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Horton Does Some Pretty Cool Art
March 30, 2008 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Elephant Paints Self Portrait. I'm not sure what to say about this except that its pretty cool.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (76 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seens like this elephant has been looking at too many Dali paintings, what with those long legs and all.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 4:01 PM on March 30, 2008


whoops.
Dali Paintings
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 4:04 PM on March 30, 2008


hrm i dont think that can be real
posted by Addiction at 4:04 PM on March 30, 2008


They're trained to paint these things. It's great dexterity in the trunk, and a very talented animal to be trained to do something like this but it's not the elephant who thought up the subject and figured how to best depict it on paper (which would be utterly way cool).
posted by dabitch at 4:05 PM on March 30, 2008


Thats interesting Dabitch. I didn't know that.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 4:06 PM on March 30, 2008


How do you know it's a self-portrait? She could be painting a different elephant entirely.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:08 PM on March 30, 2008 [13 favorites]


Heard you can pick up a copy for peanuts!
PEANUTS!

(hello?)
posted by Dizzy at 4:09 PM on March 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


In any case, how do we know it's a self-portrait, and not a portrait of a different elephant? It's not like he's peering over the top of the canvas to look at his reflection in a mirror, or wrote "Me, after Salvador Dali, March 08" under it.
posted by Hogshead at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2008


It's a two ton animal, of course you'll think it's cool, if you know what's good for you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:11 PM on March 30, 2008


Next up: A painting that never forgets.
posted by DU at 4:18 PM on March 30, 2008


It's pretty damn cool that the elephant has enough smarts, dexterity and patience to draw even a rehearsed set of lines like that. It probably beats some other work it could be doing, but I don't think it takes as much pleasure in the process as these elephants do.
posted by maudlin at 4:20 PM on March 30, 2008


The possibility that the elephant is able to paint a portrait of itself or another elephant is dispelled as soon as the flower is added to his trunk. That flourish is too grand for me to believe the elephant chose what subject to apply to the canvas, rather the elephant is applying a skill acquired through rote learning. The act remains impressive from what we might expect from any animal. The elephant seems to be really good at tracing lines so it would not surprise me if the trainers start training the elephants by having them trace outlines. I don't wish to diminish what remains an impressive feat, but I would be highly dubious of anyone claiming that transcribing the likeness of an elephant onto any particular medium is an innate skill of this or any other elephant. Thanks for sharing this link!
posted by furtive at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2008


I still think it's pretty awesome that an elephant can't paint like that even if the motif is a trained one. Here's an elephant learning to do flowers (or trees perhaps). You can browse works by elephant artists names on elephantart.com. Paya looks like he likes to do "self portraits".
posted by dabitch at 4:24 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


can't can! I blame my non-painting cat who sat on my keyboard, srsly
posted by dabitch at 4:25 PM on March 30, 2008


What's so special about that. I can easily draw better elephants.
posted by seanyboy at 4:29 PM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just another in a long series of foreign elephants taking over American jobs.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:41 PM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


That elephant is more thoughtful, and probably more intelligent, than most of the people I meet on a daily basis, trained to paint or no. Aren't most human painters "trained", and do what they do for a reward of some kind, be it money, satisfaction, or acclaim?

Intelligence isn't solely a human trait. We tend to compare animal intelligence to our own, because we have no other frame of reference, but we may not even be the end-all, beat-all of smarts in our own galaxy, much less the universe. (Universes, if you believe in super string theory!) We don't know unless we take it on faith, which I don't. As smart as we are, we may be so self-satisfied with our "dominance" that we fail to understand that intelligence is relative to the being that possesses it and its environs and desires, not to the observer.

And then again, I may be flamed by a zillion people for saying this. C'est la vie.
posted by SaintCynr at 4:45 PM on March 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


Elephants are quite artistic, actually. Not just painting, but also music. Check out the Elephant Orchestra. They've put out albums.
posted by MythMaker at 4:46 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is it every time I look at this post, it seems to say "Elephant pants"?
(Besides the fact that I've gone down one size on my pants and have been considering donating my fat-ter pants to a circus or a zoo?)
posted by wendell at 4:50 PM on March 30, 2008


It may well be that Elephants actually do know what they are painting. After all, Elephants are one of the few animals that can recognize themselves in the mirror, which some people take to mean they are self-aware.
posted by delmoi at 4:53 PM on March 30, 2008


money, satisfaction, or acclaim?

Me, I paint so my trainer won't beat me.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:57 PM on March 30, 2008


That flourish is too grand for me to believe the elephant chose what subject to apply to the canvas, rather the elephant is applying a skill acquired through rote learning

I suspect so, too, but the addition of the trunk curl around the flower has got me wondering. Superfluous for a human to add that, but essential from the elephant's perspective.
posted by tachikaze at 5:05 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've seen the tragic self portrait of a bug, depicting himself as squashed on a windshield.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:06 PM on March 30, 2008


No matter how the elephant learned to paint that picture, the brushstrokes are so sure and fluid that it's apparent to me that the elephant "gets" what it's doing. It may not process visual symbols in the way that we do, and so might have a difficult (or impossible) time in conceptualizing a self portrait - but I certainly came away with the feeling that the elephant understood that it was painting, and not just brushing a twig on a piece of paper.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:22 PM on March 30, 2008


Nice, the comment I posted about an hour ago in the monkey bike riding thread gets ripped off and used as a fpp by KevinKomsvold...
posted by pwally at 5:25 PM on March 30, 2008


...without attribution even. Uncool KevenK.
posted by jouke at 5:34 PM on March 30, 2008


This is so amazing. I never knew that animals were able to paint. Why are we only discovering this now???

This just shows us that animals are as intelligent as humans are!!1

Congratulations to the woman who gave that elephant a paintbrush and a canvas so that it could express itself.
posted by carfilhiot at 5:35 PM on March 30, 2008


"it's apparent to me that the elephant "gets" what it's doing."

It has to be said: LOL
posted by carfilhiot at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2008


You should sue, pwally, clearly. Maybe this came via your comment, maybe not - it's a very recent video and is clearly 'going around' right now. Meanwhile, I think this is more about the elephant. Will you not think of the elephant? Because right now I for one am thinking about the elephant.
posted by motty at 5:40 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nice, the comment I posted about an hour ago in the monkey bike riding thread gets ripped off and used as a fpp by KevinKomsvold...

Uh, this video was a 'spotlight' video on youtube, and is on the top videos of the day. It's had like 330k views so it's not like it was some rare gem you uncovered.
posted by delmoi at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


(And I had actually seen the video a day or so ago)
posted by delmoi at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2008


Dude, I raised that elephant. My whole life has been spent preparing to post that video to the front page.
posted by pwally at 5:44 PM on March 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


Hey, come on people! Painting elephants and mini-bike riding monkeys are both special!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2008


Wow, so apparently you can use an elephant as a muppet.

Next up: I sculpt with an oven-mitt on!
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 5:58 PM on March 30, 2008


A serviceable painting, but it doesn't match the dark chaos or the palpable frisson of his earlier work.
posted by subgear at 6:00 PM on March 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


What pwally and others fail to recognize is that KevinSkomsvold is actually an elephant trained to make MeFi posts.
posted by found missing at 6:04 PM on March 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


Ah, for the days of the img tag...
posted by mwhybark at 6:10 PM on March 30, 2008


I think there's one way that we can make this right:

We need Kevin and pwally to team up and train an elephant to paint portraits of monkeys on minibikes.
posted by cortex at 6:11 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd rather see the elephant on a humongous motor bike (think of what kind of engine that would take).
Oh yeah, the monkey can make a painting.
posted by jouke at 6:16 PM on March 30, 2008


"it's apparent to me that the elephant "gets" what it's doing."

It has to be said: LOL


Why? I'm not saying the elephant is bursting with the need for creative visual expression, but I do think that it gets that what it's doing is making marks on paper - it may not know why, or even what it's representing - but after drawing for many years, and seeing people who don't get it try and make an expressive line in one motion - I have to reiterate that I think the elephant "gets it." LOL all you want.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:16 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


pwally: "Nice, the comment I posted about an hour ago in the monkey bike riding thread gets ripped off and used as a fpp by KevinKomsvold..."

Please don't assume I read each and every comment posted here. Had I been aware that you posted this elsewhere, I would have more than happily deferred. I saw the video posted on another site and thought it was cool. Feel free to read more into than that, however.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:30 PM on March 30, 2008


Elephant painting is a whole genre these days.
posted by MythMaker at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2008


I still prefer the Michael Jackson-dancing Walrus.

And DON'T tell me it's "just trained." You probably think the same thing about Chinese Hammer. Nah uh.
posted by dobbs at 6:49 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


That elephant paints better than me...
posted by schyler523 at 7:07 PM on March 30, 2008


I find it a bit sickening that what the media defines as a "normal" and "desirable" figure reaches even into the animal kingdom, where we see a healthy but (frankly) slightly dumpy elephant depicting itself as more slender "idealized" version of itself--without any apparent irony.

Elephants: It's OK to weigh two tons. The elephants you see Marlin Perkins idealizing and being gushed over on Animal Planet are half-starved, unhealthy pachyderms. Just be happy to be yourself.

Just thought it should be said.

Also, training or not, this is cool. Almost makes me want to give up my ground-elephant-tusk ED pills.
posted by maxwelton at 7:26 PM on March 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Elephants are self-aware to human degree: they can recognize themselves in mirrors and understand that what they see in the mirror represents their own self.

I've no doubt some of these elephants understand at some level that the image they are creating by brush is intended to represent a real elephant. They might only understand it at a three-year old's level, but it's personal artwork at some level.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 PM on March 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Thank you, fff, i was trying to say that myself...Because it simply makes sense.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:42 PM on March 30, 2008


>>Me, I paint so my trainer won't beat me.

Said by the elephant, or by the child laborer?
posted by SaintCynr at 8:56 PM on March 30, 2008


I still prefer the Michael Jackson-dancing Walrus.

Hey, dobbs, "Nice, the comment I posted [a few days ago] gets ripped off [by you]!"

Thanks for the attribution -- NOT !!!

I keed, I keed!
posted by ericb at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2008


Elephants are self-aware to human degree: they can recognize themselves in mirrors and understand that what they see in the mirror represents their own self.
My cat freaks out if she sees another cat out the window. She'll run up to the window and start hissing and yowling.

When she sees herself in a mirror, ho hum.

I'm failing to understand how she could not recognize the thing in the mirror as a cat. There is no fundamental difference between the photons coming off of the catlike shape in the mirror and the photons coming off of the actual cat outside my house; nor can she smell the cat outside my house (she only freaks out when she actually sees the cat).

Now, I'm not saying elephants aren't "self-aware", whatever that means (I'm not saying cats aren't, either). And maybe she just thinks the mirror "cat" is a cat she's used to, rather than herself or an invader (although she never got freaked out by her reflection, as far as I know).

But articles like the one that you link to, saying things like "Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, joining only humans, apes and dolphins as animals that possess this kind of self-awareness", do not jibe with my experience.
posted by Flunkie at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2008


Elephantube, the elephant video website that is transmitted in the sub 20Hz band across big swaths of Africa and Asia, just featured a "Humans learn using their trunk" video.

Hundreds of elephants have complained in the comments section that the humans seen in the video have been rote trained to snort milk out their noses, and even if they know what they are doing, they ingested the milk THROUGH THE MOUTH!!!

Also, a human arranging chopsticks on a table in neat rows using his nose can not be compared in any way to an elephant using a REAL TRUNK to uproot whole trees and stacking them on a pile.

Even though some elephants claim that long nosed varieties of humans have been reported in remote areas, and other elephants cited the most "elephantine" human ever seen on TV, Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched, the uniqueness of the elephant, and its place at the top of the evolutionary ladder, remain unshaken.
posted by Dr. Curare at 9:16 PM on March 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


You probably think the same thing about Chinese Hammer.

I want to see Elephant Hammer.

In Hammer Pants.
posted by bwg at 9:48 PM on March 30, 2008


But articles like the one that you link to, saying things like "Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, joining only humans, apes and dolphins as animals that possess this kind of self-awareness", do not jibe with my experience.

It's a little more complicated than just whether they can recognize the image or not. The deal with the mirror test is that the trainers apply paint to the animals' faces. Elephants, apes and dolphins will see the paint reflected in the mirror and then try to remove it from their own faces. That's pretty freaking awesome, afaik.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:58 PM on March 30, 2008


Match the Art to the Artist. Elephant, Child, Gorilla, or Real Artist?
posted by Toekneesan at 10:00 PM on March 30, 2008


My brother speculates that there are grooves in the board behind the paper, because the elephant seems to paint over the same lines multiple times with great accuracy. . .

I'm not so sure, but in any case, it's still pretty amazing to witness an animal displaying that sort of concentration. . . I can only hope that the training methods employed are kind. . .
posted by flotson at 10:16 PM on March 30, 2008


I've seen this "I can only hope the training methods are kind" meme on Youtube and now here.

I don't get it. Why on earth would your mind even go there? Do you think the Lippannzer Stallions are abused? Do you think the dancing walrus was taught through beatings? Why, then, presume that of the elephant trainers?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:49 PM on March 30, 2008


The fact that this elephant was clearly trained in no way diminishes the delight and wonderment of this video for me. I teach introductory painting at the college level, and frankly, I could use more pace-setters like this big fella in my class.

Let's see... I'd start him on negative space exercises, then maybe some gesture drawing...
posted by ducky l'orange at 10:54 PM on March 30, 2008


I don't get it. Why on earth would your mind even go there? Do you think the Lippannzer Stallions are abused? Do you think the dancing walrus was taught through beatings? Why, then, presume that of the elephant trainers?

It's difficult not to immediately get concerned once you've read up on the cruel shit that circuses and those asshole trainers who terrorize chimps into "laughing" in television commercials do.
posted by cmonkey at 12:03 AM on March 31, 2008


If that elephant actually knew how to paint, the picture would be of him standing atop a pile of writhing human bodies, decapitated head in his mouth. He'd be wearing a crown and his trunk would be holding a frightened child.
"oh my god, the elephant, he is spelling out words!" G E T F U C K E D A S S H O L E S
But seriously, what the hell does coaxing an elephant into doing human activities have anything to do with respecting them. As an animal lover I say, give that guy some habitat and leave him alone, if he wants to paint, I doubt he'll do it for my edification.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 12:18 AM on March 31, 2008 [6 favorites]


Flunkie - put something to the top of your cats head/face that she can't see without mirror, put cat in front of the mirror. If she sees it in the mirror and tries to get it off, we'll know she recognizes herself in the mirror.
posted by dabitch at 1:44 AM on March 31, 2008


Why, then, presume that of the elephant trainers?

I don't presume it, but I worry about it, because I've seen mahouts whack the shit out of their allegedly beloved elephants with a pointy, hooked metal implement (ankus?). Positive reinforcement may be the best way but it is not universal.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:46 AM on March 31, 2008


I'd rather see the elephant on a humongous motor bike (think of what kind of engine that would take).

A tank engine, maybe?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:24 AM on March 31, 2008


Elephants also bury their dead and mourn them.

But they don't build nuclear bombs, so who's the more intelligent species? I believe animals know a lot more than we think they do.

I really enjoyed the video, thanks very much!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:34 AM on March 31, 2008


This might be Hong in the video.

But seriously, what the hell does coaxing an elephant into doing human activities have anything to do with respecting them. As an animal lover I say, give that guy some habitat and leave him alone, if he wants to paint, I doubt he'll do it for my edification.

Giving them some habitat and leaving them alone would amount to abandonment. The animals doing these paintings are working or domesticated elephants. The ones in Thailand, as an example, have had a large portion of their habitat destroyed. They may not live to see that habitat restored. If they were returned to it now, they would not only have to deal with atrophied survival skills, but they'd be returned to a place with little food for them.
posted by crataegus at 4:47 AM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was in Thailand recently and bought some thank you cards, which I later found out were prints of elephant paintings. Unfortunately I cant find the packaging because it told an interesting story of the Thai elephant, its glorious but recently sad history. The gist of it was that for a long time the elephants and their mahouts enjoyed the highest status in Thai culture, but now the majesticism of modern technology has left them as, well, white elephants.

Since then there has been an elephant surplus. The Mahouts - a family trade - still need to eat, as a consequence the elephants have been degraded into working in the tourism industry. Thai's still hold elephants in high esteem, but have a very different idea of "animal rights" then us westerners (they have no conception of vegetarianism for example). Elephant sanctuaries have been set up in attempt to rescue these fine beasts, and painting seems to be one of the things that keeps them funded. The one I read about was a collaboration of Thais and westerners.

If anyone knows more about this then do chip in, i would very interested to know more about it. Such a person could quite easily solve the "route/genuine artistic inspiration" puzzle -- the paintings sold in the sanctuaries, do they look alike?
posted by verisimilitude at 5:39 AM on March 31, 2008


we'll know she recognizes herself in the mirror

Just to add my thoughts on this mirror topic: it's actually been quite a while since I recognised myself in the mirror. As far as I recall, I'm a strapping young lad of 18 years old, with a song in my heart, a twinkle in my eye and a luxuriant mop of thick, auburn hair. Yet when I look in the mirror, there peers back a corpulent middle-aged hunchback with warty fingers and a crooked rictus set in a pock-marked face.

Obviously the problem is that my mirror was ordered through the internet, and somehow it got mixed up at the warehouse with someone else's mirror. So somewhere out there, there's a horrible old alopeciac leering at the perfect Adonis he sees in his looking glass. It makes me shudder to think of his rough hands stroking the reflecting glass as the spit dribbles from the corner of the pervert's ugly maw.

I know you people go on and on about how the internet has made our lives one big yahoo of mytubes googling over everyone's facespace, but I really think that your "e-commerce" has a lot to answer for.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:40 AM on March 31, 2008 [8 favorites]


metafilter: one big yahoo of mytubes googling over everyone's facespace.
posted by verisimilitude at 5:44 AM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a little more complicated than just whether they can recognize the image or not. The deal with the mirror test is that the trainers apply paint to the animals' faces. Elephants, apes and dolphins will see the paint reflected in the mirror and then try to remove it from their own faces.
See, this just further backs up my feeling that these experiments are claiming a lot more than they're showing.

Let's assume that my cat doesn't wipe the paint off.

Based on that, "cats don't give a damn what they look like" seems to me to be at least as valid a conclusion as "cats are non-self-aware automatons".

It has the added advantage of not contradicting the fact that my cat gets freaked out by the sight of all cats except this undeniably cat-like shape which acts undeniably like a cat in the mirror. Plus, frankly, it's not patently absurd (I mean, really - cats are not self-aware? Please).

But instead of concluding "elephants don't want paint on their face", these experiments always wind up being touted (at least in their popular summaries) as "elephants are self-aware", as if that were something amazing and mystical.
posted by Flunkie at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2008


But instead of concluding "elephants don't want paint on their face", these experiments always wind up being touted (at least in their popular summaries) as "elephants are self-aware", as if that were something amazing and mystical.
I should be a little more clear about this:

The fact that elephants are self-aware is pretty amazing and mystical.

But the fact that elephants (and cats) are self-aware given that humans are? Uh, not so amazing or mystical.
posted by Flunkie at 6:25 AM on March 31, 2008


Elephants also bury their dead and mourn them.

But they don't build nuclear bombs, so who's the more intelligent species?


Actually, still humans, surprisingly. It takes a good deal of intelligence to master the complex physics and mathematics inherent in the building of nuclear weapons. I doubt this or any other Elephant could ever hope to master simple college-level calculus, let alone quantum mechanics.
posted by loquax at 6:37 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why, then, presume that of the elephant trainers?

Of course I'll assume it. People will beat the hell of their dog to stop it from doing what comes natural (chewing on things, etc.)--that doesn't even include getting it to do things that aren't natural to it.

Yes, there are humane ways to get animals to do things and as time goes on they are used more and more but yes, my first assumption is that large beasts (tigers, elephants) doing things like this were trained in inhumane ways because assholes who like to make money off of animals generally put the buck first.
posted by dobbs at 6:57 AM on March 31, 2008


except this undeniably cat-like shape which acts undeniably like a cat in the mirror

It doesn't smell or sound like another cat. Your cat may have learned that there's nothing more to that figure in the mirror.

nor can she smell the cat outside my house

She might be able to. Or it might display some aggression that your cat reacts to.

It would be a simple matter to test whether an animal will remove a marks on their bodies when they can see them. It's trickier to claim that the recognizing-a-mark test proves self-awareness. Pigeons can pass the test, apparently.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:13 AM on March 31, 2008


However rote the training was, it was still an impressive feat. (I love me some phelephants though, so I'm more than a little biased.)

I'm really looking forward to her inevitable webcomic. Though I suspect that it will be very insular and really only accessible to other pachyderms:

"I carried three flowers today."

"bwahahaha, you're crazy"

"Peanut!"
posted by quin at 10:20 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Aren't most human painters "trained", and do what they do for a reward of some kind, be it money, satisfaction, or acclaim?

Ironic that you should mention that. Timbor and I were both in art school together for a time.

A few weeks prior, the instructor informed us that we would be having a traveling exchange student dropping in for a few sessions of our figure study class, one who might have special needs and we should be as accomodating as possible.

"What the FUCK is this elephant doing in the studio?" I exclaimed as I attempted to press my way around the pachyderm.

"LAWLESS!" the professor rebuked. "I'll ask you to remember this institution's policy towards diversity and disparaging comments about other's differences. If you have difficulty recalling them I can helpfully enroll you in a seminar..."

"No, no, I get it..." Nobody wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.

Session after session, pose after pose, Timbor churned out the same drawing while his mahout chain smoked vile unfiltered cigarettes just out the door, both ignoring the mounting piles of droppings. "That's, ah, a very nice take Timbor...", the professor would say.

Damned art school.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:43 PM on March 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah yeah, let me know when walruses start dancing to Smooth Criminal, then I'll be impressed.
posted by turaho at 1:44 PM on April 11, 2008


Ha! Look upthread.

I get it, I get it. You are cross fertilizing posts!
posted by ericb at 1:53 PM on April 11, 2008


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