It all started as a joke in the 90s when an elephant expert by the name of Richard Lair decided to team up with conceptual artists with plans to launch the first elephant art academy. The idea was to find retired elephants and teach them to paint. It was not a brand new idea, others had successfully taught elephants to paint in the past so they were quite confident they could pull it off. The project aimed to raise money and awareness for Asian elephants whose numbers are dwindling every year.
This is how the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project was launched based out of New York City founded by Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid along with Lair. And the results have been quite amazing, creating an appetite for elephant art all across the world. Some paintings have even been auctioned off at Christie’s. Ruby, a particularly talented female elephant from the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona saw one of her paintings sold for over $25,000.
Some paintings do resemble everyday items or objects, mainly flowers and other plant life. This may be because the team does occasionally help them by providing start lines for painting onto the canvas. The elephants though are very capable of holding their paintbrush with their trunk and letting their creativity flow. Many of the paintings without any guidelines would be described as very abstract. Many art critics state that they would compare elephant painting to pieces by the abstract expression artists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
Other critics have debated that they are simply random shapes and colors – but I mean that argument could be used against most art no? Much like any form of creative art, it comes down to the matter of taste. This is the same when you listen to Elephant music – yes, someone did go and make giant instruments for them to play.
Thailand, for example, has a whole elephant orchestra where they follow the conductor, who tells them when to start and when to stop playing. Some people are mesmerized by the elephant music, others say it is just random noises and very annoying.