For our birthdays, Mack and I visited African Lion Safari last week. As a precaution, I removed the car’s windshield wipers before we entered the reserve, but the baboons were well-behaved (to my secret disappointment). We saw the eponymous lions in the reserve; one lioness walked beside our car as she crossed the road.
As it turns out, the Asian Elephants were the highlight of our day. We saw them take a group swim in a small lake. As part of their enrichment, the keepers used a slingshot to fling apples into the middle of the lake which the elephants pursued with some gusto.
We learned more about elephants during a keeper talk inside the park. Towards the end of the talk, one of the keepers handed Jenny the elephant a paintbrush and she made some colourful abstract marks on a T-shirt which was offered up for sale to help fund conservation efforts. This brought to mind a video I had seen of an Asian Elephant in Thailand that had learned to paint a stylized elephant by rote. Does Suda regard her marks as representing an elephant? There are other examples of animals making paintings, but to my knowledge this is the only example of an animal making a representational painting.
The earliest human cave paintings are of hand stencils and geometric marks. It’s impossible to know the precise meaning and significance of these paintings, but it seems that mark making, as a kind of “I was here”, is a primary impulse. To me, intentionality is what makes these marks art, whereas fossilized footprints are not. As far as animal-made art goes, there is some debate about the intention of their animal creators. If you’re interested in reading more about animal-made art, check out the following essay: Can Animals Make Art?