The painting above is of a cow, but does it respect the cow? Artist, Tina Kolberg, has some fascinating insights on this. Here’s her thoughts:
Does Art Respect Animals?
“I saw a collage artwork once that struck me. The artist had made a large portrait of a cow out of clippings about cows. For example, one snippet read “With a / And a / Here a / There a / Everywhere a.” The last words of each line were cut off, but it was obviously “Old McDonald.”
The collage was a cow made up of things we think about cows. Which is not really a cow, it’s just our thoughts. I’m not sure if the artist was aware of this wonderful ironic disconnect, this reduction to nursery songs, or if he really thought he was cleverly reinforcing the cow image with true cow information.
When I think about most realistic paintings that have animals in them, it seems as though the artist has brought their assumptions to the work. Perhaps cows in a field are pretty and give one a sense of pastoral peace and comfort. And cows mean plenty to eat. Chickens are so ridiculous, scratching around. Usually they’re painted with warm, honey tones (golds and reds), and I think their purpose is to make us feel comfortable.
Wildlife, on the other hand, is usually painted in cooler tones (blues). Think of duck hunting art, such as the painting below with the cold blues and browns of ducks in a pond.
What is the artist telling us with this choice? Maybe he’s saying, “enjoy the plumage but don’t get attached – it’s a cold world and we need to kill or die.”
Now compare the hunters art with my Cayuga Mallard below.
Admittedly, I painted mine in cool colors, too, but which painting do you think someone who kills ducks would prefer?
The Western Cow Painting below is an example of farm animal art.
The artist probably believes she loves cows, just as the hunter artist believes he respects ducks, but they are bringing their own needs to the art. Notice that this cow is tagged, full-uddered, and rather stupid-looking. Its body is shown, but no eyes.
In contrast, below is a pastel cow I painted.
Maybe the cow’s body is more convenient for some artists than its thoughts or feelings. Or maybe some artists are deliberately showing exactly what I’ve been saying: we reduce animals to objects because we have to in order to use them.
Perhaps I’m too harsh, reading too much into it and projecting my views and values onto others’ artwork without justification. Certainly there are exceptions, like wild bird art (e.g. songbirds), which is often painted with dignity and affection. Compare wild bird art with duck hunting art and decide for yourself.
You may find it enlightening to Google “Cow Art” and see whether you can glean how the artists’ feel about their animal subjects. Do you notice a difference between many of these and my cow painting above? How does this compare with art about humans, portraits vs. nudes?
Not everything follows this pattern (keep in mind that Audubon Art, of any animal, is about science), but is there a trend? I’m not claiming that any of these paintings are “bad art.” I think the purpose of art is to show a particular viewpoint.
Still, how much do we really see of an animal, as she really is? How much of it is stories, songs and ideas rather than reality? Do cows need to give milk? Do cows feel useful when they see happy children eating ice cream? Do cows not really care about their babies? Do we need to eat ducks? Are we really doing wildlife a favor when we hunt?
We usually answer these questions in ways that meet our own needs instead of looking clearly and determining reality as best we can. Once I said no to eating animal products, I could answer questions like these in a less self-serving way, and I believe more honestly.” – Tina Kolberg
I loved this part of Tina’s write-up, but there’s still more! Check in tomorrow for part 3.
The “Totally Committed” Waterfowl Hunting painting is by Peter Corbin and can be found on Wildlife Experience.