Friday, 18 May 2012

Wildlife Art Is Not “Art”.

For many years I made wildlife art, or more to the point, I made watercolour paintings, drawings and original prints of mainly songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey. It was a decision that I came to easily as I am a bit of a naturalist, and an ardent bird watcher. However, all through this period of my art career I found myself, at times, almost apologetic for doing so.

We’d get together, other wildlife artists and myself, and talk throughout the night about our experiences, and about art. Most often the conversation would end with our debating the subject of wildlife art and the fact that, if it was the art of the people drawing larger crowds than almost every other art form, why then was it excluded from exhibition in our provincial and national galleries? I more often, than not, played devil’s advocate. Having friends and acquaintances that had studied, and now practiced, so called “fine art “, I thought that I knew the reason. A hard pill to swallow my wildlife artist friends refused to buy in to my reasoning, and our discussions usually ended on a bit of a sour note.

In 1990 my reasoning behind the refusal of provincial and national galleries to exhibit wildlife art was published in Wildlife Art News an American publication, and pretty much the voice for wildlife art back in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ll quote a bit of the article and you can decide whether my reasoning has validity: -

Wildlife Art: What Place In Our Society?

“……Traditional art galleries are museums, nothing more, nothing less, devoted to preserving man’s history through art. Dominated by Judeo-Christian beliefs, the traditional gallery holds that as animals have no souls they have no place in man’s history unless depicted domesticated, dominated, or dead.

Understanding that what we call “art galleries” are really nothing more than museums devoted to the humanities, we can then begin to accept that wildlife art in its purest form does not belong in the traditional art gallery.

The fact that wildlife art (except sporting art) has no place in the so-called traditional art gallery is no slight to the talent producing wildlife art. Wildlife art belongs not in museums that celebrate the destruction of nature, but rather in our natural history museums which promote and celebrate our natural heritage……….”

It is a hard pill for some wildlife artists to swallow, the fact that their art, no matter how good will never be exhibited, nor sought after to be archived, in our National galleries. But then, when all is said and done, who really cares? I personally have just been happy to have had the opportunity to work for many years at becoming an artist, and consider the time well spent.

From time to time I'd attempt to include some bits of human history in my paintings. Perhaps, it was my way of  attempting to gain acceptance of my art from a broader audience, my "fine art" friends. It never really worked. Here, I've depicted Borrowing Owls standing atop their burrow, an abandoned Prairie Dog burrow, with Anasazi pottery shells scattered. The watercolour painting is huge and the owls are life size. I still have it to enjoy.

We were, and continue to be, quite taken by the history of the Anasazi people who at one time populated much of New Mexico, then rather abruptly, some 1,200 years ago, simply disappeared, or  more probably were assimilated, by the Hopi and Navajo Indians. Here, in another oversize watercolour painting I've depicted a Broad-tailed Hummingbird feeding from Paintbrush, with Anasazi petroglyphs in the background.

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