When is the Map the Territory?

At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1931 Alfred Korzbski coined the expression “the map is not the territory.” In other words, a map is an abstraction that filters and distills sensory information. It may appear to be a scientific rendering of the world but it is created through a process of additions and subtractions that are influenced by specific needs and biases.

Korzbski was using the idea of a map as a metaphor but in this post I want to talk about actual maps. I’ve always loved maps and the phrase “the map is not the territory” has been important in the evolution of my own work. I think that perhaps for an artist the map is the territory. The map becomes the place where the artist resides – the place of their imagination with no attempts to reference the real world. It is from this perspective that I look at maps, searching for insights into the makers – who were they, what lives did they live, why this line and this color?

Over the next few weeks I will post about maps, both historic versions and those made by contemporary artists. But today I just want to show you a few antique maps. Look at them. What do they tell you?

antique city map

antique world map

map comparing heights of mountains and lengths of rivers

ancient map of heavens and earth

medieval map

Celestial map

A great resource is David Rumsey’s map collection.

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