What is art? Is artistry unique to humans? Can non-human animals, too, make art?
These are questions that zoologists, philosophers, and art historians have been asking for millennia. Whatever the answers are, it is becoming increasingly popular at zoos to give animals non-toxic paints, paint brushes, and paper and encouraging them to make art. The Smithsonian National Zoo, for example, features artist golden lion tamarins, naked mole rats, lions, and even hissing cockroaches, among other creatures!
But animal artistry is not just for entertainment. Beginning in the 1950s with chimpanzees, animalparticularly primateart is considered worthy of serious scientific study. By studying animal-produced art, scientists hope to learn more about animal psychology and the links between humans and non-human animals.
Below are some examples of animal artists and artistry as we bring you 5 pieces of art created by animals.
Seeing an elephant hold a paintbrush in its trunk and, very carefully, paint the lines that form the figure of another elephant is pretty incredible. Visitors to the National Elephant Institute in Thailand can do just that. In fact, they can even purchase an original elephant painting, the proceeds from which go to support elephant conservation.
Even more than with chimpanzee and gorilla art, described below, elephant-produced art is extremely controversial. The elephants featured in videos have been trained precisely how to move their paintbrushes to form pictures of elephants. It is unlikely that they understand what they are doing. According to zoologist Desmond Morris, reflecting on his trip to the National Elephant Institute with biologist Richard Dawkins, the elephants are prodded and encouraged by their mahouts (trainers) throughout the entire painting process. He nudges it up and down to get the animal to make a vertical line, or pulls it sideways to get a horizontal one, Morris wrote. To encourage spots and blobs he tugs the ear forward, towards the canvas. So, very sadly, the design the elephant is making is not hers but his. There is no elephantine invention, no creativity, just slavish copying.
Be that as it may, the fact that elephants, lacking opposable thumbs, are able to paint such precise, accurate lines with their trunks is fascinating. A few hundred dollars, which is how much their paintings sell for, is well worth the price of an elephant-made painting, even if theres no creativity behind it.