Zoo Visit or Art Museum Visit? How To Tell the Difference: a blog about art and zoo.
The ancient Egyptians were great patrons of the arts, and one of their most popular forms was animal art. The animal art they created has been admired and copied ever since, but it is interesting to consider how much of this art was meant as serious, even sacred, work, and how much was essentially jokes. The distinction between these two is not always easy to make, because the Egyptian sense of humor is hard for us to understand at times. It appears that some of their animal sculptures were originally intended either as “sacred” works or “jokes,” depending on how you see them. (In addition to the animal art in temples, there were also at least a few pharaonic tombs with animal sarcophagi.)
This distinction is perfectly clear in a piece of dog statuary called the Shabaab stone. This small piece is carved from red granite and shows a crouching dog whose front paws are resting on an ibis’ head. At first glance it may appear that the dog’s paws are resting on an ibis’ head because the statue has been broken: the ibis’ beak has been chipped off by time or some
“The progression of an artist’s style. This can be a little difficult to explain, but take Van Gogh for example. He started off painting simple landscapes, to then painting still lifes, to then painting portraits and other objects, to then painting sunflowers. Each piece has a unique style that shows the progression of his artistic development.”
“The representation in any medium of animals, especially mammals, other than humans.”
“Van Gogh’s art is good for a zoo but not for a museum.”
You could find many variations on these definitions and some would be better than others but they are all pretty close to each other. The debate arises when we try to apply these terms to works of art that fall in between these two categories and what is considered “zoo worthy” or not seems to change with time and place depending on the culture or group you are with at the moment.
Art has a well-deserved reputation for being difficult to understand. Some art is very clear, some is not.
Zoos are famous for being fun and enjoyable. But many zoos are also criticized for being bad places to learn about animals. They seem to be popular despite being bad, not because they are good.
I think the criticism of zoos is unfair, and I think that some of the people who criticize them are confusing them with art museums. So maybe we should consider an alternative hypothesis: that what makes a zoo good isn’t the view that animals should have as much freedom as possible but the fact that its exhibits are designed to communicate information clearly and effectively.
The way to evaluate an exhibit at a zoo is not by how natural it feels or how much freedom it gives its animals. The way to evaluate it is by how much information it communicates about the animals in it and about the natural world in general.”
A zoo is not an art museum. The two institutions have quite different aims and serve different purposes. This seems obvious, but it isn’t to everyone. I’ve been to three separate weddings where a friend has gotten married in a modern art museum.
The wedding ceremony was in fact held at the exhibit entitled “Display Window for a Hanged Man,” by the Estonian artist Kaupo Kikkas, and featured a video of the artist hanged tragically in a public square in Tallinn, Estonia. The reception featured appetizers of seared foie gras on toast points and chilled vichyssoise in shot glasses.
To my mind this sort of thing is inappropriate at a wedding (though I was the only one who noticed). But it’s worse than that: it’s not just inappropriate, it’s wrong. A wedding is not an art museum; it is an event with rituals designed for its own internal purposes.
The same goes for funerals, incidentally. They’re not art museums either.
When people ask me if I would visit the zoo or head over to the art museum, I answer them with another question. They usually respond with silence or an annoyed look on their faces. But then I explain that I am not being disrespectful. Instead, I am just trying to learn more about them and their interests so that I can better serve as a guide.
I believe in the power of questions because questions help us to connect with others in new and different ways. They make us pause and try to understand why someone has asked us a question. They also make us reflect on our own lives and on our own beliefs, values, and judgments.
The zoo-or-museum question is a great place to start when you are interested in learning more about your friends, family members, coworkers, or community members. Why do they love the zoo? Is it because they love animals so much or is it because they love family time? What about for those who love museums? Are they art lovers? Or are they passionate about education?
In my experience most people will answer the question with reference to something outside themselves—the animals or the art—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t revealing something important about themselves. In fact, when they respond to this seemingly
It’s still an open question whether money can buy happiness, but even if it can’t, it is a fact that art will not make you happy. Art is valuable because it has no purpose; that’s what makes it free. It has no other use than to be art, and so when it fails at that, it fails as art.
Trying to assess whether something is good or bad art is fruitless; the main value of art is precisely in its resistance to such judgments. It’s better to ask what kind of art it is.
If you go to a zoo and see an animal that you have never seen before, are you happy? No? Then the zoo isn’t really doing its job. Zoos exist because most people would like to see more than one type of animal per lifetime. But if we want to see new animals, why would we prefer the zoo? Because an animal in a zoo is like an artist in a gallery: caged and safe, beautiful and calm. If we want to see wild animals (or artists), then zoos aren’t much help.
The problem isn’t that they think art is a waste of money. The problem is that they can’t tell what’s art and what isn’t.
Art doesn’t have to be new. It just has to be done in the way that art has traditionally been done. When you make something new, one of the first problems you face is: does it have any artistic value? It’s not like science, where if you do an experiment and get a result, there’s no question whether it counts as a success or failure – either it confirms the hypothesis or it doesn’t. Art is different; sometimes an artist will do something new, and it will be called a failure, even though everyone knows it was really successful.
The question “is this art?” can only be answered by looking at the thing itself. So how do people learn to look at things in this way? By going to places where they can see things that were made to be considered art – like museums – and not being distracted by things that aren’t intended as art – like animals.