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Thread: Art or Cartogrpahy - What is a map?

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      RobA is offline
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    Default Art or Cartogrpahy - What is a map?

    jtougas made a blog post back in December that many might have missed, as I'm not sure how many folks here read the blog posts!

    As this is one of my personal peeves, I figured I bring this discussion into the main forums and open it up for some other opinions

    From the preface to the book "Fundamentals of Cartography" by Rameshwar Prasad Misra:
    ...modern cartography is a science and art of making maps. It is also a science of human communication. It is a function of cartography to provide a true picture of the earth [or an imagined world] through the medium of maps... To do so, it uses the principals of geodesy, mathematics, geography, human communication, optics, and art in some form or the other. The principals of all these disciplines are encoded into symbols which, when put together give a meaningful detail of the relevant earth [or otherworldly] features.
    From which I pull out a few key thoughts, mainly, the purpose of a map is to symbolically communicate relevant information of a spatial nature.

    In the book "Cartography and Art" by William Cartwright et. al. it points out a distinction between cartography and art:
    A major purpose of cartography is to create an artefact which can be used. In addition to being data-driven, cartography could therefore be regarded as task-driven.
    So maps are intended to be used for a task. Whether that task is to allow the reader of a book to follow along with a story, to communicate the locations of geopolitical or physical attributes, identifies the locations of objects in and routes through a structure, or schematically depicts a transit route, doesn't matter. The fact that it supports performing a task (usually related to geolocating one's self, objects, or 3rd party characters) makes it by definition, a map.

    Items like scale and direction are only important if that information is necessary for communication in terms of the task to be performed.

    As an example, consider a timetable for a train. You could depict it as a straight line, with labelled dots on the line indicating stops, and the distance between those dots reflecting the time it takes to travel between them (rather than distance). It travels a fixed track, so to a traveler, it is irrelevant (largely) to know the directions and distances between the stops. So as it succeeds in communicating the desired information (how long will it take me to travel from X to Y) using symbols in a visual manner and facilitates a task, this could be (should be?) considered a map.

    There is, in my opinion, another very important function that a fantasy map is intended to perform that a real world map is not required to do - namely, to communicate atmosphere, theme, tone, and provide immersion in a manner consistent with the world/realm/town/building depicted. This is why we see so many LOTR/faux medieval maps used for fantasy stories or RPGs, pseudo-realistic battlemaps for use in gaming, or neon-glowing, high tech looking maps of future civilizations.

    So is jtougas's image of the Captian's Cabin a map? Certainly. Is it artistic? Sure. But more importantly, from my perspective, it is not just a piece of art, nor just a map, it is a fantasy map.

    -Rob A>

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    Publisher Gamerprinter's Avatar
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    The following is the first paragraph of the Introductory chapter: What is Fictional Cartography of the the 25 Quick & Dirty Map Tutorials Guide scheduled for release in August 2014, by me.

    Cartography is the art and science of visually depicting the world around us in graphic format as maps. It is an ancient activity with examples as old as civilization itself, though a more contiguous history can be followed over the last 2000 years. Cartography uses mathematics, measurements and symbolic representations of landforms to represent our world in two dimensional format – as one or more printed sheets or displays on our electronic devices. While cartography is very much a science, this guide focuses on the art of cartography to a greater degree, and the techniques used to depict aesthetically pleasing results that help players imagine the fictional worlds they explore in the course of a game or other work of fiction. Creating maps for the purpose of depicting fictional places is the realm of fictional cartography and the focus of this guide.

    I think it close to the descriptions in RobA's post.
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    So... I've been wondering about this.

    When I think of a map, I think (obviously) of *places*, and then I think of the "traditional" aspects of maps. A "key", a "scale", labels everywhere, a "compass"... Things like that.

    I've been struggling, a lot. I'm a LANDSCAPE artist. Why is it so hard for me to draw land while mapping? A lot of the problem I've been running into is that a picture/painting/photo speaks for itself. You don't need to say "This is a mountain". You can see it's a mountain.

    I've always assumed that a map is a picture that doesn't speak for itself... so it *needs* all those elements; otherwise it's not a map. Right?

    So I start trying to draw a map and I think, "There's no way to label this" or "You couldn't put a scale to this", and "okay, then it's not a map".

    And then I give up.

    But then I look at that blog post. The first word in my head when I glance at either of those images is "Map."

    On reading this, I looked back at last month's "Lite Challenge" entries. There was a bit of conversation during the contest about what constitutes a "map". That conversation affected *my* vote. I'm sure it probably influenced others as well. (I don't think it would have changed the winner, but others might have gotten a few more votes).

    One entry was a 3D projection. No key, no scale. But it did convey information. I could tell where the village lay, in the valley, what the surrounding countryside was comprised of, where the key buildings were in the village itself.

    I can imagine an attacking army would be keen to have that image. It would do exactly what military maps are meant to do.

    The winning entry only had a scale, discreetly placed as the border to the image itself. Even without the scale, however, you could have judged the distances, because of all the detail. Would it still have been a map without the scale?

    Would the Captain's Cabin from the blog post be a map without the words at the bottom?

    What I see in these definitions is that it doesn't matter what type of information is displayed, as long as it's useful information, it's a map; whether it's a scale, or a key, or a demarcation of time.

    What I'm wondering, in short, is if ANY picture of a space/area/land/whatever could be a map as long as it has some sort of useful "data"?

    If I painted a landscape, and indicated the height of the mountains, the distance to the city, the width of the river, etc... has it become a map?

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    I personally don't feel a photograph with labels qualifies as a map, though it could be argued once labels were placed it was indeed a map. For me a map has to be created, by some means other than with a camera. That said, yes, as long as there is some labeled information in the region depicted, its a map. A map should contain a compass rose (or at least some directional device pointing to north or other singular known direction), and a scale of some kind, whether that is a grid with a known square size, bar scale or other means of depicting distance. Additional labels can be included as required for the purpose of a given map. As you say, as long some kind of useful data can be extracted from the pictorial information provided - its a map.

    An unlabeled depiction of a given region is, at best, an unfinished map or at worst an image of some region of terrain only. You need to provide some additional labeling to qualify as a map, IMO.

    A legend may be unnecessary, I seldom include one. I think a legend is especially useful when symbols on the map might not be universally recognized - upward pointing triangles representing mountains, for example. When I depict a mountain as a beveled shape depicting elevation rising, I might label a mountainous region as "X Mountain Range" which is enough for me to indicate this is a mountain. I don't need a separate box deliniating mountains, as there is more than one depiction, all the mountains may vary slightly as they are intended to appear as real mountains, and not as a singular symbol to represent a mountain. Since there is more than one version, each slightly different, a legend showing mountain symbol may not be so helpful. Especially when you are using brushes, with only single symbols for each landform or map location, then a legend is appropriate.

    There are many kinds of labels and symbols that could be used on a map, but a map only needs scale and direction at the minimum to still qualify as a map, based on my definition above.
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      Lingon is offline
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    This is an interesting topic!

    In my opinion, art is something – anything – that gives the viewer some emotion. I don't view my maps as art, because I'm not trying to send any emotion, but I've certainly seen a lot of maps that were art to me, and I do hope that someone might see my maps as art even though it wasn't my intention. I don't really consider myself a cartographer either, cartography should probably involve far more science than I use in my maps. But my opinion is that every piece has to be viewed and categorized individually and personally, and that there is no one answer to what maps are. Making me a boring, neutral, stereotypically swedish person I guess

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    I didn't mean a photograph with lables... I meant, like, a painting, or a sketch. Like a landscape

    Quote Originally Posted by Lingon View Post
    This is an interesting topic!

    In my opinion, art is something – anything – that gives the viewer some emotion. I don't view my maps as art, because I'm not trying to send any emotion, but I've certainly seen a lot of maps that were art to me, and I do hope that someone might see my maps as art even though it wasn't my intention. I don't really consider myself a cartographer either, cartography should probably involve far more science than I use in my maps. But my opinion is that every piece has to be viewed and categorized individually and personally, and that there is no one answer to what maps are. Making me a boring, neutral, stereotypically swedish person I guess
    I see your maps as art.

    The whole reason I'm hanging around here instead of paying someone to map my annoying little planet and washing my hands of the whole thing is that I keep seeing these posted maps.

    Some are cute, or quirky, or intimidating. Some of them literally take my breath away. Does that emotion mean they aren't maps? (I kid, I kid...)

    I'm starting to realize how important the science is to mapping (they end up looking much better when everything is planned well) but... Maps were made long before we had satellites, yes? So I don't think the science of it is the most important thing?
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    When I think of art, I think of an artist expressing his (or her) thoughts,
    ideas, and style through a physical medium. When I think of maps, I think
    of art depicting a location (and conveying information about the depicted).
    One of the best things about this forum is the variety of works to be found.
    I wouldn't say all of the attached works qualify as maps, based on my
    humble definition. As long as the person at the end of the internet terminal
    put effort, and the previously mentioned element of thought, into their work,
    I'd say it's art.

    This issue comes up a lot regarding the lite challenges; we've had some
    magnificent pieces of art that flopped in voting due to voters not finding them
    to be maps.

    Again, there's a huge variety of works to be found here; different styles of
    maps, different purposes/applications, and different ideas. That's what makes
    it great. A map from Cartographer X is going to look different than a map from
    Cartographer Y. Some of the pieces here are more artistic and some are more
    practical. When judging whether a piece of art is a map or not, I find it helpful
    to include the context or application of the piece.

    To summarize, I don't think there are specific guidelines for a map. A scale
    and a compass rose are useful, but I couldn't just put those elements on a
    bleak background and call it a map (not saying anyone was suggesting that).
    Last edited by foremost; 01-21-2014 at 01:43 PM.
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    The best maps are the ones we like the most after looking at the longest.

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      jbgibson is offline
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    I'd call this interpretive overlook sign a map. On the verge of being a annotated artwork, but technically, a map, and as others note above, art& science, photo& drawing, vertical, midperspective, & horizontal, much geolocation vs. few labels, diagram vs. photorealism - all those overlap and mix together.

    Art or Cartogrpahy - What is a map?-exampleinterpretivesign.jpg
    (Flickr user Monty VanderBilt, creative commons attribution license.)

    It tells me graphically where stuff is. Given that we treat floor plans and horizontal cave layouts as maps, this is on the same spectrum. Without labels I'd say it was simply art.

    A distinction artists have to put up with is between art and craft - the sometimes artificial distinction involving whether something has a practical use; whether its existence is primarily to serve a practical purpose or primarily to be enjoyed, to evoke emotion, to tickle the senses. "Fine artists" (or hoity toity experts thereof) may denigrate a rendition as "mere decoration" or "just illustration", where without the underlying pot or clothing or furniture, the colors and shapes might be deemed art. I am a bit more tolerant of a range of possibility, and the potential for overlap.

    Guild posters will sometimes ask for an unlabeled copy of a map. The bare thing somehow gets demoted to being not-a-map, just-raw-material in that period between the original creator removing words and the eventual user adding his own. I'm okay withthe in-between thing being a "bare map" and the unlabeled time-ran-out contest entry being an "unfinished map". I'm also okay with a technical audience, like here, adhering to a more precise definition than a general audience might... so long as we remember publically arguing over whether it takes two symbols or twenty to make a picture a map is like so much arguing over how many angels dance on the head of a pin, to the lay person... to the USER.

    I've had maps on the wall for info, for nigh on fifty years, and maps on the wall purely for pretty for forty. From across the room, either is mostly decor, and from six inches away, either is for geolocation. Only time I talk much of the difference is when folks on here decry their lack of artistic ability as dooming their carto endeavors... then I point out perfectly good, useful, even pleasant maps can be made by craft and science, with scarcely an artistic neuron firing.
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    I love that. I'm going to go with that definition, and maybe I'll be able to finish something now

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      waldronate is offline
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    As RobA points out, every map should have been created for a purpose. Time and effort were expended to gather information and produce an artifact. Just throwing together some elements (not matter how harmonious they may be) with a modern paint program produces a piece of art, not a map!

    Going one step further on the "art" or "map" topic is my pet peeve: the picture of a map. Too many times I see what would be a nice map, but the artist has chosen to add things like tattered edges, faux stains, and paper grain in an attempt to make the map look like a picture of a map. Without a context in which to communicate the reason that it's a picture of a map rather than a map "this map was passed down through generations, with the important travel paths shown as the stains of countless fingers tracing their journeys", then most of the decoration is likely superfluous.
    Last edited by waldronate; 01-22-2014 at 02:12 AM.
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