Ar(rrrrrrrgh)t

Mary
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Every time scientists try to pin human uniqueness on a particular behavior, they turn out to be wrong. We have culture; so do orangutans. We give ourselves names; so do dolphins. We're altruistic, empathetic, kind; so are chimpanzees, when they're not throwing feces at each other. So although I'm really excited about the Modigliani-ish 27,000-year-old sketch of a face that's been found in a French cave, the following paragraph drove me bonkers:

The only reason we can be sure the people who painted in caves during the Ice Age were as human as we are - that is, they used their brains in the same way we do - is that they made art. No other animal makes art.

I could go on and on about what's fishy with that first sentence (Mangesh took a bio-anthro class with me once; he surely knows better than to get me started on how we interpret and misinterpret bones and stones as evidence of behavior), but I want to focus on the second, which is a commonplace that's not necessarily the truth. "No other animal makes art?" What about the auction last summer that netted $25,620 for a couple of works by a chimp (and $0 for a Renoir and a Warhol, neither of which sold)? Or these abstract works made by elephants, which you can purchase for a lot less because they're so common? Or the picture above, named "Stink Gorilla More" -- which apparently in gorilla sign language means "large bouquet," since that's what the gorilla was drawing, and the "stink" sign was the gorilla's word for flower? You can argue about whether these constitute "art" (and people do), but don't ignore the fact that there's an argument, or you will make me a little crazy.  

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June 14, 2006 - 5:13am
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