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Lesson Plans

Re: Animals and Art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
R. Moore (ronmoore)
Tue, 15 Dec 1998 17:40:19 -0800 (PST)

Prof. Criag Roland has sent us all a very nice message detailing some of
the important evidence about animal art. This includes not only elephant
art (Ruby, et al.) but chimp art (Congo et al.) as well as various other
"infra-human" forms. There can be no doubt that a wide variety of animals
other than humans do, or can be brought to do, things with the materials
of art production that result in objects that share many of the features
of (human) art. The fascinating question is whether we should regard
their products as art? Some of the most prominent modern-day definnitions
of "art" require that whatever is counted in that category be an artifact,
i.e., a man-made product. And, of course, that rules out all the
infra-human "artwork" by DEFINITION. It might be objected that this way
of conceptualizing the topic is speciesist and myopic--look at all the
wonderful things that non-human animals have acutually produced! But,
underlying the definitions and the claim that only humans really can make
art is the tacit assumption that art is deeply connected to certain
capacities for meaning, expression, interpretation, etc. that ARE
distinctively human. What chimps and elephants, cats and ducks do with
paint and clay, etc. can be fascinating, lovely, visually impressive,
etc., but doesn't it lack the very quality we look for in human artwork
that makes it so very special as a vehicle for exposing the special human
way of thinking, seeing, living, and responding? There are natural
objects, made by neither humans nor any other animals, that I find
captivatingly beautiful--waterfalls, foggy beaches, twilit mountains,
desert flowers, etc.--and yet, although I value them very highly
aesthetically, I am not tempted to call them ART. Why are we inclined to
expand the category of ART to include non-human creations? What is it
that tempts us to be expansive in that direction?
I think this is a lovely topic, and I hope others will chime in as
well! I'm much indebted to Prof. Roland for his references and his good
Ron Moore