Friday, June 14, 2013

A picture may be worth a thousand words but it pales in comparison to a diorama

As a writer myself (and speaking to all of you writers out there who read my blog) I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words." I first heard it uttered by my father in reference to a Charles Russell print that he had framed and hung on the wall of our home. Called "When Shadows Hint Death," it shows two men struggling to quiet their horses because the shadow on the ridge behind them shows a contingent of native american warriors who would kill and scalp them if they knew they were there.
I used to stare at it every day whilst I toiled to complete my homework. And I definitely understood how a painting could capture an entire story. Charles Russell really did do just that, even though his artwork is a little too "folksy and western" for my taste. However, I can't deny that the man had incredible talent with a brush. But whereas a picture is worth a thousand words, I have to say it pales in comparison to a diorama. Here's one that's in the American Museum of Natural History. It depicts an epic encounter between a giant squid (which we now know definitively exist) and a sperm whale.
The diorama is huge and brings to life a scene that scientists know probably occurs on a day-to day basis. In this dramatic diorama, a giant squid is caught in the sperm whale's mouth, its tentacles grasping at the whale's head. And if you think that's impressive, wait until you get a load of the diorama called Titanoboa, King of the Snakes.
This thing was totally real. It's skeleton was found in a mining area in Columbia and this diorama faithfully constructed from foam by an artist using the scientific measurements provided by the many archaeologists studying this thing. It's freakishly huge...like bigger than that snake in the terrible Anaconda movies with Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube. It could squeeze its prey with 400 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Dioramas are everywhere if you bother to look for them. You see them in theme parks like the Jurassic Park ride or in Haunted Houses. You can see them in Lego constructions (the kind that take thousands upon thousands of lego sets) or in Christmas decorations. Take for example this incredibly detailed High Elf Sea Port from a Warhammer Fantasy golden demon competition. It seems so real, if I were a tiny human, I could live there.
I suppose dioramas are a way we can bring something to life. All that's needed is a desire strong enough to want to go to the trouble to create something in the first place. Have you ever wanted to create a diorama? Perhaps a three-dimensional sculpture of your main protagonist with paint so lifelike they look alive? I'd be interested to hear your thought on whether or not you agree that a diorama is better than a picture when it comes to realizing one's imagination, or even if you're a fan of sculpture versus illustration.

23 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It depends. The setup in the last shot is pretty amazing. Immersion is probably the key with dioramas. We are placed in the scene rather than looking at the scene.
However, I do enjoy a well done picture or painting.

Briane P said...

SO MANY TOPICS.

First, I only made one diorama, ever. It was a sugar-cane processing plant and it definitely took you right into the world of sugar-cane processing, if sugar-cane processing was done on one conveyor belt made of construction paper, extending from the end of a "Boston Store" shirt box to the other, with a smaller box (toothpicks emptied out) in the middle where the construction paper went in, and then came out, and on one side the sugar cane (toothpicks) were large and on the other side they were smaller, because that was how I thought sugar cane was processed.

So your dioramas in your example were better, but mine was more heartfelt.

But: Giant squid PROOF? I want proof of the proof. I thought they still had never seen a live giant squid. Have they found one? When? I thought I was up on my giant squid news.

Also: That squid/whale diorama features into Noah Baumbach's excellent movie, "The Squid And The Whale," which everyone should see. Very touching.

DRC said...

It's all the name of art. I love it all.

I think the closest I've come to creating something like this was when I was young, and because we had limited money for big, lavish toy sets, etc, I used to build my toys little houses out of cardboard boxes, create rooms and furniture to go in it - all painted and decorated. And not only was this cheap, but it exercised the imagination and built on creative skills :)

Elise Fallson said...

Hummm...I'm going to disagree with you on this one Michael, because you know I love you. (;

Dioramas, like the Titanoboa you posted, allow you to walk around it, touch it, and what you see is what you get. Little is left to the imagination. A painting on the other hand, allows for more interpretation by the observer, precisely because you can't see past the edge of the canvas, you can't move behind that mountain, you can't see what's standing next to the snake, and you obviously can't reach out and grasp the painted image. So to me, a good painting will always be more mysterious and have a lot more to say because it has a dream-like quality that's lost in a diorama.

mshatch said...

That snake horrifies me! But I do enjoy dioramas, especially ones of towns (made up or real). I love that last pic - very cool!

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I think both paintings and dioramas have their strong points. You picked some excellent dioramas Mike and that print your father had looks amazing and tells a great story. Oh I LOVE the snake. Wish I could touch it! Enjoy your weekend Mike.

Andrew Leon said...

There's a whole museum of dioramas in Shreveport. I used to love going there when I was a kid. Plus, they had an alligator that lived in the museum. It was very cool. It took my cousin's shoe once.

But I don't know that I would say they are better. Just different.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great pictures Michael. Have a lovely weekend.

M Pax said...

If I had the talent to do one, it'd be fun. They're fun to look at. Perhaps they also strike at my love of dollhouses.

Stephen Hayes said...

I find it interesting that so many writers spend time fleshing out their characters through various art techniques. As you know I was a professional artist for many years and my specialty was portraiture, but I've never felt the urge to paint my characters, other than with words. William Blake was certainly able to stride the written and pictorial worlds so I know this can be done successfully.

Yolanda Renee said...

OMG, that was once a real snake?

Creepy!

Interactive art is always fun!

Matthew MacNish said...

That last one looks like the Grey Havens.

Al Diaz said...

I have this itch to do a diorama one of these days, but I believe a good painting is just as inspiring. But I do adore dioramas!

Pat Dilloway said...

I move too much to make dioramas. I mean just try carting any of those things around. It's annoying enough having to relocate my meager collection of action figures.

Cherie Reich said...

Even though I like snakes, I'm shuddering at the one that big. A diorama definitely can say a lot.

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Briane P: The Giant Squid has been filmed! Apparently there was a Discovery Channel documentary, but Edith Widder's TED talk covers the most exciting bits.

Cindy said...

I appreciate dioramas and 2D art equally.

And was there really a snake that big? That's disturbing.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Wow, that snake is horrifically incredible. I wonder how long ago it lived? I can't think of dioramas without thinking of all the ones my children had to make as projects at school.

Liz said...

Love the last one.

No, I've never felt the need to create a diorama. I don't think I have the skill set. And I definitely can't paint (tried it once *shudder*).

Belle said...

I love dioramas and would love to make one too. I've seen some online that are wonderful. I did see a show on TV about the giant squid - fascinating. I had no idea there were snakes that big long ago! Amazing and horrible. I love the elf city. I was thinking about getting a kit and making an old sailing ship for myself.

Helena said...

I saw something on TV about the giant squid likely being real, which just goes to show you that Jules Verne was one hell of a scientist-cum-prophet when it came to his science fiction (the Disney movie of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea scare the crap out of me as a kid).

Oh, and now I learn from you that there was a giant prehistoric snake? I've never had a fear of snakes unless they're poisonous, but this species would, again, scare the crap out of me.

Donna Hole said...

Both forums are beautifule in their own way, and for their specific purpose. You can totally get lost in either vision. I'm no artist, I just enjoy the view created by others.

.....dhole

Jay Noel said...

I have a pic I took from Legoland of the Emerald Castle made from legos. Just amazing.

The very first diorama I ever made was for a book report project I did on H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. 5th grade.

It consisted of a shoebox. And I recreated a 3-D recreation of Herbert in the time machine out of cardboard. I then cut a hole in the shoebox, which I put red celophane on from the back.

So when you viewed my little scene, everything was in red. No idea why I did that. Just thought it was cool.