Saturday, April 26, 2008

Elephant paints! Even myth-buster states it is true!


Greybishop said...

"Look, Mr. Frodo! It's an Oiliphant!"

"I see it Sam. It's standing right next to the Pastelephant."

"Would you two shut up! Your spooking the Charcoaliphant."

Greybishop said...

In case you didn't find them by clicking, here are a couple of other parts to the story.


A video of another elephant painting an elephant.


An "artist" bio of "Hong" who is the elephant in the video Sawsee posted.


Greybishop said...

Ok, too cool.

There are different styles among the different elephants.

This is Duanpen. She's an "abstract pointalist" painter. Take a look at the two paintings posted.

Just. Wow.

Sawsee said...

Hey GB! Great links! It is so amazing! The study of all the art would make a great thesis for a psychologist.

Is all the art based on food?

Greybishop said...

From what I gather in reading the stories of the elephants, they are taught using food/reward techniques, the trainers provide and change the brushes and teach them certain things. The "self portrait" of the elephant is a series of learned brush strokes, rather than a vision from the mind of the elephant.


I have a feeling that study of this sort of learned behaviour might lead to some interesting results about perception and the development of "higher" brain function in non-human brains.

It's impossible to look at the work of the "abstract pointalist" and not see that she has some small grasp of pattern, form and perhaps even esthetics.

We like to think that humans are distiguished from animals by many things; language, tool making and the ability to recognise "beauty" among them.

Dolphins have language. We've taught signing to apes and parrots can be taught to use language in surprisingly human ways.

Otters use tools to break open clams. Apes use tools to catch insects. Beavers build incredibly complex structures, as do some birds.

So, that leaves our perception of beauty as one of the last "pure" bastions of humanity. Something truly, uniquely human.

When I look at some (not all) of these elephant art works, I see beauty.

The only question is: Do they?

Sawsee said...

Interesting thoughts GB!

In my conditioned mind, I can possibly grasp how elephants can be coaxed into dabbing paint onto a surface but to see a few capture their own likeness absolutely blows me away!

Humans have been taught that we have dominion over all other species and so our encouragement or understanding of animal potentials are barely even on the map.

Greybishop said...

I'd be very interested to see a CT scan (I have no idea how it could be done on an elephant, but I'm sure something could be worked out) on these elephants while they paint and then a comparative one done while they do other food/reward activities.

It's the only way I can think of to determine if what they're doing is simply to garner the food treat or if it's something they are genuinely enjoying.

Assuming they do genuinely enjoy the painting, the next step is to test just whether or not they find beauty in their work or if it's just joy in making colours and pleasing the trainers.

If I had stayed in school, this might have been an interesting field to go into. Hopefully, someone will find some grant money somewhere for research like this.

Sawsee said...

I'm sure the elephants are getting some sort of pleasure painting. The video shows a rather slow, deliberate approach; almost sensitive, quite unexpected when thinking about an elephant's physical characteristics.