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Lesson Plans

Re: Animals and Art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
craig roland (rol1851.EDU)
Thu, 17 Dec 1998 17:02:23 -0500

Ron, Lily, Joseph (and other interested readers),

I've been busy with finishing up our semester here until today and
haven't had much time to think about "animals and art" or much of
anything else for that matter. However, I have enjoyed reading your
exchange. I must say here, (with a (;7), one thing that DOES appear to
separate us from animals is that animals (probably) don't engage in
such metaphysical discussions about "Art."

Having discussed this topic before, in different contexts, the one
thing I always appreciate is that ultimately what this phenomenon
(animals engaging in "artistic" acts) does is raise questions about the
nature of art and artistic activity, e.g., Why do people (animals) make
art anyways?

Since this discussion has widen to include the views of those outside
our field, it might be helpful to consider the thoughts of a few
zoologists and others who have studied this matter directly and more
deeply than ourselves. I'm including a few quotes here along with
citations (for those interested in reading more) to give you a flavor
of this dialogue:

A number of animal species, particularly among the birds, perform
behaviors that are remarkably "artistic."

* Ellen Dissanyake

(Dissanayake, E. (1992).Homoaestheticus, Where art comes from and why.
New York: The Free Press.)

Supposedly art is the nobiest human attribute, one that sharply sets us
apart from animals. Its function (if it has any) and its origin are
often considered a sublime mystery. Yet, if animals too have a
capacity for art, what implications might that have for our own?

Could it be that humans are basically just animals when it comes to
making art--and relative newcomers to the art scene at that?

* Jared Diamond

(Diamond, J. (1991, February).Art of the wild. Discover, 12, (2), pp.

. . .primate picture-making represents artistic effort in its simplest
and most rudimentary stages.

* Sharon & Thomas McKern

(McKern, S. S., & McKern, T. W. (1971, October). Ape artists: What they
tell us about origins of human tool use.Science Digest, 70, pp.

But paint applied to paper is not necessarily a work of art. What is
needed is some indication of pleasure and engagement on the part of the
chimpanzee, as well as a certain measure of control and intentionally.
And such evidence is forthcoming. Chimpanzees do become extremely
involved in the act of painting, display a high level of concentration,
and although never rewarded for painting, continue the activity for
long stretches of time, often preferring to paint than eat and throwing
a tantrum if their materials are taken away.

* Ellen Winner

(Winner, E. (1982). Invented worlds ~ The Psychology of the arts.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.)

Fear not, apes have been eating bananas for centuries but have yet to
paint a still-life of them.

* Gary Clarke (Topeka Zoo)

I particularly enjoy this last one. :7)



CRAIG ROLAND. Associate Professor-Art Education.

School of Art and Art History, FAC 302,

University of Florida, Gainesville Florida.

32611-5801. (352) 392-9165 - Art Ed Office (352) 392-8453 - Fax

new email address: rolandc