Dragons in Old Art

So I got a hankering to see how dragons have been painted/drawn/sculpted in the past. I thought I might get some ideas for a new way to portray dragons, an idea for a new story.

I didn’t get one, but I found a lot more dragon art than I imagined existed.

I went to the MET website, did a search, and pages and pages showed up. It’s kind of amazing.

This one is from France, 1633, by Nicolas Poussin, and I think the dragon looks small, but fierce. Those Romans look real, don’t they?

Romans and a dragon! Title: The Companions of Rinaldo


This one is from Italy, 1390, from the Workshop of Agnolo Gaddi. I have to say, the lady looks very calm for being swallowed alive by a dragon. This is the type of dragon head I usually picture when I picture dragons.

Title: Saint Margaret and the Dragon


This one! This one is really, really good. Maybe I should have started with this one first. It’s from Japan, 19th century, by Kawanabe Kyōsai. I love the yoga-ish pose, how the dragon is breathing fire, and the guy looks almost like he’s praying. The dragon? It looks almost like a pet. It’s hard to say.

Title: Shaka and the Dragon


This one is from Iran, third quarter 16th century, and no artist is listed. For an ink and water-color drawing from so long ago, this is really well-preserved. I like the details, how the dragon is wrapped around the mountain and most of the animals are running away. Except for a rabbit and two – deer? Are those deer? I can’t quite tell.

Title: Hero and Dragon


It’s from China, 12th–14th century, Southern Song, and it is made of jade. This is a brush washer. Um, are you supposed to wash writing brushes in this? I think it is far too pretty to use to wash anything.

Brush washer in the shape of lotus leaf with feline dragons


This is from China, 14th–15th century, Yuan or early Ming dynasty and the artist is not listed.  It’s my favorite. I can’t say why, I just love the trees and the dragons and how it’s eyes rolled off to the side.

Title: Dragons and Landscape




X is for Xylography

I learned something new on twitter today. There is an official word for wood engraving: xylography.

There is even a video on youtube!

Once upon a time, book were made using xylography. It’s a lot art, since no one actually makes books like that any more. I suppose there must be one in a museum somewhere.

Classes, too, probably, on how to decorate fabric and make art with xylography. That’s one of the other things it was used for, to make printed fabric.

In fact, the word is so unusual WordPress doesn’t recognize it. It thinks I meant either (1) holography (2) xerography or (3) graphology. I double-checked; xylography is indeed the proper spelling.

You could do make art or books by stamping the wooden blocks onto fabric or wood. Or rubbing the wood onto fabric or paper. I am not entirely sure rubbing would work.

I was thinking it sounds a lot like the metal plates people use for making nail art. I don’t know. Does it sound similar? You put a but of polish on the plate, smooth away the excess and hold it on top of your nail. (I have sometimes used paper cutouts for this, with varying levels of success.)

Anyway, I am glad I don’t level in an age where books are commonly made with xylography. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get out a decent sized novel. Making a whole book like this sounds like a lot of work. I imagine educational works got priority.

reading · science fiction

Random Quotes from Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, Part 2

I am still not done with this book. I don’t know how long I’ve had it, but months and months and months. It’s taking forever to finish. Almost near the end, though. Figured I would share a few more quotes that made go: Ohhh, really?!!!

In its simplest terms, sf and utopian fiction have been concerned with imagining progressive alternatives to the status quo, often implying critiques of contemporary conditions or possible future outcomes of current social trends.

– from Marxism, science fiction and Utopia by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

Personally, what I like best is how it says “sf and utopian fiction” as though Utopian fiction is not SF. I think it is, but someone disagrees with me.

Science fiction emerging as a genre at the same that literary modernism was passing its high-water mark, perhaps in the same way that the gothic emerged with the growth of the realist novel in the eighteenth century.

-from Postmodernism and science fiction by Andrew M. Butler

This is just plain interesting. Not sure it means anything, but it’s pretty interesting.

Critics of sf have generally agreed that science fiction is a ‘literature of ideas’. Indeed, for many people, it is the ideational content of sf that is its primary characteristic. Sexuality is also an idea.

– from Science fiction and queer theory  by Wendy Pearson

I think people still have trouble with sexuality in books –  it is the biggest reason for banning/challenging books.

Science fiction’s task, often, is to make visible to us the unthinking assumptions that limit human potentiality; epistemologies of sexuality are just as blinding and just important to the construction of any future society as are epistemologies of science.

– from Science fiction and queer theory  by Wendy Pearson

Don’t think this is limited to science fiction. I think all types of books can do that. And I am not sure science fiction does it more often than other types of books. But I would hope science fiction explores the science of sexuality better than any other type of fiction.

The feature that unites every kind of sf in the construction – in some sense – of a world other than our own.

– from Icons of science fiction by Gwyneth Jones

See, world building is what makes SF different from every other type of story and also what unites all the different sub-genres of SF. Nothing else! Plot, character and world-building make a perfect triumvirate.

fantasy · reading

How I Fell in Love with Dragons

I love dragons. They remain my favorite fantasy creatures.

I don’t remember where I first encountered dragons. It could be on TV or in books. In fact, it was probably TV, because I wasn’t the biggest reader when I was 5. Or 6. Or 7. Or even 8. LOL

But I know the first time I read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, that was when I fell in love with dragons. I read the story over and over and over again in 6th grade. It was different somehow. Dragons were different.

I don’t think I’d ever seen them as medium-sized pests before. They’d always been huge menacing beasts in my head. And, yeah, there is a big dragon in the book. But the little ones came first and that made all the difference.

The big one was pretty magnificent, too. But more normal, you know? More what I pictured when someone said dragon.

That same year I discovered the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by  Patricia C. Wrede and it turned every princess story I’d ever watched on its head. I never imagined dragons could be like that!

A couple of years later (when I had my adult library card) I found the Pern books. I’d never seen dragons like that, either. They could talk, they needed to chew something to make fire and they could travel back in time. You could fly on the dragon! They were genetically engineered, but that was a minor detail.

I wanted to fly on my own dragon. I read the dragon rider books and dreamed of what it would be like to ride my own dragon.

Writing is the closest I’ve ever come to that feeling. If that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t; dragons aren’t real after all.

General · reading · Writing

No Vital and Significant Forms of Art

Nor is it any part of my thesis to maintain that it [the detective story] is a vital and significant form of art.There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.

Raymond Chandler

This quote appeared in an essay I was reading in the beginning of The Art of Murder. It struck me as particularly profound.

I think that is because this past summer I was outside in a public spot reading from my kindle and this random stranger came up to me to find out how it was. She was considering buying one or an iPad for herself. So she happens to mention she writes poetry, I mention I write fantasy and she gives me this look. This look, as in she had just stepped in something disgusting. She said something (rather unconvincingly!) about having something to do and ran off. I was left staring at her.

Clearly, she didn’t approve of fantasy. I can only imagine that’s because she doesn’t think fantasy is art, and a waste of time. Even a waste of time just talking to me; after all, she couldn’t leave fast enough. Well, I am not trying to create art, just something to entertain me, and maybe a few others. Not that I would object if it turned into art. If I polish enough, maybe something will turn into art. But I don’t really think you can write something with the intention of making art and actually produce art. The story comes first; the story is all; you (that is, me!!) need to learn how to tell the best story possible. Maybe then, just maybe, the story will become something more. As the guy says, there is precious little art. Probably because it is so damned difficult to produce.

So . . . yeah, reading that little quote in the essay soothed my ego. Obviously the girl’s speedy departure made an impression on me. She really shouldn’t have; she was a perfect stranger and there is no reason for me to care.