Monday, April 20, 2009

Not all elephants can paint, and of those that do, some are better than others.
from Painting Elephants get Online Gallery
National Geographic
I am responding to a flood of posts (one) asking - who did the abstract art in my post of April 16? Yes, it was an elephant, whose work routinely sells for $350. The above article will take you to an online photo gallery of various elephants' work - which is sort of a collaboration between the elephant and its mahout.

The article explains that elephants in captivity get bored. One especially talented artist spent a lot of time drawing in the dust with a stick. Finally, her mahout thought to get her some art supplies. She was excited. I know I would have been.

The mahout initially trains the elephant, rewarding it for doing the right thing artistically. What would we have if world-class art teachers did this training? (Oh, probably something none of us would actually want on our walls.) There are animals that really enjoy their ability to do something that brings about praise and treats. Even cats. I am well aware of Sherlock's pleasure in his performance art, which I have surely described in these pages. He watches for opportunities, lets me know he wants to do his routine (we don't call it tricks), and loves the Dentabites. It empowers him and flosses his teeth at the same time. A multi-purpose art.

One of the things I like about animal performance is that it demystifies art. What passes for high art (and literature) in our world today needs to be demystified. Don't get me wrong - I have great respect for much art. I like that which feels allied with spirituality; I like the way this is the purpose of the Zen arts, haiku, shakuhachi (the wooden flute), calligraphy. I have watched a calligrapher work and it was breath-stopping to see the brush come to life in his hand. There are many other examples of art as an expression of spirit; I think of Shaker paintings, and here in Columbus, Aminah Robinson's work.

But in our society, high art of every kind has become commodified, intellectualized, separate from ordinary folks' experience or ability to understand, even as it is often makes a point of transgressing on basic cultural values. Isn't it refreshing to think of these elephants, innocent animals, pleased to be able to do something besides draw in the dust, to make colors! and be praised for it, besides?

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