Can Animals Make Art?

Tree  unnamed artist 2000

I’m sure most people have seen an elephant painting or heard about it. If you haven’t, here’s a quick still from an elephant painting a tree in Northern Thailand.

After watching a clip, I seriously wondered if elephants had had some behind the scenes training that could explain their deftness. A bit like how all contestants on Masterchef can suddenly cook haute cuisine after 3 weeks of being on that show. Hmmm.

I traveled to Northern Thailand* to see what was behind the genius. Lo, they are not genii but manipulated by their mahouts (trainers) who tug at their ears to tell the trunk to go left, right etc. Sorry everyone for the bad news. For the full article by the Daily Mail UK click here

*I didn’t go to Northern Thailand.

What about Chimpanzees? Congo (the arty chimp from London Zoo) can paint. His work fetches tidy prices. In 2005, The Telegraph reported…“The art world, confusing at the best of times, took another right-angled lurch at Bonhams auction house yesterday. Amid wild scenes, three paintings by a chimpanzee were sold for £14,400, more than 20 times their estimate.”

Untitled  Acrylic on paper, 2004

Untitled Acrylic on paper, 2004

So yes, some animals can create art but it has always been under guidance, not done on their own volition. Art making is just not inherent in the animal kingdom although some ornithologists may disagree. Many birds live to create the best, most extravagant, complicated boudoirs for their mates. They compose and sing arias to attract the opposite sex. All this aesthetically pleasing, hard work just to pull a bird? Do humans create art to make themselves more attractive? Maybe for some but there are other reasons humans feel the need to produce art. We aim to find meaning in life and art is one tangible expression of doing this. Animals aim to find food and interesting things to shove their noses into. Speaking of dogs, while some animals can churn out art, some humans document them, like William Wegman and his dogs.

Lawn Chair  1998
Fingers and Toes  1996

Fingers and Toes 1996

Having a dog, I am partial to Wegman's work. It’s satirical, strangely sophisticated yet artistically comical. He admits that the main reason he decided to take the route of dog photography was because the dog (Man Ray) kept walking in on his shoots. And that they (Weimeranas) possess human-like magnetism. The portraits suspend our belief, a bit like Bulgakov’s novel, The Heart of a Dog (a must read), whereby the main character is half man, half dog and the reader is never quite sure which half is speaking to us.



Wegman’s images make the dogs appear in control and at ease whilst the viewer is left feeling awkward for unbeknownst reasons. How he became lauded in the supposedly-super-serious art-world is something I find as amusing as his work.


Then there is the Beluga whale from Japan who can 'paint'. And who could forget Bini the Bunny who is also very handy with the brush. Bini is so clever he even has his own website and shop portal. I'm not convinced.


But quickly back to canines performing artistic work-this is a sweet clip about a dog who goes blind but can still paint for no forced reason. The dog (owner) is doing well from the sales which are donated to a dog shelter nearby. The dog has it's own website for the sale of works and no doubt, will have its own range of miniature berets.