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Nonhumanities 

When T.S. Eliot was poor, he lived in a London boarding house on the floor below a pair of female tap dancers. When he complained about their night practices, his landlord answered, "Well, Mr. Eliot, they're different from us; they're artists."

First, I heard about Sammy, a foxhound mix from Maryland. Sammy's owner has worked up a routine wherein she attaches a paintbrush to a rubber bone, sticks it in the dog's mouth and commands, "Go paint, Sammy!" He trots to a white canvas, splatters it with blue, red or aqua acrylic and -- after a little urging -- "signs" it with a black paint-dabbed paw.

One of Sammy's originals recently sold for $350.

Then, on the televised art auction for the local public station, I familiarized myself with the proceedings of a turtle whose name was, I think, Koopa. Seems like Koopa walks around (slowly) over glops of paint and then is placed on a blank white canvas where the turtle sashays around until "art" is committed.

One of Koopa's originals sold at auction for $700.

Two thoughts about the rise of art produced by paw or flipper: I wonder about the thought of the human artists who submitted their works to the auction, e.g. the guy who sold a finger-numbing miniature for 60 bucks. Secondly, our pets are costing us beaucoup these days; I just read that "hypoallergenic" cats can be deactivated for a mere $6,945. Maybe it is high time some of these pets look for ways to carry some of their own financial weight. What better route than by a career that could lead to semis bulging with socks of Kibbles 'n' Bits?

I can almost hear the snigger of you art snobs already. No truly self-respecting art museum admits much in the way of animal portraits; the subject matter lacks gravitas and is much more at home on the wall of some flea market in rural Tennessee.

Two points: We talk of art by animals, not of animals. And turtles and foxhounds do not go in for interspecies subject matter. You'll never see anything like a peasant hay-mower or half-clothed concubine in Sammy's canon. Or Koopa's, either.

Secondly, we ain't talking about some Carnegie-Mellon museum here. We're talking about paintings that would be very cozy on the wall of a rural Tennessee flea market.

One of the chief reasons for the sluggish growth of nonhuman art has been, frankly, the lack of first-rate models. Men and women who habitually posed for traditional painters -- and contributed hugely to their professional growth -- have been loath to pose for animal artists. And, as Oscar Wilde pointed out:

"The only people a painter should know ... are people who are bŽte and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual response to talk to. Men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world, at least they should do so."

Animal artists historically have not known such models. But maybe with the likes of Sammy and Koopa showing the way, things will change.

Fairness demands that I concede that it is just as easy to find a temperamental diva in the feathers of a guillemot as in the gown of a soprano. Coco, a parrot, sang trios with Prince Leopold of Belgium and his bride Charlotte. After Charlotte died in 1817, Coco refused to sing for the next quarter-century. At that point, Coco was banished to Leopold's current mistress. He promptly sang a plaintive rallentando favored by Charlotte and died.

All artists, two legs or four, bathe in the stream of eccentricity.

Now those of you who think forwardly are probably wondering where this trend goes next. Let me offer some suggestions.

First, the rooster. Thanks to the progressive actions of our legislature, there will soon be a plethora of roosters running around with very dim prospects for employment. People hate their racket and loathe their meat. Yet I predict that roosters would be superbly suited for detail work and naturals for painstaking mosaic work.

An even brighter future awaits the common rabbit. Note the famous rabbit tail; for centuries biologists have debated the evolutionary role of the white undersides of the rabbit tail. Now, at last, a possible answer: The white area would be perfect as a fine brush and a palette for carrying around ample amounts of Marigold or Fine Berry.

P.S. As a bonus, the rabbit's temperament is well known to be superior to many, especially the rooster's. Yet even in his flight from us, the rabbit flaunts the lovely whiteness of his tail. As D.H. Lawrence noted, a rabbit is "the inconquerable fugitive, the indomitable meek."

Roosters, rabbits. Don't let your imagination stop there. Consider cuckoo-shrikes. Consider wombats. We now know that art can originate anywhere. And as Picasso said, all art is a lie that makes us see the truth.

Of course, knowing his, he was probably lying.

click to enlarge No truly self-respecting art museum admits much in the - way of animal portraits; the subject matter lacks gravitas - and is much more at home on the wall of some flea - market in rural Tennessee. - MARK KARCHER
  • Mark Karcher
  • No truly self-respecting art museum admits much in the way of animal portraits; the subject matter lacks gravitas and is much more at home on the wall of some flea market in rural Tennessee.
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