Sketches for Art for Animals, series of work, 2003-present.
I would like to make art for animals—art made specifically for animals to appreciate and enjoy just as we humans appreciate and enjoy our own art.
This endeavor obviously brings with it a host of complications. Animals have radically different sensory perception and cognitive wiring than we do—and every species is different in its own unique way. The project also requires an understanding of what we humans want from our art, in order to figure out what analogous effects animals would want from their art.
Therefore, I have started by first making a series of “sketches” for art for animals. These sketches help to put myself in their place, to better understand their sensory and cognitive perspective on the world. How does each animal’s unique set of physical characteristics shape its ways of being in the world? I have been trying to figure out how animals’ senses would perceive various stimuli, how their brains would think and feel about those stimuli, and how their innate or learned behaviors would react to those thoughts and feelings. This task may seem impossible, and it is certainly very difficult. However, there is in fact a fair amount of innovative, well-respected work that has been done in this arena, from philosophy (Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”) to psychology (Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation) to literary (Robert Bakker’s Raptor Red), to mention only a few.
As Franz Marc said about his own animal-oriented art, “It is a poverty-stricken convention to place animals into landscapes as seen by men; instead, we should contemplate the soul of the animal to divine its way of sight.” By putting ourselves in the place of animals, by copying their movements and ways of being in the world, we can learn what they might look for in a work of art.
Most of these projects are interactive and are not necessarily intended to be art in and of themselves so much as they are sketches for art to be made in the future—gateways to art that has yet to be made. They are experiments, in which you, the participants, generate data, which I can then later use to make art for animals. A few of the projects are completed documents in which I have already tried to find a solution to the experiment himself; they essentially act as a finished report on that experiment. However, each participant could complete these experiments in their own way, and so in that sense the reports are always capable of being expanded and emended.
Each project is exhibited with a stack of cards nearby—after people have explored each piece, they can fill out the appropriate card with their thoughts about their experience. By collecting other people’s ideas, I can incorporate them into my work and better make art for animals. Of course, you can also use your ideas to make your own art for your own animals (if you do, please send me some pictures!).
In the work so far, I’ve largely focused on cats, partly out of a desire to go for depth rather than breadth, and partly because they’re the animal I already know best. However, many pieces would apply equally to other animals, such as dogs, apes, and rodents.
I intend to use the results of these sketches to figure out what kind of sensual-aesthetic-emotive-intellectual-catalytic-connoisseur reactions are possible for animals to have to a work of art, and even more particularly, what kind of reactions they would want to have to a work of art. Do their lives primarily revolve around a mass of unfiltered sensory input, and if so, does that means they like to see the animal equivalent of op art? If they do have higher cognitive abilities, would they prefer a conceptual art that is akin to the wild humor of Fluxus, or would they rather appreciate the cool tautologies of a Joseph Kosuth? Would animals like to see results of the quiet mastery of a craft, or would they rather bask in the dynamic energy of a Jackson Pollock? (Perhaps each species, or each individual animal, would have its own preferences.)
The following is a list of all of the Sketches for Art for Animals, arranged by theme:
Cat and Mouse
Animal Physical Abilities:
Cat Jumps/Always Land on Your Feet
Always Landing on My Feet
Things My Cats Can Jump on but I Can't:
Human/Animal Social Relationships:
Cat People vs. Dog People
Catnaps for Everyone!
Marking My Territory
Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
Animal Cognitive Processes:
Proto-Actual (not Sketches) Art for Animals:
Make Your Own Odor Field Paintings
Odor Field Paintings
The Purr-fect Painting
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