Seals in captivity have also been trained to paint, and they use colors too (see examples at www.eagleandowl.com/artan/). But seals are completely color-blind, since they have only one color pigment, green cones, in the cells of their retina. The same is true of whales and the related dolphins, also painters in some zoos. (Since whales and seals are not related species, their monochromatic vision is likely to have evolved for life in the sea, but it is a puzzle why they have green and not blue cones, given that the latter would allow better vision in the open ocean.) Any claim that these species see the colors in the works of art they produce is, therefore, false. This raises a thorny point, because paintings by seals and dolphins are very similar to those by species that can see some color, such as elephants. Perhaps even paintings by species with two color pigments are made without the animals’ paying any attention to the colors they use.
Because most birds have four visual pigments, we can only begin to imagine their color-rich world.
Other species see the same range of colors that we do. Primates that are active during the day, such as chimpanzees, are one example. Still other species see an even greater range of colors than we do. Because most birds have four visual pigments, we can only begin to imagine their color-rich world. Ravens have been trained to paint using a brush held in their beak—a Russian raven named Voron and his paintings can be seen at http://animalsart.ru/raven.htm and they can see all of the colors that they apply to the canvas.
Some species of birds also behave in ways indicating that they possess consciousness. Ravens follow the direction of another bird’s gaze, or even that of a human, to see what might be of interest, and they can solve complex problems. One species of raven, resident in New Caledonia, not only uses tools to probe notches in trees for insects but makes the tools; they use their beaks to cut probes from the leaves of pandanus palms. In fact painting by tame ravens probably depends on this ability to use tools and so is an extension of their adaptation for survival in the wild. Given this evidence of intelligent behavior, we should keep an open mind about the ability of birds to appreciate art.
Painting by tame ravens probably depends on this ability to use tools and, so is an extension of their adaptation for survival in the wild. Given this evidence of intelligent behavior, we should keep an open mind about the ability of birds to appreciate art.
Do the elephants, seals, and other animals that have been trained to paint use these paintings to represent anything in a symbolic way? None of the works depict anything that we can recognize easily, if at all. The only way that we can answer this question is to ask an animal to tell us what it has drawn. Obviously, to do so we must turn to animals that have been taught to communicate using sign language or by pointing to symbols that signify words. The very fact that apes can learn to communicate with us in these ways shows they have the ability to use abstract symbols.
If signing apes can tell us what they have drawn or painted and if the picture shows any hint of the object, or emotion, that they say it is, we might be convinced that they have indeed created a representation. At least some such examples exist. The chimpanzee Moja, raised and taught to sign by Beatrix Gardner, Ph.D., and Allen Gardner, Ph.D., sketched what she said was a bird, and it did show a likeness, with a body and wings. You can see this drawing at www.awionline.org/pubs/quarterly/su02/moja.htm. Moja used the same schemata when she drew birds on subsequent occasions.
Koko, the famous sign language–trained gorilla, painted what she said was a bird, and it too looked like a body with wings (although perhaps too many wings). We know that Koko, who was able to communicate what she had painted, is capable of abstract thought, because she signs meaningfully about states of mind and behavior (for example, feeling “mad,” “hurt,” “sad”). Another language-trained gorilla, Michael, has used color symbolically. He was given a variety of colored paints and often painted in color, but he chose to use only black and white to paint what he called “Apple chase,” a representation of his black-and-white dog named Apple. Examples of paintings by Koko and Michael can be seen at www.koko.org/friends/kokomart_art.koko.html.