Recently people have been going crazy over a video of painting elephants circulating around the web. I wrote about elephant art in 2007 when Carol, one of the elephants I worked with, died. Hanging in my reading room is a painting we did together. You can see her trunk signature on the bottom left in green.
Most animal art is abstract and so the video leads people to believe that these elephants are budding artists. They are but people want to believe the elephant was doing a self-portrait and it is “gifted.”
I’ve had trouble with embedding the video but you can view the elephant art video by clicking here.
Elephants are amazing but I had to break the truth to a friend of mine this morning. People want to believe the art is something novel that the animals are doing on their own. Sorry to have to tell you this but the animals were trained to do the artwork you are seeing.
Most chimps and elephants draw abstractly. If you read the actual news accounts you will learn how they were trained and why.
Just a reminder that when you view videos or television shows you are simply just getting a glimpse into a longer process. People really want to believe what is presented. This elephant painting video has gone viral but if you do a little digging you can read reports on how the project began. The whole thing began when two artists were working at training art to an elephant at the Toledo Zoo and they then took the project out of the USA.
The elephant drawing activity at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center eventually developed into the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project (AEACP) in New York USA. The AEACP raises funds through the sale of artwork created by elephants in order to generate money and create awareness for the people and elephants of Asia.
The AEACP is a continuing work of art by conceptual artists, Komar & Melamid. In its creation, Komar & Melamid brought the idea of teaching elephants how to paint from US zoos to the impoverished countryside of Southeast Asia, where the much needed ban on logging in the late 80’s left the remaining few thousand elephants and their caretakers out of work.
You can get a glimpse of some of the elephant artists and their work at the Elephant Art website. 60 Minutes did a feature story on the elephant art activities and National Geographic also covered the topic in 2002.
Novica (a group that sells museum art) sells contributions from Bali elephant artist, Ramona, Ruby at the Phoenix Zoo was probably the best known captive painting elephant and you can read a little more about the popular elephant art in Thailand here.