An investigation into the representation of animals in art and the relationship the practice has with culture.
Beth Crossland Submitted to Hereford College of Arts in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA (Hons) Fine Art Validated by the University of Wales February 2013 Full Word Count : 8301
Edited Word Count : 7979
Page 2: List of Illustrations Page 3: Introduction Page 5: Chapter 1: Historical/ philosophical account of animals Page 9: Chapter 2: Relating historical artistic representations of animals to their contemporary culture. Page 9: Mr and Mrs Andrews Page 11: Whistlejacket Page 14: The Animal Body as Craft Material Page 16: Chapter 3: Contemporary Theories and Cultural Issues Surrounding Attitudes towards Animals. Page 17: Cultural Examples of the Changes in Attitudes towards Animals Page 22: Chapter 4: Relating contemporary use of animal bodies to contemporary culture Page 22: Angela Singer Page 25: Botched Taxidermy Page 26: Damien Hirst
Page 30: Conclusion Page 32: Bibliography
List of Illustrations Fig 1 (Page 10): Mr and Mrs Andrews. Thomas Gainsborough. 1750. Oil on Canvas. 69.8 x 119.4 cm. London, The National Gallery. Retrieved from: www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/thomas-gainsborough-mr-and-mrsandrews Fig 2 (Page 12): Whistlejacket. George Stubbs. 1762. Oil on Canvas. 292 x 246.4 cm. London, The National Gallery. Retrieved from: www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/george-stubbs-whistlejacket Fig 3: Sore. Angela Singer. 2002-2003. Recycled taxidermic support, mixed media. 630x480x610mm. Retrieved from: www.angelasinger.com/?page_id=30 Fig 4:
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Damien Hirst.
1991. Glass, painted steel, silicone, monofilament, shark and formaldehyde solution. Retrieved from: www.damienhirst.com/the-physical-impossibility-of
Cover Illustration: Catch/Caught. Angela Singer. 2007. Vintage recycled taxidermy with mixed media. Retrieved from:
Introduction Animals have been a subject for art since Neanderthal man made drawings on walls 35,000 years ago. There has always been a lot of non-human animals in art, but not a lot of art about non-human animals. I am going to explore the relationship between culture and art within the theme of animals in art. I am interested in the representation of animals; how their cultural status at a particular time is reflected in art of that time. Does art always reflect the dominant cultural attitudes? Can art be separate from the cultural attitudes that it comes from? I have often used animals in my own work. I have used cow’s bones, snail shells, even mouse fur from a mouse I skinned myself. Only recently have I started to deeply consider the consequences these materials have on meaning, and the different ways animals have been used in art. I am interested in how the meaning of animals in art has evolved alongside our cultural attitudes towards animals. I am particularly interested in the influence that the Animal Rights Movement may have had on contemporary use of animals in art. I will begin by discussing the history of the place of animals in human society. I will give an account of the dominant attitudes towards animals, including our beliefs about our rights and duties towards animals. I will then discuss how these beliefs are present in works of art from these times. How the traditional use of animals as symbols is directly connected to the cultural attitudes of the time. With reference to George Stubbs’s ‘Whistlejacket’ I will suggest that paintings can be in contrast to dominant cultural theories, but that this may be missed by the contemporary audience. I will also discuss the use of animals as craft material, such as in the case of ivory, and how attitudes towards animals at the time are integral to this use of animals. 3
I will go on to discuss current approaches, including the ideas underpinning the Animal Rights Movement. I will discuss examples that demonstrate the contemporary cultural approach towards animals, including the development of zoos. In this chapter I will argue that the relationship between humans and animals is very complex. We are, arguably, more detached from animals than we ever have been. I will then discuss how these ideas have affected the way contemporary artists use animals. I will suggest that the complex contemporary attitudes towards animals are entirely relevant to the way contemporary artists use the animal body. I will also suggest that the animal rights movement is a large influence on how animals are represented and used in art today. And the cultural influences on the use of live animals and animal bodies. I will propose that the change in the way that animal imagery and the animal body have been used by artists in the last 100 years is a direct result of our cultural attitudes towards animals. We cannot exist in isolation from our contemporary cultural attitudes, and neither can artists. While perhaps the more interesting art comes from theories opposing the dominant ones, art always comes from, is inextricably related to, cultural ideas.
Chapter 1: Philosophical / Historical account of animals For the majority of Western European history, animals have been seen as objects, as things to be used by us for our own purposes. Aristotle was a student of the Greek philosopher Plato. Writing in 330BC, Aristotle lived in a society where human slaves were an accepted and integral part of society (Singer, 2002. p. 189).There was no ethical problem about using humans as objects. Animals thought of as inferior to humans, had no ethical consideration at all. Aristotle proposed that, ‘since nature makes nothing purposeless or in vain, it is undeniably true that she has made all animals for the sake of man’ (Aristotle, cited in Regan and Singer, 1976, p. 5). The Christian Bible is still a source for moral certainties in today’s secular society. The teaching in the Bible about animals can be simplified in to two stances, the teaching of stewardship and the teaching of dominion. Some Christians will argue that both stances encompass each other. In Stewardship we have a duty of care towards animals, we do not own them, and we should extend our love and care to them, as they are a part of God’s creation. This can be demonstrated by this quotation: ‘He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man’ (The Bible, Isaiah. 66:3). The belief in dominion is that we are the highest of God’s creations. We are, unlike animals, created ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis). Animals exist for our use and there need be no guilt in using them. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Catholic theologian writing c. 1224 – 1274, argues on the side of dominion. Quoting the Bible, he argues that it is an error for people to say it is sinful for a man to kill dumb animals, ‘for by divine providence they are intended for man’s use in the natural order’ (Aquinas, cited by Regan and Singer, 1976. pp.6-8). Aquinas argues that the
only ‘sensible’ reasons for abstaining from cruelty to animals would be in case’ through being cruel to animals one become cruel to human beings’. He is not concerned with the suffering of any animal, but that the suffering of an animal may lead to suffering of a human being. ‘he that kills another’s ox, sins, not through killing the ox, but through injuring another man in his property’ (Aquinas, cited by Regan and Singer, 1976. pp.6-8). The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) argues in a very similar way to Aquinas. He was also a committed Christian and we can see the influence the teachings of the Bible on his writings, as we can with Aquinas. Animals were not included in Kant’s moral theory, as he believed they were not rational beings (Scruton, 2001). Kant argues animals ‘are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man.’ His argument is closest to that of Aquinas when he argues ‘Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity’ (Kant, cited by Regan and Singer, 1976, p 23). We can see that the dominating thread linking these theories is that the treatment of animals need only be considered when it affects, or may affect humans. The strongly held assumption underpinning these theories is that humans are significantly more important than animals. In the seventeenth century, experimentation upon animals became absolutely central to the development of science (Fudge, 2002, p. 95). Rene Descartes was an influential philosopher and scientist at this time, and his ideas around the place of animals could be seen as an attempt to justify the practice of vivisection, experimentation on live animals, that he and many of his contemporaries, practiced (Singer, 2002, p.201). Central to Descartes’s beliefs about animals is that animals do not have a mind. Language, to Descartes, was ‘evidence of a rational soul’ (Fudge, 2002, p 98). Descartes suggested an animal’s barks, moos, or neighs were merely instinct and not evidence of rational thought. Mind and soul were inseparable
in Descartes thinking (Fudge 2002 p 95). Understanding that animals had no mind meant that they also had no soul. No mind means no consciousness, so Descartes argued that animals did not feel pain. He described his stance as ‘not so much cruel to wild animals as favourable to men, whom it absolves… of any suspicion of crime, however often they may eat or kill animals’ (Descartes cited in fudge, 2002, p 98). In 1859 the publication of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ introduced the evidence that humans beings were actually animals as well. In Darwin’s theory, all living things have evolved from the same source. Natural selection and adaption explain the different species of animals. The fact that human beings are also animals was hard to accept for people at the time, many people finding it insulting (Fudge, 2002. p 19). This made the previous understanding of a distinction between human beings and animals, such as Aquinas and Descartes had written about, problematic. A different attitude towards animals is clear in Darwin’s writing. Animals are thought of sympathetically, and the basis is founded in reason and in science. Darwin talks about the emotions of animals, the playfulness of kittens and puppies, the jealousy seen in the dog whose master is paying attention to another and the displeasure that monkeys show when they are laughed at. (Darwin, cited by Regan and Singer, 1976. pp 28-29) Unlike Descartes, who dismisses instances such as these as merely mechanistic, Darwin uses these instances and others like these to demonstrate that animals, even lower animals such as ants, have more in common intellectually with humans than had ever before been accepted. He states his aim was to demonstrate ‘there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties’ (Darwin, cited by Regan and Singer, 1976, p. 30). This is arguably the closest to humans that animals where ever thought to have been in the history of academia.
Chapter 2: Relating historical artistic representations of animals to their contemporary culture. Artists do not work in isolation. They are influenced by the cultural and philosophical belief and theories of their time. Changing attitudes to animals in society is clearly reflected in changes in the way that artists use and depict animals in their work. 1.1.
Mr and Mrs Andrews
Fig 1. Mr and Mrs Andrews. c1750. Thomas Gainsborough Gainsborough’s ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ demonstrates a traditional use of the animal in art. The painting is well known, recognised as an important painting in art history. I will discuss the use of the image of the dog as it makes clear how animals were thought about, and the place they held in society in the 1700’s. This painting was commissioned by the newlywed couple, Mr and Mrs Andrews. As a conversation piece it would have been hung on their
wall, signifying how wealthy and important they were, and displaying their sophisticated and leisurely lifestyle. Mr Robinson is carrying a gun, possibly a musket with connotations of the infantry as well as the sport of hunting. This reference to hunting reinforces the suggestion that he is of the upper classes, not someone who toils in the fields in the background of the painting. Mrs Robinson’s dress is large; it looks expensive, perhaps silk. It’s clean and her tiny shoes are not suited to walking along the fields around her. It could be argued that all the elements in the painting are symbols of Mr Andrew’s wealth and importance. I believe the dog is included in this. It is significant that the dog appears to be a beagle, or perhaps a fox hound. Both of these breeds are traditional hunting dogs. The dog serves to further communicate the hunts. , something associated with aristocracy, wealth and sophistication. The dog looks up at his master patiently, almost adoringly; this suggests that Mr Andrews is someone to look up to, a superior man. Mr Andrews does not acknowledge the dog, just looks sternly out at the viewer, a man in control of his emotions. The dog has a yellow collar around his neck. The dog is owned, is certainly not a wild animal. The dog conveys information about his human master. A dog is used in the same way in Titian’s Venus of Urbino, where a small King Charles spaniel sleeps at the end of the woman’s bed. The dog is a symbol of her devotion, her fidelity to her husband. In both paintings the dog is used to describe, to communicate something about the characteristics or the human in the painting. This use of animals in art works has been described as ‘metaphorical silencing’ (Aloi, 2010. P.62). Aloi defines metaphorical silencing as when the ‘animal is contextualized in order to speak about a broad range of human affairs rather than animality itself’ (Aloi, 2010. P.62). Aloi suggests that this was the common use of animals in pre-postmodern art, this
metaphorical silencing, as Aloi has suggested, is a characteristic of the majority of paintings from this time and is a product of the attitudes towards animals, that animals were for our use. This belief was held by Aristotle, Kant and Descartes. To have suggested that animals were worthy of being considered as a subject for a painting on their own, not as a symbol but as a being in themselves would have been unusual and unpopular. This is why Whistlejacket is so interesting. Whistlejacket
Fig 2. Whistlejacket. 1763. George Stubbs 10
‘Whistlejacket’ was commissioned by Charles 2nd Marquis of Rockingham circa 1762 (Taylor, 1971). Whistlejacket was a famous racehorse who had won large amounts of money for his owner, the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham. It has been suggested by Taylor, author of ‘Stubbs’, that the painting was not originally intended to depict the horse with nothing surrounding him. He suggests that the figure of George III and a landscape background were to be added later by other artists. Taylor suggests that ‘the placing of the horse on the canvas seems to support this tradition’ (Taylor, 1971. p 206). Taylor suggests that Rockingham, the commissioner of the painting, liked it so much as it was that he decided the additions need not be made. Jonathon Jones, art critic for the guardian argues that ‘There's no proof of this story’, that the painting was unfinished (www.guardian.co.uk, 2000). He argues that the shadows under Whistlejacket’s back feet serve as proof that the painting is as Stubbs intended it to be. This is important because the intention behind the painting plays a significant role in its meaning. If the painting had included a rider and a landscape the meaning of the animal would have been quite different. As it is, the painting is different to ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’, in that the animal is not being used as a symbol. He is a horse, on his own, an animal not a symbol being used to say something about a human’s characteristics. It could be argued that as the painting was painted for the animals’ owner, that the animal is being used to communicate the wealth and success of the owner. It makes clear that the owner is someone who can not only afford to buy such a magnificent horse but also afford to commission a painting of the horse. This is a weak argument. The animal is successful in himself, and though he has gained recognition through winning races, he is depicted 11
without reigns, without his bridle or saddle. Stubbs is freeing him not only from the physical constraints that humans put on him, but also from the human system of values. The scale of the painting is near life size. This is the scale of paintings of kings or of religious paintings. (www.guardian.co.uk, 2000). This adds to the power of the image. In comparison to other paintings of horses by Stubbs, attention has been paid to Whistlejacket’s individual physical marks. Examples are the white patch on his back right foot and the small dash of white on his forehead. Jonathon Jones describes this painting as a portrait, ‘a study in individuality’ (www.guardian.co.uk, 2000). Whistlejacket is painted as an individual at a time when the individualisation of animals was not as common or accepted as it is today (Fudge, 2002). It seems that the dominant attitudes towards animals at the time this was painted, (that animals are for our use, objects, inferior to humans), cannot be found in this painting, or at least is not central. This could be because we are analysing this painting through our cultural believes, therefore we interpret the painting as in line with our beliefs. This may not have been how the audience and the commissioners of the paintings at the time they were painted saw them. George Stubbs was a popular sports painter of the 1700’s. He was often commissioned to paint animals and was most well-known for his paintings of horses. He was also particularly skilled in the depiction of them and this came out of a lifelong appreciation of horses (Taylor, 1971). I believe that the people who commissioned Stubbs to paint their horses did so because of his ability to create life like and vibrant representations of the animals. I think they valued his ability to aggrandise their horses in his paintings. His clients were the aristocracy, the people who owned race horses. I suggest their interest in the animals grew out of the money they could earn though the horses and the social status this gave them.
Race horses are usually killed when they are too old to win races. They have lost their value, as the only value they had was financial. This is evidence that the race horse owners, Stubb’s clients, may not have had a genuine interest in the animals as I believe Stubbs did. I believe Stubbs was interested in horses as animals. Stubbs enjoyed painting horses in fields, with their foals in a naturalistic setting, and also drew and painted horses as a child (Taylor, 1971). This supports the argument that Stubbs was interested in the horses as animals, not as status symbols or prize winners. As Jonathon Jones says, referring to Stubb’s clients, ‘the implication that the horse is a free spirit confined by an oppressive human society obviously passed them by’ (www.guardian.co.uk, 2000). But I believe, for reasons I have stated, that this is what Stubbs intended the painting to communicate. From this point of view, the painting is in opposition to dominate cultural beliefs of the time. Even so, the relationship between the painting and culture can be seen in that it is a response, perhaps a subversive critique of the ideas of this culture. The Animal Body as Craft Material Animals and their bodies have been used as an art material. Ivory, tortoiseshell and baleen, whale bone, are all animal products. The use of these materials is now controversial. We live in a society that recognises a duty towards animals, a duty to save them from becoming extinct. The modern belief is that we are responsible for nature. Our concern over global warming is part of this belief. We no longer think that it is acceptable to use ivory or tortoiseshell or whalebone, although it is not long ago that these materials were popular. I am separating the cultural use of animal products, seen in African tribes and in Inuit culture, from the use of animal bodies as a luxury, as a status symbol. To kill an animal for example an elephant for ivory, for the purpose of using it to make an object is in the most literal
sense turning the animal into an object. Ivory was commonly used to make piano keys, buttons, combs and other ornamental objects. These objects were expensive as ivory has always been an expensive and sought after material, because of its scarceness. (www.prm.ox.ac.uk, 2010). The objects were status symbols. To comb your hair with an ivory comb clearly communicated that you were wealthy. The animal that produced the ivory was seen as an object to be used. This approach could have only come out of a society where animals were seen as inferior to humans, and we had a right to use them as we choose. Here, culture and art are clearly and inextricably linked. Today, leather and suede are commonly accepted materials for shoes, bags or clothing, because extinction of a species is not involved, and the practice is linked to the (mostly) morally accepted meat industry. Leather is a by-product; the animal is not dying for the sole reason of its skin. It is also being eaten, which is seen as a more valid, more essential reason for its death. The decreased use of ivory and tortoiseshell demonstrates how we as a society have become less wasteful in our use of animals. Killing an animal such as an elephant only for making ornaments of their tusks while the rest of the body is left to rot, is unacceptable. It is not in line with our cultural attitudes, whereas in the pre â€“ 1900â€™s it was accepted that animals were to be used by humans, and there was no problem with the practice.
Chapter 3: Contemporary theories and cultural issues surrounding contemporary cultural attitudes towards animals. ‘The day may come, when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny’ The English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote this near the end of the eighteenth century (Bentham, cited by Regan and Singer 1976. P. 26) Two hundred years later the leaders of the animal rights movement in Britain would attempt to rationally and reasonably destroy the ‘hand of tyranny’ which kept animals from acquiring ‘those rights’. Without relying on spiritual or religious beliefs, Peter Singer and other writers of the Animal Rights Movement appealed to reason. Singer’s writing on the ethical treatment of animals was part of a change in the way that animals were seen in wider culture in western society. He was influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism. But instead of the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain being the ruling principle in making moral decisions, Singer argues that a living creature’s ‘interests’ are the most important thing to consider. Clarifying what he means by interests, Singer explains that ‘the capacity for suffering and enjoyment’ is ‘sufficient’ for us to be able to say that a being has interests, at the very least ‘an interest in not suffering’ (Singer, 2002. p. 7-8). He talks of speciesism, a term coined by Richard D Ryder (another important figure in the Animal Lights Movement), but made popular by Singer. The influence of Charles Darwin and his proposition that there less of a significant biological difference between humans and other animals than previously believed is evident here. Speciesism is to believe that your own species is superior to any others (Ryder, 1971). The existence of human slavery in the time of Aristotle influenced his attitude towards animals. The social changes of the 1960’s, when a number of minority and subjugated groups fought for, and gained,
rights that they had been denied influenced the ideas of Singer and Ryder. Both writers say that speciesism is as morally wrong as racism or sexism and should be recognised as such. Ryder says that ‘it may come to pass that enlightened minds may one day abhor "speciesism" as much as they now detest "racism" (Ryder, 1971, p. 81). One scholar who responded to the ideas of the animal rights movement is Roger Scruton. Scruton attacks the foundations of the movement, suggesting that Singers argument has ‘no real cogency’ (Scruton, 1996, p 8). He argues that the writers who became known as animal rights writers, (Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Richard Ryder) did not take the subject ‘as seriously as a philosopher ought’(Scruton, 1996, p. 8) By this he means that philosophical conventions were not followed and that it is not reasonable to suggest that animals have, or should have rights. Scruton believes that ‘Animals do not have rights’, ‘it is both senseless and cruel to bind them to ‘… ‘the web of reciprocal rights and obligations’(Scruton, 1996, p 97). The thinking behind this statement is that as animals are not moral agents they are not able to make moral decisions, to distinguish between good and bad reasons, and therefore not able to be part of the moral community. For these reasons Scruton argues animals do not, cannot have rights. Cultural Examples of the Changes in Attitudes towards Animals There are a number of cultural issues and individual public instances that demonstrate our contemporary relationship to nature and animals. The history of zoos demonstrates the cultural shift away from the anthropocentric (that is, that humans are central to the universe, superior and separate to animals,) approach to animals and nature. Zoos have recently become focussed on conservation of species and
habitats, but this is not how zoos began. In the early twentieth century, most zoos consisted of ‘postage stamp’ collections, trying to display as many animals as possible (Dion, Rockman, 1996. pp.190-200). The enclosures were small; there was little or no consideration of natural habitats. In the 1970’s zoos came more of an emphasis on wildlife conservation. This is in line with the change in cultural attitudes towards animals. It is now common that the organisation of animals in zoos is concept orientated. Animals are organised in nocturnal enclosures, or particular habitats, rather than under taxonomical headings. Zoos have become conservation and education centres. Endangered species are given more attention. It has become clear that certain animals may go extinct and may ultimately only exist in zoos (Dion, Rockman, 1996. P.190-200). This modern approach is a response to our historical attitudes towards animals, which have led to certain species becoming extinct, or getting closer to extinction, like elephants, because of ivory. Although on the surface animals have more rights, more consideration than before, the situation is not that simple. There are underlying contradictions Some people have argued that the emphasis on ‘conservation’ in zoos is really just a sticking plaster, that it is not possible to repopulate the wild using captive animals. The gene pools have become too small, and natural behaviour has been bred out of captive animals. (Dion, Rockman, 1996. P.190-200). The history of zoos is relevant in that it demonstrates a change in thinking about animals in the last one hundred years, in line with the philosophical theories that have arisen. In contemporary culture our relationship with animals is full of contradictions. Since the animal rights movement gained popularity in the 1970’s, a (limited) number of laws have passed that ensure animals more suitable conditions in the meat industry and the
experimentation industry. (Singer, 2002, preface). But behind these apparent positive progressions in our relationship with animals, the relationship is perhaps not so positive for animals, does not show an increased awareness of animal’s needs. In contemporary culture most people will come in to contact with animals most commonly in the form of pets or of meat. I will talk about these two presences of animals in our daily lives and how they demonstrate the complex relationship with animals. The owning of a companion animal, a pet, has become more widespread over the last fifty years. (www.pfma.co.uk, 2010). Although, the owning of pets in the seventeenth century was controversial. There were worries that the boundary between human and animal, an important boundary to the anthropocentric theories about animals and nature at this time, could become blurred. Edward Topsell, writing in 1607, raised his concerns about the trend for wealthy ladies to keep lap-dogs. He said that to keep such pets kept their minds from ‘commendable exercises’ (Topsell cited in Fudge, 2008). That is, to keep a pet was seen as a foolish waste of time. The contemporary attitude is entirely different. Marjorie Garber has argued that the keeping of pets and the close bonds that we form with them can benefit humans (Fudge, 2008. p 32). She argues they ‘humanize’ us in the care and affection that we practice in our relationship with them. The rise in the keeping of pets is entwined with anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics onto Gods, animals or objects (The Oxford Concise Dictionary, 1990). Human-animal studies writers such as Giovanni Aloi have written about the problematic nature of anthropomorphism when applied to animals (Aloi, 2012. pp 102-105). The natural behaviour of an animal can be interpreted incorrectly when human characteristics are being attributed to a non-human animal (anthropomorphism). For example, a hamster washing itself in the
palm of your hand may be interpreted as the animal being comfortable in his surroundings. After all, washing ourselves is something that humans would mostly only choose to do in situations they were comfortable in. But an unnecessary bout of grooming in a hamster is a displacement activity that hamsters may indulge in when feeling uncomfortable in their surroundings. (www.rspca.co.uk, 2005). Through anthropomorphism we can think that we know or understand our pet, but in reality the relationship we have with them is with our own construction. The ‘close bond’ with pets that Garber says ‘humanizes’ us, is in fact not a close bond with the animal at all. The animal’s true nature is negated by anthropomorphism. ‘A pet is a pet first, an animal second’ (Fudge, 2008, p 32). That we can eat the bacon sandwich on the table and care for the dog under the table is a complex situation relating to our contemporary relationship with animals. This differentiation between ‘edible’ and ‘inedible’ animals’ is a cultural convention that is embedded in us from a young age. In reality pigs and dogs have been shown to share similar levels of intelligence (Singer, 2002, p 119). But the naturalisation of meat eating is so and cows are meant to be food. By removing assumptions and accepted customs from the practice it becomes an example of how we, even in this new era of greater awareness about animals and nature, are able to naturalise the use of animals for human ends. Carol Adams, a feminist and animal rights activist, refers to the animal made in to meat as the ‘absent referent’. That is, we are able to buy, cook and eat meat without thinking about the animal whose body it is. Fudge suggests that one way in which the ‘referent’ (animal) can become absent is how meat is packaged. The pink almost bloodless meat in the supermarket does not resemble the living animal that it was once a part of. ‘We can eat sausages without thinking about cows’ (Fudge, 2002, p 36). Even the language we use to describe meat
enables us the distance the meat from the animals. We do not eat cows we eat beef, we do not eat pigs we eat bacon, gammon, ham. These brief discussions about pets and meat demonstrate that our current relationship with animals is deeply complex. I will argue that this relationship has influenced the way contemporary artists use animals, on an individual and a broader level.
Chapter 4: How contemporary culture has influenced contemporary art. In this chapter, I will discuss how the developments in cultural attitudes towards animals may have changed the way that artists use animals. In Chapter 2, I established that art works come out of their own particular culture and time. I have chosen these specific art works for their relevance to my argument, and how they can represent wider trends in contemporary art. Angela Singer
Fig 3. Sore. Angela Singer. 2002-03. Recycled taxidermic support, mixed media
Angela Singer is an artist based in New Zealand (Aloi, 2008). Her work clearly conveys her sympathy with the Animal Rights Movement; she has described herself as an animal rights activist (Aloi, 2008). Her work talks about the unnecessary violence humans subject animals to and also the dominant idea that humans are separate from and superior to other species. These are issues that are at the heart of the animal rights movement. Sore (Fig 3), like many of Singer’s pieces, was originally a trophy animal; hunted and stuffed and hung on the wall. Singer removed the animal’s skin from the taxidermic support and used pigment and wax to recreate the animal’s bloody death. She researches into the death of the individual animal whose body she is using to make work. In researching the history of the stuffed doe used in Sore, she learnt that the animal’s antlers had been sawn off, leaving both the doe and the hunter covered in blood (Baker, 2000. p 85). Singer has said that the appearance of the work grew directly out of the history of the animal (www.youtube.com, 2011). She attempts to give the animals back the identity that they were robbed of in the original act of taxidermy (Aloi, 2008). The animals are treated and presented as individuals with a history. Singer, by presenting animals as individuals and highlighting their suffering, is suggesting that animals are worthy of such treatment; are worthy of our care and compassion. As in many of her pieces, Singer used ‘recycled taxidermy’ (Aloi, 2008) to make Sore. The animals in her work are not killed in order for her to use them. This would be in conflict with the concept of her work. Instead, these animals were previously trophy kills from hunts which have been preserved through taxidermy, and are ‘often donated or acquired for a small monetary value’ (www.youtube.com, 2011). This approach clearly demonstrates that Singer’s work is literally a reaction to the practice of taxidermy for ‘trophy’ purposes. And the cultural attitudes that allow this practice to be accepted.
The title, ‘Sore’, is an old Victorian word for fallow deer (Baker, 2006. p.85). This refers to the Victorian’s love for taxidermy. The title is also a play on words, ‘sore’ being a word used to describe and open wound or something that is painful. Also it sounds like ‘saw’, the implement with which the animal’s antlers were removed (Baker, 2000. p 85). These connotations of the works title further demonstrate Singer’s approach to animals is influenced by the animal rights movement Like Whistlejacket, Singer’s work reflects an attitude held by the minority. And like I suggest Whistlejacket was, Singers work has been misunderstood, even by those who you would assume would understand. Bob Kerridge, Executive Director of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said in reaction to a piece by Singer, ‘I guess it’s no different to having a stuffed deer in the lounge’(Baker, 2006. p 82), when the point of Singer’s work is to challenge such use of animals. This quote can remind us that although the Animal Rights Movement has influenced many artists and our contemporary attitudes about animals, the majority of the ways in which we relate to animals (ex. pets, meat, as discussed in Chapter 3) are possible only because of the anthropocentrism that is underlying in our contemporary culture. I believe that this tension between the influence of the Animal Rights Movement and the reality of our contemporary relationship with animals is the largest underlying cultural influence in the work of Angela Singer. Without this tension, this conflict between biocentrism and anthropocentrism, this work could not have been created. The issue would not be there to talk about. I believe this tension has given rise to a whole group of art that Steve Baker refers to as botched taxidermy.
Botched Taxidermy Steve Baker, author of ‘The Postmodern Animal’, groups the work of Singer along with others, under the name of ‘botched taxidermy’. These works can be seen as the direct opposite of the ‘metaphorical silencing’ found in Mr and Mrs Andrews. He uses this term to refer to pieces of contemporary art that present the reconfigured body of animals, in an often ugly and or challenging way. These works may or may not include elements of traditional taxidermy, but the aim of these artists is opposed to the traditional aim of taxidermy (that is, to preserve the natural form of the animal, for the sole purpose of display). These works of ‘botched taxidermy’ share the quality of being about human-animal relationships. The animals of ‘botched taxidermy’ are not used as symbols and are in direct contrast to the animals of pre- 1900 painting and the ‘metaphorical silencing’ they were subject to. Baker borrows a term used by Derrida to explain his suggestion that animals of ‘botched taxidermy’ are treated in a way that presents the animal body as a ‘questioning entity’ (Derrida cited in Baker, 2000. p.73). The questioning is of issues of their animality, of human-animal relations or related issues. I would suggest that this modern approach to the use of the animal body in art (as characterised by Angela Singer’s work), is a reaction to historical attitudes of human superiority over animals, as well as the current confused and complicated relationship we have with animals in Western culture. This is important because it demonstrates that the way in which animals are used in art comes out of contemporary attitudes towards animals.
Fig 4. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. 1991. Damien Hirst. Damien Hirst is arguably one of the most successful and recognised artists of the last 50 years and his use of animals is widely known. I would argue that in contrast to Singer, Hirst’s work communicates a more anthropocentric attitude towards animals, in line with popular culture and attitudes. I have chosen to illustrate this piece of writing about Damien Hirst with an image of ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (Fig 4). The tiger shark used by Hirst was killed off the Australian coast by an Australian fisherman (www.youtube.co.uk. 2012a). The killing was commissioned by Hirst specifically for this artwork (Vogel, 2006). The fact that the animal was killed by request of Hirst for the piece is important. This puts the
work firmly in contrast to Animal Rights Movement and to Singers work. Asked about Hirst’s work, Angela Singer has said that ‘While some of his comments suggest that he likes animals, his actions show he holds the conventional view that all non-human life exists for human needs and desires’ (Aloi, 2008. p 17). This conventional view is that of the majority of the public, demonstrated in Chapter 3 by the way that we use animals. I believe Hirst is taking what he sees in popular culture, and reflecting it back to the public. The shark is presented with his mouth wide open. Hirst has said that one essential quality of the shark used in ’The Physical Impossibility…’ was that it was ‘big enough to eat you’. (www.youtube.co.uk, 2012b). In the same interview he talks of the influence the film ‘Jaws’ had on the piece. As suggested in the title, the shark is being used to ‘tap into that idea of fear of death’ (www.youtube.co.uk, 2012b). It is true that tiger sharks do attack humans, but it is not an experience that many of us have experienced directly. Hirst is relying on myths surrounding the animal, presented by films like Jaws. I feel that this approach from Hirst demonstrates a kind of metaphorical silencing, but there are differences to be found when Hirst’s work is compared to the tradition of animals as symbols (as found in Mr and Mrs Andrews). The shark is being used for the associations that his physicality can conjure up. The shark is being used to illicit a response, used for its place in popular culture. He’s an aesthetic tool. But the shark is not being used to communicate qualities of a certain human. It is not passive like the Mr Andrew’s dog. The fact that he is there in his physicality, not as a painted or drawn representation, is important. The shark as an idea may make us respond with fear; it is a villain. But this shark is submersed in a contained tank of unnatural liquid, slightly shrivelled, away from its natural habitat. One way of looking at it is that by using the actual animal body, the animal is open to more interpretation; the animal is more present,
not just physically, than Mr Andrews’s dog. We are being presented with the reality of the animal. While the use of the killed shark’s body is demonstrating the anthropocentric nature of our contemporary culture, also the use of the real body of a shark could be argued to allow for a consideration of the actual animal. As itself, not just as a symbol. Hirst and Singer are not the only contemporary artists to have used animal bodies in their work. The practice is becoming more and more commonplace,. Artists like Tessa Farmer, Polly Morgan and Marco Evarissti have used animal bodies. The practice can be seen to have its roots in the 1970’s with artists such as Hermann Nitsch and Joseph Beuys. I am interested in why the use of the animal body has become more prevalent over the last fifty years, and what this means in relation to the cultural approaches towards animals. I belief that the Animal Rights Movement has played a large role in making animals and our relationship with animals, an issue that is recognised by most people. Steve Baker would argue postmodernism has played a role in why artists now use animal bodies more than they have ever before. Steve Baker suggests that it is Postmodernism’s dislike for symbolism that has led to more literal approaches to animals in art. ‘The postmodern animal is there in the gallery not as a meaning or a symbol but in all its pressing thingness’ (Baker, 2000. p.82). Taking the symbolism attached to animals away means that we are left with the animal itself, its physicality. Baker suggests that representation is disliked by postmodernism. To draw paint or sculpt an animal is to make a representation of it. Using the actual animal body could be seen as the furthest from representation of an animal that you can get, it IS the physical animal. So it can be seen that both the animal rights movement and postmodernism have played a part in the rise of the use of animal bodies in art.
My own work My own studio work has more in common with Angela Singer’s approach to the use of animals than to Damien Hirst’s. I have been producing homemade pH paper and placing live wild snails on to it, encouraging them to move across the paper making the pH paper change colour according to their individual pH balance. I have been influenced by the animal rights movement, but I recognise that we live in a largely anthropocentric society and you cannot remove yourself entirely from the culture that has shaped you. In my work I aim to encourage a more compassionate, a less speciesist approach to animals which are considered to be pests, snails in particular. By allowing the animal to make its own mark, I am giving the snails a chance to be seen as individuals, with different slime, different paths. If I had been born one hundred years ago, I do not think I would be making the same work as I do now, because my cultural influences would be entirely different. The fact that some might say I am using the animals as ‘tools’, like objects for my own artistic ends makes me uncomfortable, but demonstrates that although we can try, it is hard to remove ourselves entirely from the anthropocentric approach to animals which has dominated history.
Conclusion My aim was to explore the relationship between art and culture through the theme of animals in art. I wanted to explore whether the cultural status of animals is always reflected in the representations of animals in art. In chapter one I found that up to the 1800â€™s, the dominant theory about animals, (as proposed by Aquinas, Kant and Descartes), was that they are separate and inferior to humans. The beliefs about animals allowed people to use them for their own purposes without guilt. In chapter two I related these cultural attitudes about animals to the representations of animals in art. I found that the tradition of using animals as symbols to describe something about the human in the image, â€˜metaphorical silencingâ€™, as found in Mr and Mrs Andrews, has its roots in the cultural attitudes of the time. Whistlejacket is a painting that seems to contradict these dominant cultural attitudes about animals. Whereas, the common use of ivory as raw material in these times is clearly related to the cultural attitudes towards animals. In chapter three I discussed more contemporary theories about animals, specifically, I discussed the theories of the animal rights movement. I suggested that although this new more biocentic approach to animals has been influential in contemporary culture, anthropocentric beliefs still hold strong. I used the pet and meat industries as examples of this underlying anthropocentrism. In chapter three I suggested the tension between the influence of the animal rights movement and the underlying anthropocentrism in our culture has been influential to a number of artists talking about the plight of animals. My example was the work of Angela
Singer. Without this tension, I argue that work like this could not have been made. Therefore culture is influential in the representations of animals in art. In conclusion, there is always a direct relationship between the cultural beliefs about animals and the way they are represented in art. This is clear in the use of the dog in Mr and Mrs Andrews and in the example of ivory. Whistlejacket, although it seems to contradict the widely held beliefs about animals in the 1700â€™s when it was painted, is still a product of these beliefs in that it is a reaction to them. It is challenging accepted theoretical approaches to animals. I believe work that challenges the dominant cultural theories about animals of the time has become more common since the Animal Rights Movement made the treatment of animals an academic issue. I believe that I have demonstrated that the representation of animals in art has developed in line with our cultural attitudes towards animals. We cannot exist in isolation from the culture that we grow up in; it shapes us, our beliefs, and our attitudes. Artists cannot exist outside of culture either. Art needs to relate to and have a relationship with contemporary culture to be relevant, to communicate. I have found that, art that uses animals, as representations or as themselves, can teach us about the cultural ideas from a particular point in history. Cultural attitudes from a particular time can shed light on why animals in art were represented in a certain way. There is a direct relationship between the way animals are represented in art and the particular culture that the art came out of
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