Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Comparing the AA4A Books 2: Goldfinger

Part One.

When I picked up Eliot Goldfinger's Animal Anatomy For Artists: the Elements of Form from the Library, the first thing I noticed was it's size. It is quite tall and wide, but also much thinner than I expected. When I first saw the book advertised on Amazon, I figured it'd look more like the Gregory S. Paul book above. (To me, the Paul is what a $30-$50.00 book looks like.)
I'll admit I was also initially disappointed in the content of Goldfinger as well. And then I realized two things:
1) This was written and illustrated by a person who is primarily a sculptor and,
2) it's basically a textbook on the skeletal system and musculature of various mammals that just happens to have been written from the point of view of an artist.
Neither of these are bad things to point out, obviously. However, it may change the way you'll want to think of this book. For one thing, it better prepares you for the fact that almost a full half of the book is taken up by pages and pages of of individual muscle studies like this:

Now, as I said before, your needs may be different from mine. Personally, I thought it was a bit much and I felt that it took valuable space away from more full skeletal and muscle studies.
And as you can see, those anatomical studies are gorgeous. They make up most of the book's second half. Each animal gets a side view and a few get a front/back view as well.
But Goldfinger's biggest selling point is the fact that he goes beyond the human/dog/horse trinity. Indeed, you get a very wide variety of mammals in this book. The giraffe muscle study promised on the cover is in there, as are rhinoceri, rabbits, sea lions, kangaroos, hippos, and many more. Several other species are represented by skeletal studies. Tapirs are just as unconventionally cute on the inside.
And this, sadly, leads us into the bad news. Ultimately, Goldfinger's attempt to create an anatomical reference for every kind of modern mammal you could think of off the top of your head works to his disadvantage. For example, you get a skeletal study of a bat and a dolphin, two animals who have diverged very far from the somewhere-between-human-and-dog basic mammal body plan (which, incidentally, is why humans and dogs show up in every one of this kind of book). And that's very cool, but you don't get a muscle study.
Furthermore, Goldfinger tends to have just one detailed skeleton (and sometimes muscle) study for each group of mammal. So, that dolphin? Well, she's representing all cetaceans. Sometimes, Goldfinger will have a series of silhouettes to represent the members of the group after their representative's anatomical study. And this makes sense for the horse. Less sense for the dog. And no damn sense at all for the kangaroo:

...Who is here to represent every marsupial ever. Even though her skeleton is ridiculously specialized. So yeah.
And this brings me to my biggest point of contention. This book is for people who want a reference on many different kinds of mammals. I've chosen my words carefully throughout the review. I've done this so that you will not be as disappointed as I am to learn that, according to this book, there is only one non-mammal in the entire world and this is it:

Funny I should mention Gregory S. Paul again in the beginning, eh?
This is another reason why Goldfinger's scope works to his disadvantage. Then again, he stays short of drawing an iguana, a bullfrog, and a goldfish and calling it a day. (And that's just sticking to the vertebrates...)
All told, this book is not worth it unless you really need studies of each and every muscle and skeletal studies of (not really) every mammal. For the rest of us, Ellenberger and Calderon are a much, much better choice. (Not least because they cost less than half the cost of Goldfinger's book combined.) Reviews of their books are up soon.

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