Monday, June 20, 2005


Monkey Art

Alright, I know you see the title "Monkey Art" and expect to see something like this:

But, come on people, this is a serious blog and we tackle serious issues here at the Corner of Grace and Wayne. Besides, from now on I'm constraining the graphical portion of this blog to pictures of kittens sleeping in bowls. And I think that is something we can all get behind (unlike some local sports teams).

No, the topic of this post is really intended to be about a piece I saw this morning on "Good Morning America." Turns out, there is going to be an art exhibit featuring pieces from both abstract artists and a chimpanzee.

*pause for effect*

Yes, a chimpanzee. There were plans to also display the works of a Red-Assed Baboon, but he ended up dropping out due to a "conflict of interest" (the less said the better. Suffice to say, there were some harsh words and much feces thrown). Anyways, I degress. They then showed three pieces, one by the chimp and two by more evolved chimps (i.e. the artists). The question was: which one was painted by the chimp? And of course, as intended, I couldn't tell the people-art from the chimp-art. So, does this say more about art or the chimp? And furthermore, is what the chimp did art?

In another forum, the question was raised, can art be considered art if the "artist" has no intentions and no concept of the implications of his art? Does art need a purpose? Or maybe, does art need a foundation?

Anyone can smear paint on a canvas, but it seems to me that what makes art art is a desire for the artist to convey something (a cynic might say the artist is trying to convey the message: "you are an idiot for buying this"), to evoke a response from the viewer. And is it possible for the chimp to have any real concept of what he is doing when he puts the paint to the canvas? This is where I am unsure. Generally, I would say no. Chimpanzees have been shown to demonstrate a tremendous ability for empathy and love (or maybe compassion), but can they really grasp symbolic thought? This is where I'm a little out of my depth (alright, I was out of my depth after the monkey picture, but hear me out).

You see, one of the nifty things evolution gave man was the ability to represent concepts with symbols, e.g. words. The spoken language is something unique to the human race. This ability popped up when we humans developed the frontal lobe, something which I generally thought was not shared with any member of the animal kingdom. But is that right? Because, as we all know, chimps can communicate with humans using sign language, which is obviously a form of communication that uses symbols to represent ideas (you know: hunger, love, here comes the poop...). So then I would think that they can understand the abstract. But, how much of this is real understanding, and how much is simply stimulus/response? Example: I feel hungry, so I'm going to make this gesture because that is what I should do when hungry. Sort of like a cat in heat: I am horny so I'm going to stick my ass in the air. Is the only difference between these two actions that one took millions of years of evolution to teach and the other took a couple years and a team of scientists? Well, I don't know.

A better man would do the google searching and probably find out all the answers to these questions before discussing the subject, but without people like me for the better man to be better than, he wouldn't be the better man. He'd just be Which isn't much of a title, really. For the more enlightened out there, I invite you to correct me if I'm wrong regarding a chimp's ability to grasp symbolic thought. Or, if you have a different concept of what art is, drop a line. Or if you have a different concept of what is is, that is fine too.

Finally, to get back to one of the original points of the post, just because a chimp can make "art" that looks like abstract art, doesn't invalidate the art form. The true artists attack their canvas with an intent and idea, while (as far as I can tell) a chimp is just putting paint to canvas. Which I could also do, but if I did, it wouldn't be art. Therein lies the difference.

In other news

The Wife and I have finally signed up for the Chicago marathon. We were waiting for a long run to go well before taking the plunge, and now there is no turning back. To help you track the progress of the training, the Corner of Grace and Wayne Marathon Alert Implementing Team (CoGaWMAIT for short) has implemented a color-coded system of alerts. These will be listed as Current Marathon Training Status: (insert color here). These color will range from Angels-Singing-my-Praises White to Blood-Squirting-from-my-Eyeballs Red. So, without firther ado...

Current Marathon Training Status: Pee-my-pants Yellow

No, research would only ruin your pithy comments. Please stay as uninformed as you are so we might continue to enjoy "Grace & Wayne" where ever we are.

Scott & Sue (Gracie says: "retch")
Well, it is hard to stay uninformed. This is more an instance of blogging before thinking. Now I'm doing the research and will answer my own questions.

I have a feeling that I might be wrong regarding an ape's grasp of symbols.
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