Maybe youíve seen one of the amazing videos of elephants painting in Thailand. Itís quite a tourist attraction. The two videos, on pages 1 and 2 tell the story from a couple of vantage points, and on page 3 Desmond Morris gives his point of view
In this video, watch as Hong, the star elephant at the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project, paints a self portrait. Or does she?
The project was started as a way to support elephants which have found themselves out of work after the banning of logging in Thailand. The skills of Hong would seem to show that elephants, which were already thought to be very smart, truly are quite remarkable.
But are they really creating a work of art? If you look carefully youíll notice that the elephantís trainer is always standing beside her as she paints, guiding her movements. Maybe it’s a bit of a trick, then, but it’s amazing and fun to watch, and keeps the elephants fed and happy.
Moreover it turns out that elephants actually like to paint, and will do so without prompting, once the technique has been demonstrated to them. They have been painting for years, all over the world, and many zoos help support their elephant populations through sales of their paintings.
Next up, on page 2, you’ll see another video featuring Hong and a London art teacher who compares her to Matisse.Photo credit: Alex Valavanis
In this video Vanda Harvey, a London art teacher, goes to Thailand to observe the elephant painters for herself and she comments on the wonderful work Hong the elephant is doing, comparing her to Matisse.
Can Hong leave her day job entertaining tourists and put her work into a London Gallery? Weíre told that elephants are very intelligent and their trunks have more than 40,000 muscles and they have the equivalent of an opposing thumb which enables them to hold a brush and paint a picture. Pretty impressive, donít you think?
Well, maybe Vanda Harvey, for all her expertise as an artist, was conned. For an ‘expert’ point of view go to page 3.
Photo credit: playroughde
Naturalist Desmond Morris, who has studied chimpanzee artists, had his doubts about elephant painters. So he too went to Thailand to see how it was really done.
He reports that there are at least six centers with elephants who do this. Each elephant has his own mahout who trains and cares for him from childhood. While the elephant is painting the mahout stands beside him and tugs on his ear telling him to go up, down, sideways, etc.
So is it really the elephant or the mahout who is the painter?
Whatever the answer it is still pretty impressive that the elephant can translate these tugs into a recognizable picture.
Photo credit: pontman