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Cartography: Art or Science?

topic posted Wed, March 16, 2005 - 1:08 PM by  Unsubscribed
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Someone brought this up in one of the other threads, and its one that has dogged me for most of my career. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, we had a lot of TV crews swarming the company where I was working and one of the questions that they asked all of the cartographers was, "Do you consider yourself more of an artist or more of a scientist?" Much to my editor's chagrin, I answered "Artist," and I've pretty much felt that the art aspect of mapping has declined dramatically with the increase of automation. Does anyone else dis/agree? Have thoughts?

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  • Re: Cartography: Art or Science?

    Wed, March 16, 2005 - 2:16 PM
    Makes you wonder why many universities have a College of Arts and Sciences. People like Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci could certainly give us some tips today, eh? Somewhere along the line in many fields including cartography there was an unfortunate split where the value of the interplay of art and science was lost. So in modern times (esp. with the advent of GIS) we have to also consider the role of technology. I believe that in cartography it is science that continues to advance mapping techniques and solve problems but it is the art in cartography that makes meaningful expression of the phenomena being mapped. In other words you could use science and make an important discovery that could help mankind but it is useless if you can't communicate it.
  • Re: Cartography: Art or Science?

    Wed, March 16, 2005 - 2:50 PM
    my take is that creating the basemap is science - i.e., scientific measurements are required to generate a map; elevations, distances, etc.
    the cartographic elements, i.e., labels, symbols, color schemes, etc, are artistic
    so really, both science and artistic abilities are needed to produce a quality map.
    technology, especially gis, does not do a good job of automatically labeling maps, but it does make the processing of data much easier
  • Re: Cartography: Art or Science?

    Wed, March 16, 2005 - 3:40 PM
    The place I work at is taking part in Walk Across Texas and as part of that our GIS guy made a map for us all to track our individual teams progress. The map he came up with has cool topology (which is technical info, right?) and he chose these really funky colors to delineate the different elevations. So I guess the short and long of it is that I think cartography is both an art and a science.
    • Re: Cartography: Art or Science?

      Wed, March 16, 2005 - 4:32 PM
      art..science..i don't see too much difference sometimes.
      I talk to doctors every day for a living. the best ones are artists with their medicine...

      This split in art and science came because there was a split between RELIGION and science....And then the invention of philosophy as well.

      art was also about religion at one point too.

      I love that they are all entertwined.
      • Re: Cartography: Art or Science?

        Thu, March 17, 2005 - 6:22 AM
        What is amazing for cartography is the events of the last century. New ability to collect data and to publish at a faster and larger scale is phenomenal. Think of the advances that were made just by collecting photographic data from aircraft or by radio sounding. Further, governments and institutions have been successful in making maps more accessible in everyday life. Think of today in particular with the new possibilites to disseminate maps over Internet or broadcast media (of course, the news media really should hire more cartographers). Anyhow, our abilities to collect, analyze, output, and disseminate data has grown by leaps and bounds but the ability to effectively communicate with a map has not kept pace. In fact, if I pick up another atlas at the book store that is full of bland GIS output and topographic maps with a simple penned overlay . . . I may very well puke. While I am often critical of a graphic designer who blindly attempts mapmaking without regards to appropriate technique or conventions (such as using a proper projection) - I must equally acknowledge that while cartographers are able to measure, engineer, and produce with detail that often there are shortcomings in aesthetics and truly understanding the dynamics of human visual perception, among others. Therefore it is my opinion that cartographers should embrace the gifts of both art and science with equal enthusiasm and consider the possibilites that ajoining disciplines may offer. In the question over trying to categorize cartography as an art or a science . . . I think over the last century that science has been so emphasized that some of us are now questioning our loyalty to the call of objectivity. To me the question over wheter cartography is an art or science is simply an indication of self-doubt of its present state and its future. Further, I think that the implications of new geospatial technologies have compounded this issue for cartography to try to define itself. While I would like to see jaw-dropping cartography that is expressed in new and unique ways I also do not want it to forget its traditions and conventions. To answer Keng's question on a personal level then as to if I consider myself an artist or a scientist . . . I would have to say I have to find a balance between both.

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