Paint ‘art’ is generally dominated by a particular exceptional species of primate, but paintings by other primates, as well as dolphins, big cats, elephants, and many other species have also been accomplished. Being of great interest to human artists and non-artists alike for the insight that it offers toward the nature of creative inspiration, many of these works have been displayed in art galleries, zoos, and sold in auctions for charitable animal-related causes.
The existence of human ‘art’ dates back approximately 40,000 years (at least), where cave paintings by early Paleolithic humans have been discovered. It has also been theorized that Neanderthals could have engaged in these cave paintings.
Art by non-humans hasn't been observed in the wild as of yet, but captivity offers a unique environment to allow animals to focus on different pursuits for needed enrichment and stimulation. Such animals need not be coerced into creating these pieces--many are just reacting and playing with the presented mediums. Some animals may opt to consume the non-toxic substance. The designs that result, in addition to being displayed in galleries, are sometimes offered for sale to the general public.
Do animals create art?
Art is a term that is hard to define even when it is done by humans. Some people find abstract art hard to understand, and it often ends up resembling work created by small children and non-humans as well. Therefore, most people would probably not consider non-human art as true art, as it’s questionable whether non-humans, including great apes, could be seeking to ‘say something’ or express themselves with the creation of their pieces.
Humans usually set up the painting process for animals, placing the paint around the paper so that it’s more likely to turn out interesting. Elephants are generally handed the colors that they will use, yet they do apply the forms without much assistance. While it is obvious that true 'art' is not being created with big cats who roll around and smear their paint purely for pleasure, who knows if other animals like elephants and great apes are actually placing thought into how their work will turn out?
Despite the unknowns, seeing animal-created designs is still exciting for humans. Sometimes the designs yielded by the process, regardless of the intention, have intriguing results. We also like to ponder about the existence of creativity in cognitively-inclined species, or just enjoy the amusement factor of owning a ‘painting’ created by a lion or tiger.
- Can you guess which painting is by an ELEPHANT (and which is the work of a top modern artist)? | Mai
One of theses abstract creations is by a famous artist, and other by an artistic animal, as part of an exhibition at UCL's Grant Museum of Zoology in London.
Where to Buy Paintings by Non-humans
Paintings by elephants are by far the most popular, and probably stand the greatest chance that artistic integrity may be at work during their creation. Elephants are capable of painting their own designs, and sometimes it is guided (hence, when there is a painting of an elephant or flower), but they are all interesting and make great conversational pieces.
*Note* Availability varies
The Elephant Art Gallery
The paintings are sourced from The Elephant Art Academy at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (National Elephant Institute), where the artists responsible all reside in Thailand. TEAG was started in 2000, where elephant-created art was originally displayed with human art. The retail location is based in California.
The Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project
The AEACP is a non-profit organization that has bases in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. The paintings are sold to support the charity's mission to "give wild and domesticated elephants a safe, happy, and healthy life" through conservation promotion and encouraging animal welfare. Handlers work with the animals to assist in controlling their paintbrushes, producing actual imagery depicting things such as elephant portraits and flowers.
Exotic World Gifts
This dealer offers many unique and exotic gifts from around the world, including elephant paintings from Thailand. Some of the products are prints, not the original paintings. These will be obvious from the lower price ($10-50). Real paintings will be $400+. They are the owners of the extremely popular Youtube video 'ORIGINAL Elephant Painting' where an elephant is show painting an impressive outline of an elephant holding a flower.
Link: Exotic World Gifts
Bali Adventure Store
The artists reside at the Bali Elephant Safari Park in Indonesia. Here, the paintings are not guided images, but more 'abstract' paintings that the elephants do at will. These are less expensive than some of the previous sellers.
Link: Bali Adventure Store
Safari Outfitters Inc (African Lion Safari)
This is a wonderful 'safari park' located in Ontario, Canada that has a herd of Asian elephants. The park has participated in species survival and reintroduction programs for various animal species. The elephants sometimes paint and do other activities for visitors and the simplistic designs are sometimes sold on their website for very reasonable pricing.
Link: Safrai Outfitters Inc
Save the Chimps
This is a sanctuary for chimpanzees rescued from the entertainment and pet industry, and from scientific experimentation. The resident chimpanzees produce very interesting work that helps enrich their senses while the profits benefit the sanctuary.
Link: Original Chimp Art
Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary
Link: Monkey Art
This facility holds art shows featuring the 'art' of their resident monkeys that were rescued from less than ideal situations. Paintings are available for an $100 donation.
C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary
C.H.E.E.T.A. stands for Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes. The sanctuary, which cares for retired show business primates has paintings on canvases and tote bags that you can receive for donating to the sanctuary.
Stony Brook Farm Primate Sanctuary
Sells paintings from a monkey who creates 'Warhol-like' paintings
Miscellaneous Animal Artists
Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum
This zoo has paintings by various species, available intermittently, but not at the time of this writing. All profits go to assisting the zoo to build new enclosures.
Link: Art Untamed
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Occasionally has paintings done by elephants, rhinos, and red pandas.
Link: Purchase Animal Art
Link: Meet the animals
Choose from a variety of species including a jaguar, parrot, raccoon, and maned wolf!
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Includes are from penguins (as well as elephants and orangutans) and has affordable pricing.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 05, 2013:
Hi, Sam, I will add this.
Sam on December 05, 2013:
Cheyenne Mountain also offers primate, elephant and penguin art, VERY affordable. Some of the primate pieces are less than $25.