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But is it Art?

Friday 07th October 2016

Sometimes it feels like after the number of articles we've written entitled 'But Is It Art?' or some variation thereof, we should just go ahead and make it a series like our Artist Spotlight. There are a number of interesting issues involved in the whole question and there surely is enough material to make an interesting series, but sometimes the question can seem a bit tiresome and should really just be answered 'Yes - now stop asking'.
 
In today's iteration of the theme, we're going to take a closer look at art by animals. Yes, not art depicting animals, but actually created by them. An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post recently by an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and while it certainly provided an interesting and engaging look at some of the more prominent animal artists of the last half century or so, the one thing it absolutely failed to do was answer the question 'But is it art?'.
 
Understandably, the author comes off as rather ambiguous about which way to answer the question, deciding in the end for the old standby, 'it depends on your definition'.

"If art is in the eye of the beholder, then Congo’s sweeping blazes of color can rival those of Jackson Pollock. If your notion of art is an exterior expression of an inner self, then maybe Chandra the Oklahoma City Zoo elephant’s paintings reveal less about her subjectivity than, say, how she might communicate through sounds and movement as the matriarch of a group of elephants in the wild.
 
But for primates such as Washoe, a chimpanzee who was raised like a human child by American scientists and died in 2007, the case may be different. Like Washoe, a few other primates have lived bicultural lives in human worlds as the subjects of language and cognition research, and can “talk” to us through signs and symbols. We may see something different in their creations, especially when they can title them themselves."
 
I think it's time that we disregard the equivocation and accept that no matter which way you go, there will be someone prominent and respected who disagrees with you, and therefore you're not helping yourself or anyone else by sitting on the fence about this - and certainly not the animals, unless you argue that any exposure they get is likely to increase the sales of their work and thus increase the fundraising ability of their parent zoos.
 
In short, yes, it is art. Whether it is a cross-species collaboration or not.

(Photo credit: Piece by Congo, photo by Bonhams/AP)
 

Posted on October 07th 2016 on 08:24pm

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