On July 25, 2018, Posted by , In blog, With No Comments


In any field and discipline progression is important for its development whether it is art or it is a scientific field. Cartography is one field that could be treated as a science as well as an art. Its progress started with art but gradually it developed into a science as discussed in the following document.


Cartography is the art, science and technology of making maps, plans, charts and globes representing Earth or any celestial body at any scale. (Sebert, 1998) Centuries ago when there were no hi-tech compasses and aviation of no sort was available to mankind, it was a science. Today this art of making a map is an art. 'Viewing maps as works of art is not a new idea. It was in the late 16th century that one John Dee remarked, "Some, to beautify their halls. parlors, chambers … liketh, loveth, getteth and useth maps, charts and geographical globes." Dee, magician, alchemist, and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, cast an observant eye over the court and the noble houses he visited, noting even then that maps were more than mere geographical surveys and were prized for their beauty (McNiff 1997). What is truly fascinating is that even so many centuries ago, cartography was an art along with being a necessity.

'Cartographic documents have been used as vehicles of communication by different cultures for many millennia; the earliest map to survive, drawn about 2300 BC on a clay tablet, was found in the Middle East. Centuries before Christ, Greek philosophers and mathematicians such as Pythagoras and Aristotle advanced the concept that Earth was a sphere, and Eratosthenes (c 276-196 BC) made a reasonable calculation of Earth's circumference.' (Heidenreich)

Maps were mostly assumptions or loosely measured and it was not till the late 2nd century AD that a standard of some sort was crated for the making of maps and charts. Claudius Ptolemy was perhaps the first organized cartographer. He proposed the compilation and systematic arrangement of the geographical knowledge of the day. He was also of the proponent that the study of geography would not be complete unless it was done in a scientific manner. This could only be done in a mathematical graphing of common places and estimations around the world. Regions should be divided and supplemented with appropriate scales. (Heidenreich)

Ptolemy's works were more or less not paid heed to until the late 15th century when an interest in the classical age overtook people by storm. Cartography in the 16th century progressed as a science. Europeans in this genre were pretty lacking in their skills even by the time of the 16th century. Maps were often images of crude drawings of known areas especially during the French period of 1800. Astronomy techniques and the trick to determine longitudes and latitudes through the use of marine chronometer were introduced (Heidenreich).

It was during World War I, that cartography became intermingled with photography, named photogrammetry. This is basically mapping of regions through aerial photography. The art of photographing regions is more complicated then mere photography where the focus of the picture is more objective. Photogrammetry was one of the post war era’s evolution of cartography into an art again in spite of its scientific development in navigation.

Depending on the skills of the photographer, a photogrammetric map could be categorized as from peer to peer called “tie points” [that is points of ground areas selected in the overlapping areas], accurate to regional scales or it could be an overview of the features of the geographical outlay of the region. Clarity, consistency and accuracy along with the cartographic qualities of accurate longitudes, latitudes are the dominant features of photogrammetry. In this regard, cartography became an extension of photography, a tool of art.


Thus we might then say in the light of the above arguments and facts that maps have intriguingly gone from being tools of aviation to being symbols of luxury and an art in themselves. 'Whether it is guiding a crosscountry road trip or hanging decoratively on a wall, a map is more than just directions. Besides providing information, maps illustrate alternate world views. "Maps play into our lives significantly every day," said Karen Casanova, Weisman program director.

"Different perspectives are shown in different maps," said Kristin Sullwold, a College of Liberal Arts junior. "The older artifacts are interesting because you can see several perceptions of the world dating back to the 1500s." When maps were first made, they were meant to be political documents, said Rob Silberman, an associate art history professor. But over the years, map-making has become contentious.' (Kimpel, 1999)

What interests me as a student of aviation is that maps were often used as political weapons. Mankind manipulated even these tools of aviation. For example cartographers in Africa will proportionately make Africa larger then Europe or vice versa. This weapon was also used in War time through photogrammetry. Most nations tend to present their country as the center of directions, whether they were in the east, west, north or south. Modern day cartographers know otherwise and tries its best to focus on all destinations equally (Kimpel, 1999).

Most people are familiar with the pragmatic everyday use of maps but if one were to really look at it, in reality they are much more to man. Most maps contain a symbolism of some sort at their own level and that of the person, people or institution that mapped it out. Like photographs, maps could be used for inspiration; many artists have in their own perceptions and ways, found new ways to represent the earth. To say that 'art and maps have a complex, rich and interesting relationship with one another', would not then be incorrect.


Art, we see from this example of cartography, is a great thing. Its vistas, levels of use, diversity and manipulation leave one temporarily stunned. But art in relation to individualism and culture is a thing to think about. “Anthropologist Dissanayake (1993) would have us implement a multiculturalism that includes unique individual cultures but which teaches the arts without romanticism or condescension. . .”

But one knows that most cultures usually answer its own populous’ needs. These economic and social needs usually take away from art lovers the aesthetic value it represents. Postmodernists were perhaps the only ones who had been able to revive this art through their enthusiastic demeanors and their desire to challenge conventional cartography and its use. (Stinespring, 2001) This approach to art would do away with a lot of the rot infesting it. It is wise though to accept that '…art expresses ideas that have political implications. This has always been one kind of subject matter for art. Students may find and should be allowed to make such expressions. Placing emphasis on social commentary implemented in the name of a postmodern curriculum, however, risks distorting and skewing art content…' (Wallach, 1994)


Here a mention of Terry Barretts 'About criticism' is most appropriate. Barrett defines criticism as "informed discourse about art to increase understanding and appreciation of art." [Barrett]. In this regard, cartography had been a great cultural contribution to the world. Without these map drafters, the world would not have been linked, Columbus would not have found Africa and the Spanish would not have reached South America.

Cartography is a cultural and a scientific art that like any other art had progressed over the centuries. Cartography and its progress could be attributed to geography and the aesthetic alike. This is because its existence had created communication linkage between natives of one region to the other. However, ideally cartography should be categorized as an art that transformed itself into a science. For photography and photogrammetry are too accurate for their forms to be treated as an art. It is science like these that have created various disciplines yet at the same time linking them together to make a cohesive whole – human culture.


The topic of cartography fascinates me as an aviation major student. The idea of people making maps from experience, hearsay and perception and people referring to these to travel miles away from their homes, risking their lives leaves me rather stupefied. This might have to do a great deal with the leaps in technology and the present system of making maps to brilliant precision and the inability of one not from that era to grasp the concept. This excerpt lends to my idea:

'…Time was, not so long ago, when we wanted to read art, like the rest of history, as a story of progress. Every day in every way, art and life were getting better and more modern, went this 20th-Century fairy tale. Fascism, communism, runaway capitalism, scientific and technological breakthroughs and modernist art were born of such yearnings. But the Promised Land never happened, and the utopian fantasies wrecked themselves on the shoals of disintegrating empires, environmental disasters, alienation and boredom. Chastened at the end of the century, we look now for other, smaller, less all-encompassing ways to understand just what is going on. (Wallach, 1994)


In the end it would be appropriate to say that Cartography was and is a tool of cultural development without which one would not have been possible for mankind to progress to the degree that he has today. For instance the field of aviation depends on accurate maps, charts and geographical latitudes. Cartographers in this regard have progressed a long way from spidery artistic drawings of sparse locations to intricate scales of regions of the world.

When viewed as an art, cartography matured in a very abnormal pace. While its history could be traced to Ptolemy, with astronomy and mathematics, today it still uses the same kind of tools to chart maps. As a result of this low paced progress, its artistic appreciation was also decreased. In the face of today’s technology, cartographic drawings and in the face of photogrammetric maps, have become a suppressed art, only appreciated by artistic society in reconnaissance with history.

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  1. Wallach, Amei. Mapping the Routes To Understanding. , Newsday, 10-10-1994.
  2. Barrett, Terry, "About Criticism," Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images, (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing), 2000.
  3. Sebert, L.M, The 1998 Canadian Encyclopedia. 1998
  4. McNiff, Veronica, The cartographer's art, 'House Beautiful', 1997.
  5. Heidenreich, C.E. Mapping the Great Lakes-1603-1700. University of Toronto Press, 1998.
  6. Kimpel, Jessica, New Minnesota exhibit spotlights historic maps, contemporary art. , University Wire, 1999.
  7. Dissanayake, Ellen. Homo Aestheticus: Where art comes from and why. New York: The Free Press. 1992.
  8. Stinespring, John A, Preventing art education from becoming "a handmaiden to the social studies". , Arts Education Policy Review, 03-01-2001. 

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