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Thread: Art or Cartogrpahy - What is a map?

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  1. #1
    Community Leader RobA's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    Toronto, Canada

    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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