Thursday, January 15, 2009


II : Ars Artis

My praise for Congo's paintings goes beyond any subjective opinion founded upon my own preferences and biases, real though that is and they are. So let me state this even more brazenly: Congo's paintings are objectively superior.

The historical arguments against other animals (than ourselves) having the capacity for true artistic expression are typically spurious religious or pseudoreligious claims of our singular 'moral' capabilities, our human 'souls', our superior 'intelligence', our unique 'consciousness', our special this, our special that. Special bullshit. The thing is, these prejudices regarding whom or what is capable of high art go beyond animals: African or Oceanian art, for example, still attracts epithets such as 'primitive' and 'ethnic'; equally, all sorts of other groups considered to be 'different'. Genre descriptors such as 'art brut', 'outsider art', 'world music' and so on, say far more about our narrow terms of reference than our aesthetic appreciation.
Until the late 19th century, for the same specious justifications already cited, women artists were almost wholly overlooked by the art establishment. American painter Mary Cassatt, even now scandalously unacknowledged in many contemporary art history books, was - in the early 1900s and despite considerable resistance - one of the first female artists recognised.

That said, for me to claim that Congo's paintings are objectively superior to much human art is still a bold, some would say preposterous, paradigm shift. So before attempting an explanation, enjoy a good look at the great master at work.

continue to part 3


sm88 said...

So glad you decided to talk about this. I recently watched 'Koko - A Talking Gorilla', which touches somewhat briefly on the debate over whether or not humans should teach animals to express themselves through art, sound or sign language. I for one do not see it as exploitation, at least not if it's done right. It's not so different in many ways from teaching a child to speak or draw. On a somewhat related note, what do you think of the music of the Thai Elephant Orchestra?

Shonx said...

Interesting stuff William, enjoyed the recent articles on animal intelligence too. Always food for thought here, much appreciated.

William Bennett said...

according to fashionista Karl Lagerfeld, 'the only difference between man and monkey (sic) is fashion' - so let's blow that nonsense out of the water while we're at it:

(thanks to Jen for that fantastic link)