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There has been a long line of animals paraded "as artists". Who knows how
long ago this tradition began. I would not be surprised to find some
Greek reference to the gift of a painting ape to some Satrap or Pharaoh
In general, I think these creatures are "set-up", located in a context
where the making of something that resembles art (but which may or may not
BE art) comes with relative ease and a reward for any gesture which
results in the arrangement of media. These animals are "taught" art then
and thereafter they can produce it at will or demand. For the most part,
their continued practice of art is an economic decision, the production of
a professional product in exchange for something of sustaining value
(usually food, sometimes praise, or a bright sticker). Actually, this
sounds uncomfortably like altogether too many artists of my aquaintance.
In fact, to be honest I must admit that I have, at times, fit this model!
It makes me think about art and teaching.
On the other hand, there is the Bowerbird.
A wonderful creature that for one brief moment in the 19th century was
located by biologists and naturalists in the heirarchy of bird-dom in a
position matching man's in the heirarchy of primates.
Much in the manner that I wooed my wife, the (male) bowerbird appears
to woo his own future spouse thru something closely resembling
installation/performance art. A "nest-like" [but never used AS a
functional nest] installation is assembled out of materials and objects
chosen apparently for their aesthetic value to the Bowerbird and his
intended audience. Any "well-shaped" twig or bright shiny piece of might
be considered for incorporation into the work but only those that meet
the aesthetic criteria of the Bowerbird and add to the over all effect
will be added and retained. In a manner much like any artist I know
the bird places, adjusts, rejects and recovers objects until satisfied.
He may steal stuff from another birds nearby installation, imitating it's
design to some extent, but making the stolen bauble his own in terms of
the work as a whole.
The successful Bowerbird evidently succeeds by convincing his intended
tha this work is the mark of an individual having the finest imaginable
qualities for a lifetime companion and genetic contributor. It works
Alas! Many of us want to hear "the rest of the story." What art do Female
Bowerbirds produce? Unfortunately this information has been (apparently)
surpressed. :) I, for one, won't accept the glib suggestion that the art
of the female lies soley in producing and raising young of a species.
Does anyone out there from the lands of the Southern Cross have any
additional information to impart on the artistic practice of these fowl?
I believe in the Bowerbird. Of all creatures, other than man, it alone
seems to have an aesthetic practice which approaches our own. While not
at all diverse, while this bird will never venture into art beyond its
immediate and specific needs I, nevertheless, I believe it is creative,
and creative in a manner far beyond the expected limitations imposed on
any other creature with a brain the size of a walnut. It is the Bowerbird
that convinces me that art cannot EVER be beyond the capacities of any
human possessing a brainstem and the ability to in some way manipulate
elements of one sort or another.
Hooray for the Bowerbird!
(another bootless panergic ;-)
On Tue, 30 Apr 1996, Sandra L. Eckert wrote:
> I haven't heard about Rudy, but I did read a "book?" called "Why
> Cats Paint". What a kick!
> I believe that art requires intention...I guess that means that if
> you believe that animals are sentient beings, they can create art.
> Personally, I don't believe it.