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Windows on Evolution – can you outdo “March of Progress” imagery?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Windows on Evolution - can you create the iconic image of this extraordinary idea?


Charles Darwin’s grand discovery of evolution by natural selection (oh and hey – what’s up, Wallace!) has been with us for over 150 years and transformed medicine, society and any number of scientific disciplines. Paleoart and nature illustration are thriving, lively fields.

So why are we still stuck with the Ascent of Man, March of Progress imagery as the iconic image of evolution? (I hesitate to call it Ascent of “Humans” – the gender bias of the image is as outdated and iconic as the linear path it suggests.)

The original "March of Progress" (1965) by Rudolph Zallinger for Time-Life books. This image should totally be a jumble of primates jockeying for position and way more crowded. Someone fix this.

It’s speaks volumes that even an inaccurate and tongue-in-cheek version of this image can cause such dissonance in creationists when the successive primates would like to be a Pepper too.

Really creationists? *Really??*


Science-Art Nature, a group with one of the shortest and most elegant mission statements I’ve ever read, wants to see if today’s generation in the burgeoning field of science-art can do better than a line-up of sexist apes or evolution-via-soda.

From the Windows on Evolution site:

“Science Art-Nature invites you to participate in a juried virtual exhibit, WINDOWS ON EVOLUTION:  An Artistic Celebration of Charles Darwin, commemorating Darwin Day, February 12, 2013.

  • The top 40 entries will be posted on Darwin Day, but all qualifying works will eventually be added.
  • The exhibit will remain accessible through the Science Art-Nature website indefinitely.

“We intend to have the exhibit announced through various websites including that of the Darwin Day Organization.  Darwin Day, as described there, is “an international celebration of science and humanity.”  Visit their site to see videos, lectures on evolution, and information on Darwin, evolution, Darwin Day events and more.

“As always, our aim is to display and promote the best contemporary Science Art and to encourage discourse between the scientific and artistic communities.”

(More information and the forms here.)

Deadline for entries is October 15th, and there’s a small fee to enter. They’re also taking donations to help make this exhibit free to view and giving away swag to donors over certain thresholds – the standard crowdsourcing-for-awesomeness model.

Have you got what it takes to describe evolution and fire the imagination of the masses? A painting almost done, an image in your sketchbook, an idea noodling around in your head that you’ve never gotten to? Now’s the time to create and add to the grandeur of modern science art and communication.

Make sure to hover over this image at the Windows on Evolution page to reveal all the species! © Carel Brest Van Kempen.

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Windows on Evolution Entry Guide

Donation incentives! Help make this gallery possible and get evolutionary swag!

Windows on Evolution Gallerylaunching February 12 2013

Science-Art Nature

Carel Brest Van Kempen – inhumanly talented artist who designed the logo, co-organizer of the event.

Darryl Wheye – artist, human dynamo behind Science-Art Nature, co-organizer.

Twitter @SciArtNature


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DisclosureI was briefly on the Board on Science-Art Nature and have helped with this event a little.  Because it’s awesome. This post was written by me and not the organizers. -Glendon

Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite and is on Instagram. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Glendon Mellow 12:31 pm 09/27/2012

    Oh and thank you to @NoraThompson,@UntilDarwin and @darwinsbulldog for confirming Rudolph Zallinger as the original artist behind March of Progress. Can’t believe I never looked into that before.

    Link to this
  2. 2. CliffClark 10:49 pm 09/29/2012

    Should be a lot more bacteria and viruses in the March of Progress. They put the lie to the concept that evolution is directional and always leads to greater complexity. If any art represented reality in the proportion of successful organisms alive today, there would be little else!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Glendon Mellow 10:39 am 09/30/2012

    Agreed, Cliff! It will be interesting to see the entries.

    The aim is not to re-create March of Progress, but to instead come up with beautiful, appropriate images about evolution. So it could have a chain of organisms conceivably – biodiversity is important.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Andrew Planet 5:59 pm 09/30/2012

    Et alia!

    Link to this
  5. 5. Na g n o s t ic 9:38 pm 09/30/2012

    Sexist? That’s all you got? Even if we addressed the ‘sexism’ and apparent racism of the image by substituting the depicted individuals with male-female couples of varying races, we’d be stuck with oppressing the LGBT community.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Na g n o s t ic 10:03 pm 09/30/2012

    Hey, Glendon Mellow – your premise is poppycock, and smacks of revisionism and feminist ideology.
    From Wikipedia -
    Contrary to appearances and some complaints, the original 1965 text of “The Road to Homo Sapiens” reveals an understanding of the fact that a linear presentation of a sequence of primate species, all of which are in the direct line of human ancestors, would not be a correct interpretation. For example, the fourth of Zallinger’s figures (Oreopithecus) is said to be “a likely side branch on man’s family tree”. Only the next figure (Ramapithecus) is described as “now thought by some experts to be the oldest of man’s ancestors in a direct line” (something no longer considered likely). This implies that none of the first four primates are to be considered actual human ancestors. Likewise, the seventh figure (Paranthropus) is said to be “an evolutionary dead end”. In addition, the colored stripes across the top of the figure that indicate the age and duration of the various lineages clearly imply that there is no evidence of direct continuity between extinct and extant lineages, and also that multiple lineages of the figured hominids occurred contemporaneously at several points in the history of the group.

    Link to this
  7. 7. rRo12 5:19 am 10/1/2012

    Thanks Glendon! Nice to read as usual, great links and comments.

    Maybe I have the courage to participate ^^ ..

    Link to this
  8. 8. msadesign 7:59 am 10/1/2012

    I wonder if the scientific accuracy is so important, really. This picture has always been more emblematic of the grand sweep of evolution than real accuracy, as several commenters have pointed out. After all you’d need the viruses and everything in-between to be truly scientifically useful.

    But nothing more clearly illustrates the fact that human kind is the result of evolution. Perhaps its best left there?

    Oh. And the LGBT community As far as I know they look like the rest of us. You know. Like Canadians?

    Link to this
  9. 9. Glendon Mellow 8:01 am 10/1/2012

    Hey Na g n o s t ic – revisionism? Yes please. It does need revising.

    And you are absolutely correct that the original authors along with Zallinger as the illustrator may not have intended it to depict this literal chain of one after the other, the “March of Progress”.

    Also from Wikipedia:
    Although the context indicates that it was not the authors’ or illustrator’s intent to imply a linear ancestor-descendant parade, as the popularity of the image grew and achieved iconic status, the name “March of Progress” became attached to it.

    Which is the point. Sometimes imagery takes on a life of its own when it hits public consciousness. In this case, the various lineages you describe are misconstrued as the linear parade. Which everything from Far Side cartoons to the above Dr. Pepper ad confirm as the popular understanding of the image.

    As for charges of feminist revisionism, I find it odd whenever anything is labelled “mankind” or refers to “man” instead of humans or people. Yeah, feminist consciousness-raising can cause you to notice it.

    As to whether the image just needs as facile an update as multiple genders and races walking together, that’s thinking too small. Did you notice the Burgess Shale critters used to advertise the exhibit? Yeah. Think bigger than humanity and our most immediate relatives. I hope we’ll see some truly spectacular images from this exhibit.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Glendon Mellow 8:03 am 10/1/2012

    rRo12 – Thanks, I hope you have the courage too!

    Changing the focus away from a decades-long visual, pop-culture paradigm is no easy task. But the attempt should be instructive, interesting, and maybe some truly amazing art will result.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Glendon Mellow 8:05 am 10/1/2012

    Thanks msadesign! As a guy who paints trilobites with wings on them, I agree a powerful metaphor can be just as useful to science communication as scientific accuracy, though both have roles to play.

    Link to this
  12. 12. TTLG 6:59 pm 10/1/2012

    I am not an artist, but what I really think needs to be changed is the human-centric nature of the image. What we really need is something showing the branching nature of evolution, where one ancestor “marches” to become, not only human, but also chimp, orangutan and fades away as neanderthal.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Glendon Mellow 8:22 pm 10/1/2012

    Great ideas TTLG.

    Link to this

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