Do elephants like to Paint? Are they trained?
Elephants in Thailand have been engaging in the creative activity of painting since 1998, when Richard Lair invited the renowned conceptual art partnership of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid to teach selected elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. While painting elephants had been observed in over 20 zoos worldwide, this initiative brought the practice to Thailand, gaining significant media attention.
The Elephant Art Gallery, which was established over 20 years ago in the year 2000, initially began with only two painting elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservatory Center (TECC): Wanalee and Jojo. However, today there are more than 14 elephant artists at the center, all of whom thoroughly enjoy painting.
Although elephants are highly intelligent and possess a natural inclination for creativity, painting on an easel with a paintbrush held by their trunks is not an activity observed in their wild habitats. As a result, all aspiring elephant artists must attend a training program to learn the art of painting.
Within a single day, it becomes apparent whether an elephant exhibits genuine interest and any artistic aptitude for painting. The mahouts, who have gained extensive experience in the field of elephant painting, handle the teaching process themselves. The training period usually lasts up to a week for the most promising students, ensuring they are adequately prepared before being recognized as artists.
"Within a single day, it becomes apparent whether an elephant exhibits genuine interest and any artistic aptitude for painting."
The training curriculum involves instructing the elephants on how to hold a paintbrush. While some elephants instinctively curl their trunks around the brush, the preferred method at the center is to hold the brush at the "nostril" end of the trunk. This technique allows for greater range of movement and more precise brushstrokes. The brushes used are modified to be of suitable length and thickness, ensuring ease of grip and eliminating any discomfort for the elephants.
Once they have become acquainted with holding the paintbrush, the elephants are introduced to the easel and taught the appropriate distance at which to stand, enabling them to comfortably extend their trunks for painting. Under the guidance of the mahouts (only during training), the elephants are then encouraged to apply the brush to the paper. While some artists adapt to this process more quickly than others, all of them require time and support to learn how to apply paint within the boundaries of the paper and develop a brushstroke style that suits them.
It is important to note that there is no necessity to coerce elephants into learning how to paint. If an elephant does not appear to enjoy the activity, alternative activities are introduced to ensure their well-being and happiness.
During the training process, each artist's natural and instinctive style begins to emerge. Similar to human artists, no two elephant artists possess the same artistic style, and their skills continue to evolve and mature over time. The focus at The Elephant Art Gallery remains on abstract paintings created by the elephants themselves, avoiding the training of stylized or recognizable images that are currently popular. By allowing the elephants to express their natural talents and preferences, the gallery has discovered an activity that genuinely brings joy to these magnificent creatures.
If you are considering purchasing a painting from the Elephant Art Gallery, it is important to be aware of the following:
- The gallery does not engage in reselling; every single painting is directly created by the elephants.
- All artworks are genuine and original, painted by the elephants using their own volition.
- High-quality art paper and acrylic paint are utilized for each painting, with handmade paper reserved for Special Portfolio and Gallery paintings.
- The price of each artwork includes free shipping via UPS or USPS to addresses within the United States. A shipping fee of $35 is applicable for all other addresses.
- Each artwork bears the official stamp of the TECC, ensuring its authenticity, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity.
- To provide a more personal touch, a printed profile featuring a photo of the elephant artist and the mahout is included with every painting.
By supporting the Elephant Art Gallery, you not only acquire a unique and meaningful piece of art but also contribute to the well-being and enrichment of these remarkable elephants.
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