This answer about elephants painting was written by Wendi Tibbets on Quora. Though I’ve never heard of it, it opened my eyes to an ongoing cruelty to one of our most vulnerable animals.
This is the most depressing painting I have ever seen:
It isn’t the fact that the lines are simplistic and childlike, or that this painting, and others like it, are selling from anywhere between $250–5,000 in online galleries and auctions.
It isn’t because the painting isn’t very good or even yet, that art collectors the world over are lending rave reviews online; the reviews adding to the artist’s popularity, and making people want to seek out their work, ensuring it will be a very long time before this artist can even contemplate a rest, or phase out into an easy retirement.
This artist is set for life!
Such is the demand for their art.
So, why then, is this painting so depressing to me?
This painting is depressing because it was painted by an elephant!
Suda, the artist, resides in the Maetaeng Elephant Park in Northern Thailand. Suda lives there, along with other Asian elephants, who spend their long days painting, in order to entertain the many visitors to the park.
These tourists buy the paintings created by the majestic creatures, innocently believing they are helping support a good cause.
What they don’t realize is, these elephants have been painstakingly trained, and tortured, in order for them to learn the basic brushstrokes to create these “masterpieces” they are paying top dollar for, just to hang on their walls.
The elephants have been taught to recreate the same paintings over and over and over again.
The same basic shapes on every canvas!
The mahouts stand very close to the elephants, with bullhooks at the ready, and give them cues as to where the brushstrokes belong.
In actuality, it is the mahouts who are painting these works, by proxy!
The tourists don’t know this is a trick.
What the tourists see when they visit Suda’s park (and others like it) is an elephant with a paintbrush and canvas, enjoying the afternoon sunshine, while painting a relaxing self-portrait and using its creativity of its own volition.
These elephants are not being creative.
Elephants do not like to paint!
They like taking mudbaths to soothe their sunburned skin.
They like to squirt each other while taking a dip in the pond.
They like socializing and frolicking with their friends.
They like exploring, and pulling leaves, touching each other with their delicate trunks, and verbalizing with their unique, trumpeting songs.
They like to play.
Elephants like bananas!
Oh, sweet, delicious bananas!
And they know they will get a reward, maybe a banana, if they do their “circus tricks” for the crowd.
Just like any captive creature that humankind has dominated, imprisoned and exploited for financial gain; an elephant knows that to complete a trick will bring about a reward.
What a rip-off!
Elephants that paint, stand under the glare of the hot sun all day. They get painful sunburns without the benefit of a mudbath to protect them.
Tourists don’t like dirty elephants.
They slave for us humans. We ride on their painful, sunburned backs.
They are constantly bullhooked by cruel mahouts if they don’t mind.
Their delicate ears show the scars from a hundred “corrections” used in training a single proper brushstroke.
When I look upon Suda’s painting, I do not see the brilliant work of a clever, “artistic” elephant, but a tortured, imprisoned soul.
I see elephant tears.