Is it art? That’s a question artists sometimes hear about their own work. But a new exhibition at a London museum raises the question of whether animals are capable of creating art. The exhibit, at University College London’s Grant Museum of Zoology, features paintings by chimps, gorillas, and orangutans.
What does the "art" look like? It's pretty abstract stuff--more Jackson Pollock than Norman Rockwell.
“Ape art is often compared to that of two- or three-year-old children in the ‘scribble stage,’” the museum’s manager, Jack Asby, said in a written statement.
In the '50s and 60's, a chimpanzee named Congo famously produced similarly abstract works, some of which were reportedly bought by Pablo Picasso. Congo's abilities were remarkable, English zoologist Desmond Morris wrote in the Daily Mail in 2009. But "all his paintings were abstract compositions," Morris continued. "He never managed to produce a recognizable pictorial image."
But the new exhibition also features a remarkably life-like depiction of a flowerpot created by Boon Mee, a former logging elephant in Thailand. Could Boon Mee be the real deal--an animal artist? Or is Boon Mee just monkeying around like the apes?
"Elephants are not artists," Morris wrote in the Daily Mail. "Unlike the chimpanzees, they do not explore new patterns or vary the design of their work themselves. Superficially, they do appear to be more advanced, but it is all a trick." And the "trick," according to a museum spokesman, is that elephant "artists" are carefully led through their brushstrokes by a trainer.
But even if animals can't truly create art, it doesn't mean we can't appreciate the work. Keep clicking for a look...