Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should we consider paintings by dolphins, elephants and chimps as art?

“Creation is the birth of something, and something cannot come from nothing. When someone creates something – a painting, a poem, a photograph – the creativity comes from an idea, from a feeling, from emotion, or from a combination of ideas, feelings and emotions that are somehow ´reborn´ from all our experiences and perspectives.”

Peter Lindbergh, extract from artist´s statement, “Unknown,” exhibition of photographs at UCCA in Beijing, which closed 22 May.

In the rawest sense, German fashion photographer Lindbergh speaks about what French artist Jean Dubuffet in 1948 called “art brut,” raw art.

Work by Jean Dubuffet
Wikipedia credits Dubuffet with coining “outsider art.”

And so we become subsumed with definitions, the boundaries imposed by language.

I started to hang on these words—“outsider art”—after last night watching a documentary about totally disabled people (physically and/or mentally), many unable to verbally communicate, creating commercially viable outsider art, some of it bringing in $5,000 to $15,000 each through a New York gallery cooperating with an art therapy program.

A work by chimpanzee painter Congo (1954 -1964)

Lindberg´s concept of artistic creation calls on key words—“feelings and emotions” and “experiences and perspectives (ideas).”

Vincent van Gogh defined painters as, “Creators with feelings.”

If we take the central core of creativity as feelings and emotions, and if you shed a tear of joy after seeing, “Free Willie” (killer whale soars to freedom), then arguably other animals like elephants, chimpanzees and dolphins own that creative gene as well.

Congo at work

Would Prince appropriate primate´s painting?

Would it enhance Richard Prince´s reputation and Larry Gagosian´s sales if Prince appropriated and morphed a painting by an elephant?

You can buy an original elephant painting for about $500 online, which helps maintain their Thai animal refuge where tourists flock to watch them do all kinds of tricks, then conclude the show by creating a painting.

Thai elephant painting one of his mates

Before we arrogantly sniff at such absurdities, these mammals and primates paint. And they very well own feelings.

Like us, a little knowledge or help (humans hand them brushes, select paints) can travel some distance and lead to fame and a bit of fortune.

Take Congo, the deceased chimpanzee, known for his abstract expressionist works.

 A few years ago, an American collector bought three of the primate´s paintings for a reported $30,000.

Congo also exhibited in London. Not sure if he were there at the opening.

Travel can be tough for some of these animal artists, like talented painting elephants from northern Thailand or the painting dolphin Xiaoqiang from China´s Shandong Province.

Chinese dolphin Xiaoqiang at work and play

For those artists inside the art world, accepting animal works as legitimate art can hardly boost egos.

“This is nothing but unjustified arrogance based on prejudice,” opines Israeli philosopher, Ben-Ami Sharfstein, in his book, "Art Without Borders" (2009).

Sharfstein believes some modern art humans create and those by talented animals appear are otherwise indistinguishable.

Not only that, according to British animal behaviorist Desmond Morris, animal creators develop their own style of expression, and some primates create for the pure pleasure of it as some birds naturally pair up singing duets for the pure joy of it.

Sound familiar?

Oh, in case you doubt whether elephants really can paint, their trunks each have about 40,000 muscles. They hold their No. 12 rounds with precision, as though with an opposable thumb.

An elephant´s expressionist work

Where does this leave us as we search for origins of the creative process? Jean Dubuffet called “art brut”:

“Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals.”

Raw Vision Magazine considers “outsider art” by definition too exclusionary. It prefers “intuitive/visionary art” instead of outsider art.

What do you call it?

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

Check out a sculpture or mosaics workshop or walking tour in our beautiful mountains. See: and
"Walking the Walk," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2007)
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