed for pictures with the dead infant, before it was buried. Hawaiians didn’t celebrate the birth of a child until it was a year old — a custom still followed today. Not so long ago, one woman in six died in childbirth. Being “human” included these facts of life.

All that’s changed, of course. And in doing so, it’s changed the definition of what is human. What our lives are like, what our expectations are like, at least in the industrialized countries of the world. Nobody’s complaining about that part of the impact of science on humanity.” Crichton, 2002

In learning about art, we learn about ourselves and the world around us. These two points are intrinsically connected. We cannot exist in this world as artists disconnected from our own feelings, our lived experiences. Everything we see or experience has a profound impact on our development. It’s over 20 years since the first Jurassic Park film was released, and I’ve been in love with dinosaurs and other people’s interpretations of dinosaurs for even longer. You never know what moments from the past will sneak up to inspire you, so take it in. You never know which moments will lead you in new directions ten, fifteen, or twenty years later.

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