The Amazing Science of Art

Jared Diamond, a reputed scientist and a famous author, narrates the following amazing story about an artist:Georgia O’Keeffe, an America modern artist, had difficulty in gaining recognition with her drawings. However, when she exhibited the drawings of another artist by name Siri, it brought her acclaim among knowledgeable artists. When these drawings were shown to a famous abstract-expressionist painter, he remarked: They(the paintings) had a kind of flair and decisiveness and originality. Another authority on abstract-expressionism was even more effusive:These drawings are very lyrical, beautiful….affirmative…energy is so compact and controlled…it’s just incredible.This drawing indicates a grasp of the essential mark that makes the emotion. When asked who the artists could be, he said it could be someone with interest in Asian calligraphy.

Readers, Can you guess who this Siri was? Surprise of surprises, Siri was 8 ft tall and weighed 4 tons. It was an Asian elephant! Here is a typical drawing of Siri.


Nowadays, it’s not uncommon in the west to see paintings of elephants hanging in the offices of lawyers and doctors.

Art is not just limited to elephants. Even Chimps are known to produce art. In 1957 two chimps – Congo and Betsy – were honoured at London institute of Contemporary art for their exhibits. What is more, almost all paintings on exhibit were bought. Several human artists cannot boast of such a distinction! On another occasion, human artists surreptitiously included ape paintings along with other exhibits and these were acclaimed by unsuspecting critics.

In the same book Diamond further describes how bower birds build very elaborate structures known as bowers and decorate them too. The structures are as big as 8feet in diameter and 4 feet high and the decorations consist of several natural objects of various colours like flowers, fruits etc. Biologists who studied Bower birds discovered that the bowers are functional. They are built by male birds for the sole purpose of seducing females. The females then take the responsibility of putting up the nest and rearing the young. Apparently, bower building comprehensively tests the quality of genes of the male. She knows that a male who builds such a complex structure ought to be strong and dexterous. See below a typical picture of a bower:




Science proves that art is not something unique or exclusive to humans. Human art has animal origins. Our ego prevents us from seeing beauty and talent in animal species. We are too obsessed with our own achievements to see beauty in nature. Scientific work with animals by anthropologists and biologists is bringing to light their innate abilities like drawing, music and language which are traditionally considered as unique human attributes. Surely, these scientific observations are humbling.

In the next post, I’ll write on animal origins of language.

Published on February 6, 2016 at 8:28 pm  Comments Off on The Amazing Science of Art  
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