Wednesday, 21 May 2008

NOT SO DUMBO

From childhood, my Mum was mad about elephants!

She adored Disney's Dumbo and, until her death, she had elephant figures, pictures, teapots, clocks and cuddly toys everywhere around the house.

Even if we're not quite that pachyderm-obsessive, we all love elephants, don't we? I mean, how can you not? Strong but gentle giants, seemingly so old and wise...

If you haven't already seen this YouTube video, then you are in for a treat...



This particular artist appears to be an elephant called Hong who lives at the Maetaman Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Skeptics may doubt the evidence of their eyes, but thanks to the ever-trusty Hoax-Slayer, I am able to confirm - staggering though it seems - that what you see is totally genuine.

However, to be utterly truthful, I have to add that - as the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project reveals - Hong's artwork is the result of training rather than an expression of a natural artistic talent...
Two years ago, Hong began painting with her mahout, Noi Rakchang, and has steadily developed her skills. After learning how to paint flowers, she moved on to more advanced paintings. She now has two specialties. One is an elephant holding flowers with her trunk, and the other is the Thai flag. An elephant with so much control and dexterity is capable of amazing work. Just for clarification, with these realistic figural works, the elephant is still the only one making the marks on the paper but the paintings are learned series of brush strokes not Hong painting a still life on her own.
Nevertheless, as a feat of memory and as an example of remarkable trunk-brush control, I still find this demonstration extraordinary and curiously moving.

You can read the full commentary on this video, with links, on Hoax-Slayer; while on the website of The Elephant Art Gallery you can read about - and purchase - genuine abstract elephant art: paintings that are not created using learned brush strokes, but which are the animals' unaided work - other than the fact that they are handed the brushes loaded with paint...

The example right is by an elephant named SriSiam and is entitled 'Children's Party'. I can think of some human abstract painters for whom SriSiam is a serious rival...

9 comments:

Eudora said...

I think that animals don`t need art or artistic expressions at all. I only see training in that picture. The animals can't see the world like us, is a organic question, my cat, Blimunda, see the world in black and white, and she can't chose Bach or Mozart because for her the sounds are in a different order....

Months ago I can see a monkey making calculations, or something like that, in a screen, the monkey was faster that a human being. But art, that's a different thing.

LisaH said...

That's incredible. The elephant is showing remarkable dexterity and precision. I wonder if they derive any pleasure from the tusk, sorry task.

Brian Sibley said...

EUDORA - Comments on The Elephant Art Gallery web-site suggest that the animals have an intuitive grasp of spatial awareness which accords with the fact that elephants are known to undertake delicate and intricate tasks with their trunks, not only in captivity, but also in the wild.

However, humans have always wanted to believe in a kinship with animal-kind - a bond between man and beast - and have been intrigued by claims that animals can think and behave in a "human" way from the 'Talking Horse', 'Educated Pig' and 'Wonderful Intelligent Goose' exhibited in fairs of the 17th and 18th Century through to Desmond Morris' study of Ape Art in the 20th.

Perhaps this is why so many children's books - such as Bambi and The Wind in the Willows - feature anthropomorphic animal characters.

Anyway... for anyone who finds the elephant painter offensive, I offer - as an antidote - this brief but moving essay by Stu Bykofsky in The Philadelphia Enquirer simply entitled I Am An Elephant.

Brian Sibley said...

LISAH - Very punny!

Bentos said...

After 5 years in full-time art education I have a seriously ambivalant relationship with the subject (ego masturbation for the rich anyone?) but your 'I can think of some human abstract painters for whom SriSiam is a serious rival...' comment misses the point I think.

As part of modern art the focus is shifted from the work to the creator so whether or not the daubings of dumb animals, or a 4 year old child, can be hung in a gallery and taken to be visually equivelent to seriously regarded work is irrelevant, the identity and intentions of the artist are all. I refer you to works like Piero Manzoni's Artist's Breath http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=26872 or Gilbert and George's obsession with their own shit.

Whether you choose to take this stuff seriously or not, again doesn't matter as the art world doesn't care what you think, and would probably prefer it that way anyway, revelling in the way that ordinary folks simply don't get it.

Yeah, I don't like 'Art' much.

Brian Sibley said...

BENTOS - Thanks for this. Of course, in the case of Artist's Breath, art as a void - the absence of art if you like - is nothing new.

And, as for deflated balloons, I was reminded of Piglet presenting Eeyore with his (burst) birthday balloon:

[Piglet] gave Eeyore the small piece of damp rag.

"Is this it?" said Eeyore, a little surprised.

Piglet nodded.

"My present?"

Piglet nodded again.

"The Balloon?"

"Yes."

"Thank you, Piglet," said Eeyore. "You don't mind my asking," he went on, "but what colour was this balloon when it -- when it was a balloon?"

"Red."

"I just wondered... Red," he murmured to himself. "My favourite colour... How big was it?"

"About as big as me."

"I just wondered... About as big as Piglet," he said to himself sadly. "My favourite size. Well, well."

Bentos said...

I don't see Artist's Breath as Art as a void so much as Art as a deed, anything the Artist does is Art. Yves Klein laying in the grass, signing the sky with his finger comes to mind.

Either way any smugness engendered by the comparison of accepted art and the work of an elephant is misplaced.

Brian Sibley said...

I meant a 'void' in the sense that the balloon is now empty and the breath -- gone. But 'deed' will do... In fact a done deed!!

Boll Weavil said...

Although Hoax Slayer verifies the video, they seem to ignore an advert on their own pages for something even more remarkable.Elephant insurance services.Not only can the beasts paint, but it seems they can handle routine office administration and the process of assessing a claim.This takes them higher in the evolutionary ladder than most of the insurance companies I can think of...