Elephant art

5 07 2008

This series of photos of an elephant drawing an elephant – no lie! – raised some curious questions.

  • Is it used to seeing other elephants used as mounts and bulldozers and tractors? The elephant it is drawing has a cloth over its back like you see on circus elephants, with perhaps a little seat for its rider. What does it think about that? Does it do other pictures of elephants not wearing the cloth or the seat?
  • Do elephants see color? I would say so because in the picture the elephant makes reasonable use of colors. (But if the elephant used only shades of blue, would that mean that it had been trained by Picasso?)
  • Why is the elephant using red in some areas of the picture?
  • Is this from memory, or was it using a model? No, really, I’m serious. Was there another elephant out there it was looking at, or was it making a painting of one of its friends? Or maybe just drawing an “elephant” like school kids draw “people”.
  • If the elephants lived in stalls like horses do, would this elephant be able to put the pictures of its friends outside their stalls? OK, that’s kind of like the question above, kinda related, but also pushing the question of “model” and familiarity a bit further.
  • Can the people who work with this group elephants tell the elephant’s elephants apart? In other words, are the elephants the elephant paints recognizable to people? What about other elephants?
  • What might this be able to tell us about an elephant’s perception of itself and other elephants? For example, in the first picture we can infer that the elephant started by drawing the trunk, though the trunk was later modified as we get down toward the last picture. How important is the trunk in the elephant self-view? What about relative sizes of the head and body?
  • Do other elephants recognize the elephant in the painting?
  • Do other elephants paint? Is there an “Indian School of Elephant Art” in the same way that there was a Chicago School of Art back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s? (At least I think there was something know as the Chicago School in painting.

Lots of questions, perhaps some of them silly, but what can I say, that’s just who I am.

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