lionardo da vinci messily devouring vincent van goat: a study in species decomposition

You’re right, no . . . human . . . could paint pictures like this.

Terror consumes you—has the National Evil gotten all hoity-toity, what with this rather abstract piece that seems to scream “You’re not smart enough to understand me!” What’s next—opera reviews? Free verse? Who does the National Evil think it is? For that matter, what does it think it is?

Never fear. The Evil isn’t about to spray you with intellectual vomit. Because this painting—this painting . . . huh boy.

This painting, which we’ve dubbed “Rooster Karate-Kicking Fox in Groin (1)”, was created by an animal at the Houston Zoo.

No shit.

And wait—there’s more. According to the Houston Zoo’s website, these paintings go for $250 a pop. And no, that does not include a $245 frame. And demand is apparently so “extraordinary” there’s up to a six-week wait for these things.

We don’t fault the animals. Numerous studies have shown that the adorable “quirks” you see in a YouTube video of a “dancing polar bear” are actually manifestations of a kind of bestial insanity produced by confinement. So anything to engage the caged, you know?

No, it’s not the animals we have a problem with here. It’s humanity.

Recently we’ve described how some scientists object to the concept of chimp tool-making. They deny that these chimps are actually making tools—claiming instead that our primate cousins are simply picking up sticks and poking at things. These scientists decry the current vogue of assigning exclusively human traits to nonhuman activities. They object on the grounds that this blurs the demarcation between Human and Everything Else.

Well, my learned colleagues . . . if there are humans willing to drop $250 on raccoon-generated paint smears, how much more intelligent than the animals can we be? Does it not seem a bit disingenuous to prattle on about “human” intellectual qualities when there are apparently people out there admiring the works on their walls and saying, “What makes Jackson Pollack so darned special if a raccoon could paint this?”

OK, bad example. We’re all sick of Pollack. But still, we stand by our point: if humans are unable to determine the distinction between actual art, the depth of expression granting it monetary value, and the paint spattered on an offered canvas by a cougar, who are we to judge whether a chimp is forging tools or just picking up attractive sticks? It isn’t that we’re ceding intellectual territory to the animal kingdom; we’re actively burying that territory under a landfill of insipidity.

(Disclaimerish thing: the money spent on these paintings goes toward further “enrichment” activities for the animals, which undoubtedly qualifies as a Good Cause. Let’s just hope the zookeepers aren’t teaching any of their charges kung fu.)


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