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View Full Version : So... what about this elephant painting a self-portrait?


Baraqiyal
03-27-2008, 12:23 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He7Ge7Sogrk

It has to be a hoax, right? I didn't see anything on Snopes.

Darryl Lict
03-27-2008, 12:49 AM
That's pretty incredible but I can believe that it's true. The flower painting is blowing my mind, as it represents a pretty remarkable level of abstraction.

The reason I say this is that a recent National Geographic article (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/061030-asian-elephants.html) states:
Elephants can recognize themselves in mirrors, according to a new study. Humans, great apes, and dolphins are the only other animals known to possess this form of self-awareness.

atomicbadgerrace
03-27-2008, 12:51 AM
BBC article from almost 2 years ago (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/5203120.stm) on elephants painting self-portraits.

I can believe it. If that video is legit, then wow.

Where the hell do I buy an elephant?

Baraqiyal
03-27-2008, 01:23 AM
Interesting... I didn't realize that elephants were a member of that exclusive club of self-awareness.

Maastricht
03-27-2008, 02:24 AM
That is bloody awesome. The mind reels at the implications.

aldiboronti
03-27-2008, 02:48 AM
Call me an old skeptic but I don't believe this for a moment. One of two explanations present themselves - video fakery or subtle keeper guidance.

Maastricht
03-27-2008, 03:13 AM
Check out all the other Youtubeclips and semi-documentaries on this phenomenon on the Web then. I believe it.

Will Repair
03-27-2008, 03:24 AM
I'm surprised anyone is willing to talk about the elephant in the portrait.

psychonaut
03-27-2008, 05:43 AM
I'm skeptical. I don't believe the video was faked, but I do believe it would be possible to train or direct an elephant to paint. I've seen a chicken play the piano, so why shouldn't an elephant, with its much more sophisticated brain and precisely controllable trunk, be able to be trained how to paint a portrait? At this point I'm not willing to believe that the elephant came up with the portrait spontaneously.

fessie
03-27-2008, 05:59 AM
What does it matter if it's spontaneous or trained? That's a neat painting either way!

DMC
03-27-2008, 06:57 AM
I'm skeptical. I don't believe the video was faked, but I do believe it would be possible to train or direct an elephant to paint. I've seen a chicken play the piano, so why shouldn't an elephant, with its much more sophisticated brain and precisely controllable trunk, be able to be trained how to paint a portrait? At this point I'm not willing to believe that the elephant came up with the portrait spontaneously.They receive "positive behavioral training", and you'll notice here (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/splash.php) that each elephant paints the same basic theme over and over. Hong (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/default.php?cPath=69) is the elephant in the video, and as you can see, his painting for sale is almost the same as the painting in the video.

Jackmannii
03-27-2008, 08:29 AM
I'm not impressed. That's pretty lousy painting.

TokyoBayer
03-27-2008, 08:55 AM
BBC article from almost 2 years ago (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/5203120.stm) on elephants painting self-portraits.

I can believe it. If that video is legit, then wow.

Where the hell do I buy an elephant?Did you read the article to the end?The Oslo-based scientist said: "I have seen elephants painting, but it was very free-flow.

"It's certainly capable of drawing an elephant, and could be trained, but might not really understand what it was doing." I'll vote for not really understanding what it was doing.

The Shroud
03-27-2008, 08:57 AM
Hong (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/default.php?cPath=69) is the elephant in the video, and as you can see, his painting for sale is almost the same as the painting in the video.
From that link:
Just for clarification, with these realistic figural works, the elephant is still the only one making the marks on the paper but the paintings are learned series of brushstrokes not Hong painting a still life on her own.
Not as fun as thinking the elephant has an imagination, but still, pretty neat trick.

CookingWithGas
03-27-2008, 09:02 AM
"How well the dog can dance is not so remarkable as the fact that the dog can dance at all."

s/dog/elephant/g
s/dance/paint/g

fessie
03-27-2008, 09:04 AM
Do you guys really think a lot of HUMAN ADULT "artists" aren't doing the same thing? :D

Seriously, I taught classes at a senior center where the little old ladies chewed my ass because I wouldn't reduce making art to a Step 1-Step 2-Step 3 process. That's what they were used to, it's what they wanted; a clear process leading to a predictable outcome.

Go look at the art magazine section at Borders sometime.

Donna Dewberry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyi-Y2ATjoA) has it down to "One Stroke".

Bob Ross (http://www.privatelessons.net/art_joy.asp) (on PBS) does the same thing. Or, rather, did, since he's deceased (which is somehow not mentioned on that website). Lousy paintings, but I love his voice.

Shoot, at least the elephant doesn't know any better - people ought to (or at least they could).

Giant Hairy Nevus
03-27-2008, 09:09 AM
Check out all the other Youtubeclips and semi-documentaries on this phenomenon on the Web then. I believe it.Not all the other clips on the whole web, though I've checked the first few couple of hits from a youtube search for "painting elephant".

There wasn't a single one where
the camera did not closely zoom in on the more sophisticated movements
a trainer does not stand right behind the elephant's ear, always on the opposite side from the camera
the elephant is visible as a whole but doesn't do anything except holding the brush with a rather confused look or just standing around doing elephant things
or when unmistakingly independent movements are shown, they are simplistic sliding motions or repeated splotches that clearly lack the artistic refinement as exhibited in the kind of scenes described above
So yes, elephants are intelligent and sentient beings that deserve our respect. And they play around with paintbrushes (free play is considered a sign of intelligence), sometimes with artistic results. Like this (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=781) or this (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=779) or even this (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=785) after learning the motions. I've no trouble to believe this.

But assuming an elephant creates an abstract image of another elephant, by its own intelligence and by its own free will? That's a stretch, isn't it.



Wait...?
Medium: acrylic on elephant dung paperI think that's one thing I didn't need to know...

ZipperJJ
03-27-2008, 09:09 AM
First the dancing walrus (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=461252) and now the painting elephant? My dog is looking less impressive every day!

Chez Guevara
03-27-2008, 10:30 AM
I'm not impressed. That's pretty lousy painting.It's actually a fine example of contemporary Fauvism.

guizot
03-27-2008, 10:31 AM
I'm skeptical. I don't believe the video was faked, but I do believe it would be possible to train or direct an elephant to paint. I've seen a chicken play the piano, so why shouldn't an elephant, with its much more sophisticated brain and precisely controllable trunk, be able to be trained how to paint a portrait? At this point I'm not willing to believe that the elephant came up with the portrait spontaneously.That's obviously what's happening.

Here's (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oYYXfM1Jw0&feature=related) another clip of the same elephant with the same trainer painting the same picture using more or less the same sequence of strokes, handing the brush to the trainer at the same points in the sequence. Only, in this one, you can see what happens when the elephant knows it's at the end of the routine, and goes immediately to get a reward of some food.


It isn't a self-portrait any more than a picture of doggy would be. From the BBC of two years ago:Elephant expert Dr Joyce Poole, who has studied the animals for 30 years, said she owned an elephant painting but had not come across animals painting their own images.

The Oslo-based scientist said: "I have seen elephants painting, but it was very free-flow.

"It's certainly capable of drawing an elephant, and could be trained, but might not really understand what it was doing." It's still amazing how dexterous an elephant's trunk is.

Since they can't use the elephants for logging now, they have a bunch of them in this reserve, with nothing to do, so they train them to do tricks for tourists, including painting. It's a clever idea for making money. They probably charge a lot for those paintings.

John DiFool
03-27-2008, 11:45 AM
Wasn't that book on cats painting shown (or intended) to be bogus?

spinky
03-27-2008, 11:50 AM
Do you guys really think a lot of HUMAN ADULT "artists" aren't doing the same thing? :D I realize you're kidding on some level, but no, I would guess that the elephant has no understanding of what the picture even represents, let alone deciding to draw it spontaneously. It took early humans a long time to get the concept of any depth at all, and this friggin' elephant plans ahead by drawing the things in the foreground first and then filling in the legs that are partially obscured? Not a chance.

fessie
03-27-2008, 11:54 AM
Yeahbut, when humans follow step by step instructions to create visual images, they're doing the exact same thing. They're NOT demonstrating a true understanding of spatial relationships, perspective, depth, proportion, etc.

Trying to think of a decent analogy.......it's like heating up a TV dinner and calling that "cooking." That elephant is just as good at unwrapping a meal and sticking in the oven as any human being would be.

gonzomax
03-27-2008, 12:43 PM
Wheres the protest. An elephant drawing naked pictures. It must be stopped.

Baraqiyal
03-27-2008, 01:51 PM
Yeahbut, when humans follow step by step instructions to create visual images, they're doing the exact same thing. They're NOT demonstrating a true understanding of spatial relationships, perspective, depth, proportion, etc.


I think the main difference is that painting by rote, may, in time, lead to a greater understanding of these principals. But an elephant will always just be going through the motions.

atomicbadgerrace
03-27-2008, 02:16 PM
Did you read the article to the end?I'll vote for not really understanding what it was doing.

And...? That doesn't change the fact that the elephant did the painting, itself. Whether it knew what it was drawing or not, it's still pretty amazing, I'd say.

Hazle Weatherfield
03-27-2008, 02:38 PM
And...? That doesn't change the fact that the elephant did the painting, itself. Whether it knew what it was drawing or not, it's still pretty amazing, I'd say.

Exactly!

John Mace
03-27-2008, 02:50 PM
Not impressed. I think most mammals could be trained to do this.

Elephants are smart animals, and there is evidence that they are self-aware (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15487308/), but this isn't anything extraordinary.

fessie
03-27-2008, 02:52 PM
I think the main difference is that painting by rote, may, in time, lead to a greater understanding of these principals. But an elephant will always just be going through the motions.

Yeah I agree with the second part - but as to the first, I just don't think so.

Working by rote might possibly ignite some curiosity that leads the student to a path of learning about art, but it'll be a completely different path.

There ARE plenty of people, though, who make and sell products labeled "art" which are, in fact, rote work. I'd refer to them as crafts, myself, I think it's more honest.

And of course there are also craftspeople who've honed their skills to the point where they are most definitely making art. Somehow the term craft is applied based on medium, rather than technique.

Chronos
03-27-2008, 03:01 PM
Why does everyone assume that this must be a self-portrait? Maybe that's a sexy nude of the elephant the artist is most attracted to.

Seriously, regardless of how much help or guidance the elephant had, that's still impressive.

filmyak
03-27-2008, 03:07 PM
No cite, and I didn't read all the posts here, but first I heard of this was about 10 years ago. There was an elephant at the San Diego zoo that was bored by its confines, and to amuse itself started laying traps for some birds. (By the way, this was a news program on TV, not some internet hoax posting.) He'd (she'd?) lay down a trail of food that the birds would follow, then he'd try to stomp on them. Out of desperation, the elephant's trainer came up with the idea of trying to teach the elephant how to paint.

The trainer would put the brushes in the paint and give the brush to the elephant, who'd then paint on the paper.

At first they were very random squiggles. OVer time, the elephant started using its trunk to point to the colors it wanted on the palette, and then started painting what it saw. Extremely abstract, but the colors on the page would be the colors the trainer or some other close by person was wearing that day.

It got to the point where the zoo was selling the paintings for about $10,000 each (I believe they still do) to help fund the zoo.

That's the last I heard of it, but I guess the idea has spread and other trainers may be doing it now with their elephants? Regardless, that video on the link is amazing. I'm sure the trainer helped, but it's still pretty damned impressive!

Alex_Dubinsky
03-27-2008, 03:10 PM
The elephant didn't know it was drawing? What, is it retarded? Animals aren't breathing machines who don't know wtf is going on. By the same token, people aren't beings of pure intellect. (Unless you're a creationist, you should know we're all pretty much the same thing.) For one, a lot of what a human artist does, almost everything, in fact, is repeating what he's seen and learned. Maybe an elephant is less creative, like a Chinese knockoff manufacturer more prone to imitate than invent. But free thought is actually a much smaller part of the phenomenon of art (or speech or anything else) than most people will admit. Training an animal to do something doesn't make it "fake" because people need the exact same training to perform. If you take a human who's never learned anything or communicated with other humans in his life, he'll be no different from a dog (which is to say, he'll actually be fairly sophisticated).


Anyway, what really surprises me about these paintings is that they look good. Ie, it's not just recognizable representations, like what a kid will draw, but something about them is artistically aesthetic. As if the elephant brain has a similar circuit in that respect to a human.

Alex_Dubinsky
03-27-2008, 03:22 PM
Anyway, what really surprises me about these paintings is that they look good. Ie, it's not just recognizable representations, like what a kid will draw, but something about them is artistically aesthetic. As if the elephants have a concept of what looks good and what doesn't, and that that part of their brain acts in a similar way to our own. If the lines were a quarter inch off here or there or with a different flare, the artistic quality would be ruined. I don't think the elephants could be trained to simply immitate a drawing with such precision. They must be seeing the aesthetics in their drawings, and making tiny adjustments on their own.

cmyk
03-27-2008, 03:25 PM
Oh sure, I'm impressed what a trained elephant can do with paint and canvas. But today's artists need to become familiar with the tools on a computer. I'd like to see what it could do with a mouse...


[pause for revelation]


Oh, that's right, they're afraid of mice! Good luck with all that.

cmyk
03-27-2008, 03:34 PM
The elephant didn't know it was drawing? What, is it retarded? Animals aren't breathing machines who don't know wtf is going on. By the same token, people aren't beings of pure intellect. (Unless you're a creationist, you should know we're all pretty much the same thing.) For one, a lot of what a human artist does, almost everything, in fact, is repeating what he's seen and learned. Maybe an elephant is less creative, like a Chinese knockoff manufacturer more prone to imitate than invent. But free thought is actually a much smaller part of the phenomenon of art (or speech or anything else) than most people will admit. Training an animal to do something doesn't make it "fake" because people need the exact same training to perform. If you take a human who's never learned anything or communicated with other humans in his life, he'll be no different from a dog (which is to say, he'll actually be fairly sophisticated).


Anyway, what really surprises me about these paintings is that they look good. Ie, it's not just recognizable representations, like what a kid will draw, but something about them is artistically aesthetic. As if the elephant brain has a similar circuit in that respect to a human.

I dunno. I think there's something to be said about how the human mind can abstract. Sure, art and technique can certainly be learned (by elephants, no less!), but to create the original idea or design in the first place is not something trivial.

I agree that this painting isn't a "fake" as most people understand, and I think it deserves the recognition as something pretty damn impressive. But there is a difference between someone just going through the motions, as opposed to someone improvising on the spot; in humans, as well as with elephants.

The fact alone the animal can paint with such dexterity at all, is frickin' amazing. If, however, it were to come up with the imagery on its own, then we'd be in a completely different realm, and would have to adjust our thinking of what we know about animal minds, comprehension and self-awareness to an astounding degree. It's obvious these painting don't prove the latter. But still...

Alex_Dubinsky
03-27-2008, 03:47 PM
If, however, it were to come up with the imagery on its own, then we'd be in a completely different realm, and would have to adjust our thinking of what we know about animal minds, comprehension and self-awareness to an astounding degree. It's obvious these painting don't prove the latter. But still...
If an elephant spontaneously drew that, it would indeed by mind-blowing. Not least because a human could never spontaneously draw that. Cave paintings were not spontaneous (in the sense they were an evolution of sand drawing or body painting) and were fairly ugly. The very first thing a human would draw who's never been exposed to any visual art would be a crappy doodle.

I think the real big difference between a human and an elephant is that a human wants to doodle, and an elephant needs an incentive. That's the only fact that underlies this "spontaneous art" idea. A fair distinction, sure, but not the big one that others claim exists. No creature can spontaneously create art that looks good.

(And by 'good', of course, I mean good to anyone but himself. In fact, 'good' is not an absolute, but a mere standard that must be learned and adhered to. Any human creativity that looks good works within a standard and tries to find new ways of obeying the standard while being different. That, in unspiring terms, is what artistic expression is. If elephants can perceive aesthetic standards, which is what I argued they could in my previous post, then they, automatically, are capable of creativity as long as, by trial and error, they can discover various compositions that also fit those standards.)

cmyk
03-27-2008, 03:48 PM
The elephant didn't know it was drawing? What, is it retarded? Animals aren't breathing machines who don't know wtf is going on. By the same token, people aren't beings of pure intellect.

Missed the edit window, as I wanted to touch on this a little further.

We can't be entirely sure the elephant didn't know what it was drawing in the sense that, after the Hong goes through all the learned strokes, does it know [grok] that it just painted an elephant holding a flower? Or to the elephant, does it come across to him/her as an organized bunch of lines?

Not that it's retarded, I think that's anthropomorphizing way too much. We just don't know what kind of mental power is being displayed here. As said, it's one thing to draw, but an entirely different thing to know what that drawing is.

Imagine you were abducted by aliens far more mentally superior to us. They figured out you could speak, draw, and even build things. So they give you a bunch of complicated parts, and through rudimentary communication, are able to train you how to build something very complex to your human mind. They all applaud you after you're done building it. But do you know what you've just built? You can argue, that sure, after you're done turning it on, you can just see what it does. But what if whatever the device does makes absolutely no sense to you, in a way that you just can't wrap your comprehension around. Such is the painting elephant?

cmyk
03-27-2008, 04:11 PM
If an elephant spontaneously drew that, it would indeed by mind-blowing. Not least because a human could never spontaneously draw that. Cave paintings were not spontaneous (in the sense they were an evolution of sand drawing or body painting) and were fairly ugly. The very first thing a human would draw who's never been exposed to any visual art would be a crappy doodle.

I think the real big difference between a human and an elephant is that a human wants to doodle, and an elephant needs an incentive. A fair distinction, sure, but not the big one that others claim exists.

(And by 'good', of course, I mean good to anyone but himself. In fact, 'good' is not an absolute, but a mere standard that must be learned and adhered to. Any human creativity that looks good works within a standard and tries to find new ways of obeying the standard while being different. That, in unspiring terms, is what artistic expression is. If elephants can perceive aesthetic standards, which is what I argued they could in my previous post, then they, automatically, are capable of creativity as long as, by trial and error, they can discover various compositions that also fit those standards.)

Hrmm. I argue that comprehension is creativity. Or at least creativity is informed by comprehension.

Also, just because primitive man didn't create art like Michael Angelo, doesn't mean he didn't have the capacity to do so. Art throughout mankind is a grand evolution. The idea, at all, to draw something of meaning or abstraction (in the sense of art or technology) has never been known to originate from animals.

Might you be arguing that maybe over time, the mighty elephant might be creating true inspired works of art and technology? Will its elephant peers recognize such works? Will it evolve?

John DiFool
03-27-2008, 04:39 PM
Some of the arguments here are verging towards the Chinese Room (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room) argument.

If what cmyk outlined in post #37 is indeed what is going on here, then that would require that the animal had to have been trained to execute very precise strokes (which would mean dozens of file-drawered failed canvases which we would never see) in basically the same way each time. I have no idea how you would go about doing that-heck I have no idea how you would train a human child (c. 6-8 years old-the elephant in the video appears to be an older juvenile) to maintain balance and such when freepainting no matter how many times you had them paint over lines as a means of training. The kid probably would eventually balk at what would be a very boring and repetitive task.

But until we see an interview of the trainers here where they explicitly outline the exact training procedure, I have no choice but to suspend judgement in the interim.

Chronos
03-27-2008, 04:45 PM
The idea, at all, to draw something of meaning or abstraction (in the sense of art or technology) has never been known to originate from animals.Yes, but it's almost never been known to originate with humans. If humans developed the concept of drawing (at a guess; does anyone know the actual number?) two or three times independently, and elephants have developed the concept independently zero times, that might mean that humans are better at that sort of activity than are elephants, or it might just mean that we got luckier than they did.

cmyk
03-27-2008, 05:03 PM
Yes, but it's almost never been known to originate with humans. If humans developed the concept of drawing (at a guess; does anyone know the actual number?) two or three times independently, and elephants have developed the concept independently zero times, that might mean that humans are better at that sort of activity than are elephants, or it might just mean that we got luckier than they did.

I think what I've bolded is too big of an assumption. No explicit evidence, to be sure, but I can't see any of our behaviors being a fluke or a lucky happenstance. Everything we are prone to do has been the programming of evolution over millennia. While it's clear a lot of species are capable of communication and procreation, there hasn't been much in the way of evidence that any other animal on this planet has risen into the same league as our minds.

Also, while there's been times in history that a revelation has been needed in order for humanity to progress, I also believe there are certain behaviors we do that are innate that never needed precedent in order to proliferate. While the list is short on what humans can do that other species haven't shown (I'll concede -- yet), it's been enough for us to create everything we see, do, and use today. In order for what the elephant is doing to be called art or even hold meaning, I'd think other elephants would need to recognize and comprehend it as such. Can another elephant see what Hong did, and consciously recreate it? If not, why not?

cmyk
03-27-2008, 05:13 PM
I wish we could give a healthy, 6 year old kid a crayon. One that's never seen a drawing, painting, or any kind of symbol or method of written communication before, and lock him in a room for a week with some paper.

I think we'd all be surprised what would fill those sheets after seven days.

Mangetout
03-27-2008, 05:14 PM
The thing that would be most remarkable about the painting, if it is a genuine artistic effort by the elephant (rather than just something slavishly learned, or directed minutely by the keeper) is the legs - painting in the two legs partially obscured by the nearer two - human children take quite a while to learn to be able to paint one object partially obscured by another - represented by them overlapping on the paper.
Before they learn the skill, they paint the two objects side by side, or one on top of the other.

If the elephant drew the picture from real life, then it's an incredible evidence of cognition. If it copied it from an example, it's just a neat trick.

cmyk
03-27-2008, 05:20 PM
@ Mangetout

I agree. I think it's clearly the case, at this point, that Hong has been thoroughly trained, but that said, IIRC, it was quite some time before humans got the idea of foreshortening and perspective.

Although, there's not much of that in Hong's painting. Merely occlusion, but it's along the same lines. Also, I would think, further evidence of gross human intervention here.

Mangetout
03-27-2008, 05:29 PM
That's what I meant - occlusion in drawings is a sign of well-developed cognition - little kids who may be able to paint a picture of an apple quite nicely, generally can't accurately paint a picture of an apple partly hiding an orange - they'll draw an apple underneath an orange, or next to it, or sometimes, an apple encircled by an orange

The ability to paint one partly occluding the other represents a milestone in children's development, I believe - and there are tests based on whether or not they can do it.

fessie
03-27-2008, 06:46 PM
I wish we could give a healthy, 6 year old kid a crayon. One that's never seen a drawing, painting, or any kind of symbol or method of written communication before, and lock him in a room for a week with some paper.

I think we'd all be surprised what would fill those sheets after seven days.

He'd probably eat them.

That noble savage stuff tends not to pan out - something about parts of the brain only developing through exposure and interaction. IIRC studies of feral children have shown that once a window of growth opportunity has passed, children no longer have the capacity to learn certain things.

My kids developed an interest in drawing pretty young, particularly my daughter. Before she was 3 she could draw a face that looked somewhat like a face - the one she did of me looks like me, and is markedly different from the one she did of her brother. I haven't noticed any occlusion, though, I'll have to watch for that. Typically I stay clear away from their art-making and just enjoy the results (whatever they might be).

What really makes the elephant's work look like a trained activity, to me, is the way those flowers are painted. The one that elephant is holding is a bit large, and the ones drawn by other elephants are presented from a side angle, as though sitting on a table. I'd think that an elephant's most common view of flowers, in their typical daily experience, would be from the top down, not from the side. If he's working from his own memory, THAT is what he'd paint.

However, I think it's fascinating that these elephants stay on the paper and fill the page. Children generally struggle to contain their art within a piece of paper -- and adults tend to create work that's out of balance.

He may not be painting elephants or flowers per se, but I'd say that pachyderm has a good eye!

cmyk
03-27-2008, 07:23 PM
He'd probably eat them.

That noble savage stuff tends not to pan out - something about parts of the brain only developing through exposure and interaction. IIRC studies of feral children have shown that once a window of growth opportunity has passed, children no longer have the capacity to learn certain things.

Well, I was meaning a regular kid, just never being exposed to writing or art. Everything else being equal (and un-feral), I don't think he'd eat it. Maybe merely take a nibble?

He might even figure out that crayon sharpener in the back doesn't do shit.

fessie
03-27-2008, 07:31 PM
Personally I have a hard time picturing (arr-arr) a 6-yr-old who's never been exposed to any visual media. No television? Photographs? Magazines? Books? Boxes of cereal? Sticks with which to scratch in the mud?

Tenar
03-27-2008, 07:37 PM
Wasn't that book on cats painting shown (or intended) to be bogus?

That was a wonderful book, but definitely a joke. It was incredibly convincing, though.

Mangetout
03-27-2008, 08:13 PM
That was a wonderful book, but definitely a joke. It was incredibly convincing, though.
True.
I have a copy somewhere - it's a wonderfully subtle poke at art critics and enthusiasts, pet worshippers and various other categories of human insanity. Nowhere in the book does it admit to being a joke, but it gets more and more far fetched until it can't possibly be taken seriously.

John Mace
03-27-2008, 08:35 PM
Personally I have a hard time picturing (arr-arr) a 6-yr-old who's never been exposed to any visual media. No television? Photographs? Magazines? Books? Boxes of cereal? Sticks with which to scratch in the mud?
Every known human society, however primitive, has all sorts of art as part of its culture. You could certainly find plenty of children who hadn't been exposed to your examples, but they'd still see carvings, rock paintings, or something along those lines. You'd have to find some child who had been horribly deprived of almost all human contact, and in that case, the child would probably be developmentally disabled. Sort of like the tragic case of Genie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genie_%28feral_child%29).

cmyk
03-27-2008, 08:36 PM
Personally I have a hard time picturing (arr-arr) a 6-yr-old who's never been exposed to any visual media. No television? Photographs? Magazines? Books? Boxes of cereal? Sticks with which to scratch in the mud?

Well, of course. I was just speaking rhetorically. Just trying to strengthen the thought that the average person would be inclined to draw, even had they never been exposed to such a now ubiquitous practice (see Chronos's first sentence). So hey! A stick in the mud would actually count!

maggenpye
03-27-2008, 08:48 PM
True.
I have a copy somewhere - it's a wonderfully subtle poke at art critics and enthusiasts, pet worshippers and various other categories of human insanity. Nowhere in the book does it admit to being a joke, but it gets more and more far fetched until it can't possibly be taken seriously.

Burton Silver (the Co-Author) is better known as a cartoonist here. Even then, it took a while before the cat was out of the bag (so to speak). They followed it up with Why Paint Cats, and Famous Painted Cats.

Were the elephant handlers previously involved in the entertainment industry?
Seriously, the long nosed beasties paint as well as I do when I practice, possibly better. I hope they get their food treats regularly - they're earning them.

Blake
03-28-2008, 08:20 PM
Not least because a human could never spontaneously draw that.

Many humans could spontaneously draw that. hell I could spontaneously draw that, and I'm a very mediocre artist. Just to prove this is the case, when Europeans arrived in Australia they had never seen a picture of a kangaroo or anything remotely like a kangaroo. When they wanted to draw a kangaroo they had to spontaneously draw it, with no refrence to previous kangaroo pictures. And what they produced looked like this (http://www.laputanlogic.com/images/2004/04/23-YGAV9HAU00.JPG).

That is the kind of spontaneous image that a human would spontaenously draw of an animal that it has never drawn before and never seen drawn before. And it is far, far better than that elephant's painting.

Cave paintings were not spontaneous (in the sense they were an evolution of sand drawing or body painting) and were fairly ugly.

You have apparently never seen cave paintings. Cave paintings are in no way ugly, even by the most extreme subjective standards of ugliness. They are as beuatiful and detailed as a pinting can be given the materials used.

Heres is cave painting of a horse (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v441/n7093/images/441575a-i1.0.jpg) about 20, 000 years old. Here a bison about 25, 000 years (http://www.matthewlangley.com/blog/uploaded_images/cave_painting_bison-741031.jpg). Here a group of abstract humanoids (http://www.sauer-thompson.com/junkforcode/archives/Bradshaw.jpg) around 15, 000 years. Those paintaings are all beautiful and drawn with amazing grace, precision and defintion. Perhaps you could explain in what way those pictures are ugly and how you would improve on them and make them more attractive, bearing in mind that your materials are a rough rock wall, ground rock pigments and a chewed stick for a brush.

And as for your claim that cave paintings are an evolution of sand drawings or body painting: CITE. I have never heard anyone make such a cliam before, and from what we know of those few contemporary HG groups, body art, bark and snad paintings and parietal art are all completely different artistic styles with difefrent purposes and show no overlap at all in subject matter or mode of execution. So can we please have some evidence that one style evolved from the other?

The very first thing a human would draw who's never been exposed to any visual art would be a crappy doodle.

Again: CITE.

Seriously, what is this assertion based on. What we know about human art is that it didn't exist at all until ~ 50, 000 years ago, and then it shows up fully formed at distant locations worldwide. Not as crappy doodles but as perfect representations in the form of sculpture, paintings, decorative clothing and musical instruments. Objects so well made that we recognise them immediately for what they are, and as well made as anything that was going to be produced for the next 40, 000 years at least, and in most cases as good as anything a human could possibly make with the materials used.

I really would like to see you present some evdience for your claim that a human who has never seen a draiwng would produce a crppy doodle initially. All the evidence we have says that once they get the hang of the mechanical process of holding a brush or crayon a human immeditaely starts to produce fully formed art. I'm willing to accept it might take a period of experimentation to consolidate a style, but the idea that it woudl be a crappy doodle is somehting you really need to produce some evidence for.


. No creature can spontaneously create art that looks good.

What is that claim based on? IOW: CITE!

In fact, 'good' is not an absolute, but a mere standard that must be learned and adhered to.

Sorry, but that is provably nonsense.

Have look art the rock art of Australia, the temple reliefs of the Maya and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. All are artistuically distinct, in fact all are unique. Everyone I have ever met or read of agrees that all are good art. And yet all were developed in total isolation from and ignroance of the others.

Quite clearly "good" art is an absolute. It is not simply a learned adherence to a standard because the peopel of Australia, the Maya and Michealangelo never had any opportunity to learn from one another and they quite clearly weren't all adhering to the same standard. yet al produced good art that all would agree is good, depsite not following or learning form any common souurce whatsoever.

Aart that is meant to be directly representative of reality is good in a sense that everyone agrees with. Non-abstract work has a standard of good that is inherent in the human miond and is not leraned or the result of adherence to learned rules.


Any human creativity that looks good works within a standard and tries to find new ways of obeying the standard while being different.

So how do you explain that cultures on continents that had been isolated from one another for 30, 00o years produced art that people on the other continent still find to be good art? Are you suggesting that the standard was telepetahically and subconsciously spread across the continents?

The only other possibility seems to be that the standard of good art is inherent in the modern human brina, something that all psychologists agree is true. But if thta is the case thenit demlished oyur own position. Humans strive to create good are because humans have an inherent knowledge of what we are striving for. Elephants can't create good art because elephants can't even know whether art is good or bad.


If elephants can perceive aesthetic standards, which is what I argued they could in my previous post, then they, automatically, are capable of creativity as long as, by trial and error, they can discover various compositions that also fit those standards.)

The problem with your argument is that there is no evidence that elephants do indulge in trial and error attempts to represent reality.

Elephants can be trained to repeat specific brush strokes. Elephants also make doodles on paper that look nothing like reality. But an there is no evidence that after 10 years any elephant has ever become better at representing reality than it was the very day it was first trained to paint. In contrast every single human painter in history has shown inprovement in their ability to represent reality. Humans as individuals and as cultures do indeed strive to make thier art better fit the intuitive human standard of good art. Any artist who has ever kept their earliest works can show you exmaples that prove this objectively. You have done this yourself. There is no evidence that any elephant has ever done so.

So your theory that elephants strive to find compositions that better fit a standard of good has no factual basis at all.

gonzomax
03-29-2008, 01:19 PM
If they zoom in you can see it was paint by numbers.

DanBlather
03-29-2008, 04:09 PM
It's clearly a hoax. The way the trunk moves is how an arm and hand in a trunk "suit" would move. There are on a few places where any real video trickery is needed, the rest are just a person with truck puppet on their arm.

The Shroud
03-29-2008, 06:48 PM
I'm surprised this debate raged on for 45 posts after DMC posted a cite (http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/default.php?cPath=69) that said the exact elephant in question painted through a "series of learned brushstrokes" not "on her own."

And, like I said, still pretty cool even if it's rote.

FoieGrasIsEvil
03-29-2008, 07:45 PM
The elephant didn't know it was drawing? What, is it retarded? Animals aren't breathing machines who don't know wtf is going on. By the same token, people aren't beings of pure intellect. (Unless you're a creationist, you should know we're all pretty much the same thing.) For one, a lot of what a human artist does, almost everything, in fact, is repeating what he's seen and learned. Maybe an elephant is less creative, like a Chinese knockoff manufacturer more prone to imitate than invent. But free thought is actually a much smaller part of the phenomenon of art (or speech or anything else) than most people will admit. Training an animal to do something doesn't make it "fake" because people need the exact same training to perform. If you take a human who's never learned anything or communicated with other humans in his life, he'll be no different from a dog (which is to say, he'll actually be fairly sophisticated).


Anyway, what really surprises me about these paintings is that they look good. Ie, it's not just recognizable representations, like what a kid will draw, but something about them is artistically aesthetic. As if the elephant brain has a similar circuit in that respect to a human.
So you're implying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that nothing is new and everything is learned and only slightly improved?
Have you bothered to listen to Top-40 radio lately? talk about innovation!
;)