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Writer See, Writer Do

By Lavender November 6, 2008

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It has long been known that if you lock a chimpanzee in a room with a typewriter, he will eventually write something. This has been documented in dozens of animal research projects.

The result of every one of these studies? That’s right, actor Jim Carrey gets yet another movie script.

Anyway, researchers have looked at this chimpanzee/typewriter thing, and said, “OK, so chimpanzees contribute heavily to the American entertainment industry in a writing capacity, and it’s just a matter of time before they want to direct. But can a 600-pound gorilla create a piece of artwork with watercolors?”

In this day of remarkable new insight into the animal kingdom, the answer may startle you: Yes, he can. The only real problem is finding someone to shovel out the studio when the artist is done.

These findings, more or less, come from psychologist Dr. Zeller of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The study began 19 years ago on Borneo, Zeller told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Zeller said she was writing on a note pad, and was interrupted by a female orangutan that “put one arm around my shoulder, picked up the pen with her other hand, and drew pictures on my letter.”

What, then, is the difference between an artist from the primate world and a human artist? Well, mainly, the monkeys live in larger apartments, and are assured of having three meals a day and medical coverage.

Since that day on Borneo, Zeller has made remarkable findings in the area of monkey art. According to Zeller—and I am not kidding about this—gorillas made short, intense strokes with their fingers or with brushes. Their biggest problem seemed to be eating the smock.

Chimps, we are told, tended to blend colors, and make broader strokes. And a few of them didn’t even laugh out loud at modern art.

Orangutans, Zeller said, seemed to be the most sophisticated. Their works were full of complex shapes, and they were better at staying within the boundaries of their paintings. As a bonus, when you point your finger at them, and say “Bang!” they seem to enjoy falling down as if they were dead.

Comparing monkey art with the art of children has also occupied much of Zeller’s time. In general, apes favored blues and reds having something to do with ovulating female monkey butts, while children tended to choose green and yellow having something to do with crayon availability.

Alas, while the monkeys often made drawings depicting peaceful nature scenes, the children almost always went with crude paintings of Mommy and Daddy fighting over their children’s Halloween candy—although that might just be my brother’s kids.

Zeller said that not only did ape artists recognize the subjects of their own paintings, they also recognized the subjects of other apes’ paintings. In other words, each ape had a unique style.

One chimp, for example, painted in fine, slashing strokes that could, under the proper lighting conditions, appear to form the shapes of human beings, in a vague sort of way. (Excuse me—I may be confusing the monkey with that Picasso person.)

At the center of the study, according to the story, is whether “the apes begin their works specifically intending to paint something, or whether they simply move the brush or their fingers on the paper.”

Here you might be wondering if the same general question might be asked about my columns—or at least this one. To which I would respond by bouncing this banana off your forehead, and furiously scratching myself.

In what is perhaps the greatest finding, Zeller said the chimps seem to know when their work is done. “They seem to stop,” Zeller said. “You can offer them more paper, but they indicate, ‘No, I’m done.’”

So, go ahead—laugh if you’d like at the idea of monkeys producing art.

Consider the source here, but at least the animals are smart enough to know when a project should end, unlike some lower forms of life who never seem to understand when enough is enough, forcing someone to come into their space, grab the electrical cord of their computer, and unplug it, yanking it clear out of the….

Again, consider the source.

Bye for now.
Kiss, kiss

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