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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chimpanzees and Representational Art

It's no secret that I like to paint, am not very good at it, but still enjoy this as a relaxing activity. Recently, the image of the Liberian chimpanzees with their hands outstretched, asking for a handout, really made an impression on me, so I decided to try to paint that.

The painting is nowhere near complete, but Bow wanted to take a closer look.

When  Bow takes a closer look, he really gets close. Close enough to smell it.

Does Bow like to paint? Yes, but I have never been able to tell, just by looking at them, what his paintings are supposed to be. In my opinion, a painting is what it looks like to an objective observer and not what the artist says it represents. If objective observers all see different things, then it's an ink blot, not a painting. We have all seen images in the clouds, but we realize those images are actually in our heads and not in the clouds. When we look at a painting like Mona Lisa, there is no question as to what it's supposed to be. Nobody looks at that and sees a landscape or a still life.We may not know who the woman is, but we can tell it's a woman and what she is doing.

Watch These Birds Form Spectacular Shapes in the Sky
A flock of starlings take flight in what is known as a murmuration, a rare gathering that looks like dancing clouds.

However, I watched the video above of a flock of starlings, and for a moment I was sure they were forming a three dimensional image of a swan. Do the starlings know they are making a swan? I wondered. Probably not.

To prove that chimpanzees, like Bow, can make representational art, we have to be able to objectively determine what an observer would think it was an image of, and also that the chimpanzee intended that it be an image of that. If either element is missing, it's not representational art.

To prove that a chimpanzee understands representational art, you have only to ask him to identify what he sees. I am rather sure that Bow does indeed understand representational art. But to enroll him in an art appreciation class might be  a problem.


  1. I am not impressed with many college art courses. I took a good art history course, but the two painting and drawing courses I took in college lacked something to be desired. My high school art teacher, on the other hand, was much more inspirational and talented than the two male professors I had in college. She actually taught us more techniques, discussed more art history, and entered more art competitions than my two professors did. Her and her husband were truly interested in the arts, and inspired me to want to take more art classes. However, if I only had my college experiences to go on, I might have been disinclined to explore art further. Perhaps Bow can watch an art appreciation video course on YouTube?

    1. I imagine that experiences with art teachers vary, whether in high school or in college or even just privately. I never took either a high school or a college art class, but I did receive private instruction for a short time when I was home-schooled.

      Your suggestion is good though, Julia. Bow could take an art appreciation class on Youtube. I will look into that possibility.

  2. A chimp is a lot smarter than we take him to be!!!!

    1. Yes, Michelle, chimpanzees are very smart, and Bow in particular.