Animals With Allegedly Artistic Temperaments

In an afterword to Lolita written in 1956, Nabokov claimed the novel was inspired “by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage.”

Brian Boyd, in On the Origin of Stories, summarizes some other famous ape art of the time, described in Desmond Morris's The Biology of Art --

“In the 1950s, when Desmond Morris supplied chimpanzees in his care with paint, brushes, and paper, they threw themselves into painting provided the received no external reward. Those who were offered food would make a few perfunctory strokes and break of quickly to seek another tasty morsel. But those whose motivation remained uncorrupted by 'payment' developed a fierce commitment to painting. They painted intensely, persisting, while the session lasted, until they thought a sheet finished, thought they would never glance at their work later.”

This quiz by Mikhail Simkin tests your ability to distinguish abstract paintings by human artists from those by apes.

My favorite anecdote about an invertebrate performance artist comes from Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression --

“I was fascinated to hear of the suicide of an octopus, trained for a circus, that had been accustomed to do tricks for rewards of food. When the circus was disbanded, the octopus was kept in a tank and no one paid any attention to his tricks. He gradually lost color (octopuses’ states of mind are expressed in their shifting hues) and finally went through his tricks a last time, failed to be rewarded, and used his beak to stab himself so badly that he died.”

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