Part II, The Human Animal: Art; imagination, communication, impression
Some humans would argue that animals do not create artwork and therefore the creation of art is a uniquely human attribute. However, this is another aspect that is not exclusively the domain of the human animal either. There are a number of zoo’s out there that offer artworks created by animals. The zoo’s offer art mediums to animals with the good intentions of taking care of the animals’ intellectual stimulation and overall health (of course that goal could be better accomplished by protecting their natural spaces and allowing them the right to live their naturals lives, but I digress).
“The keepers at the Zoo work to enrich the lives of the animals in their care every day. They add interesting and complex activities to the animals’ daily routines. Enrichment activities are fun for both animals and keepers. Zoo staff has found that many of our animals enjoy painting as an enrichment activity. They are given canvases and non-toxic paints to use as they create their masterpieces. With a little help from their keepers and sometimes a paintbrush, they create beautiful works of art!”
These works of art are typically considered abstract pieces, which depend then upon the eye of the beholder to determine artistic aesthetics. Some argue that animals creating art is not so much a natural action rather a trained or learned behavior.
Two examples from the Elephant Art Gallery:
What is interesting to me of these two particular pieces is the quite different styles of imagination displayed in each piece. One piece shows very carefully laid, mostly straight lines. The other is filled with lines that seem to flow in from various angles. I can’t help but wonder what is happening in the minds of each of the animals here.
In order to pursue this argument, the word “art” needs to be defined. Merriam-Webster offers that art is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects…”
Some would say that the animal-artists aren’t creating these works for the purpose of artwork, but more or less as just simply an outlet for coping with boredom; that they are not creating something for aesthetic purposes to impress another of their own kind as the human animal does. However, this too can be shown to be untrue.
The “Decorator Crab” puts in great effort and time in creating its artwork of elaborately decorating its shell. Yet, the crab is not the best example of art among Animal Kin as the crab is doing this more for the purpose of hiding itself in its artwork rather than creating a impressing showpiece.
One animal species, however, that stands out as an Animal Kingdom Master of artwork is the Bower bird. Here the matter of whether art is a shared attribute with the human animal should be able to be put to a satisfactory rest.
The Bower makes it very obvious it is indeed creating works of art. Their exquisite creations could even incline the human animal to remark upon these birds’ works as aesthetically beautiful. Plus, these animals make their artworks for the very same reasons as the human animal, which is to convey messages and impress another of its own kind.