The Artists & The Scientists

Bringing History to Life

This fascinating book looks at the professional interaction over more than 30 years between a respected husband and wife team of US palaeontologists working for most of their professional lives in Australia (Prof Pat Vickers-Rich and Tom Rich) and a freelance artist (Peter Trusler), as he tries to interpret their work and bring to life ancient organisms and environments.

It quickly becomes clear that an artist like Trusler is not merely an illustrator of science books, but a collaborator and scientist in his own right. For example, a Cretaceous panorama displaying polar dinosaurs does not merely attempt to represent a scene from the past, but is also meant to provoke thought and to present a testable scientific hypothesis about the presence and interaction of ancient plants, animals and environment. From the beginning of their careers, Vickers-Rich and, in particular, her husband realised that they needed an artist who could synthesise images required in 3D quality that drew observers in, communicating to them intimate details of anatomical form. But, as they say, “more than just revealing the essence of the scientific descriptions, these images needed to challenge the viewer to ask more questions about the material on show.”

This book contains more than 200 stunning pictures, some in colour and some in black and white, from preliminary sketches of concepts to finished masterpieces. And each set of pictures is explained, firstly by the scientist and then the artist, in the context of what they intended at the time. As a result, their discussion raises fascinating and important philosophical questions about the role of art in science. Whilst Picasso may have believed that photography relieved the artist of needing to provide realistic representation, it is clear from this book that the artist can add things to science that a camera cannot – and not just because of the impossibility of taking a picture of an animal long since extinct. The artist can bring out aspects of his or her subject matter in a way that a camera cannot and this is ably proved in this thought-provoking book.

The Artists & The Scientists: Bringing History to Life by Peter Trusler, Patricia Vickers-Rich and Thomas H Rich, Cambridge University Press, 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia (2010). 308 pp., hardback, ISBN: 978-0-521-16299-9