Elephants are known for their intelligence and might be one of the most creative animals on Earth.
But have you ever heard of paintings done by elephants?
These amazing pieces of art are created by elephants using paintbrushes, canvas boards, easels, and painting knives.
Some question whether these paintings are really art or just a result of an animal that’s been trained to do so.
This article will discuss if elephants like to paint or are forced to do so; what makes a painting done by an elephant “art”; the reasons behind buying elephant paintings and where can you find such original paintings.
Do Elephants Like Painting?
At first, this may seem like a silly question. But there are those who believe that elephants would not voluntarily paint if they were not forced to or had their painting utensils taken away from them due to being trained in the art of painting during captivity when they’re young.
But do these claims have any truth?
The work done by organizations like the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) in Lampang, Thailand, which is a government institution primarily focused on the care and well-being of Thailand’s elephants, proves that these animals do like painting, and they take it into their advantage to raise awareness about Asian elephants and the problems facing these days.
Get to know more about the work done by TECC here, a Thai organization really focused on elephant conservation science and on the care and well-being of Thailand’s elephants, thousands living on their private grounds. They operate an onsite hospital and Thailand’s first mobile clinic which treats sick and injured elephants free of charge.
After being in contact with their collaborators for decades already, they say that these animals “love being creative and enjoy the process of painting”
Furthermore, they are not forced to do so but rather enjoy it! They have their own style of art which is different from any other type of painting done by any animal or human that you might have seen already. It is not only paintings but also sculptures, temple decorations, and other types of artwork.
Thai elephant painting tradition is famous internationally.
“Elephants love being creative,” said TECC’s collaborators after decades in daily contact with them.
Is Elephant Painting Cruel?
Is it cruel to force an animal that is not a painter by nature, with painting utensils and canvases?
Some argue that this may be the case for elephants. They claim that elephant paintings are mere representations of what one can find in zoos or even circuses.
Moreover, they say these animals have been trained to grab the paintbrush and start painting and not being clear whether they might like it or not.
However, it is also true that there could be some places around the world that are only worried about touristic incomes and don’t treat elephants as they should be. It could happen that in certain situations and places elephant painting is done by enforcement, and you should be really careful when buying paintings from such organizations.
Reasons Behind Promoting Elephant Painting
The practice of letting elephants paint was actually originated in the United States, as a way to stimulate their cognitive skills. Some experts claim that those painting skills require cognitive abilities beyond what most animals possess.
Awareness for an Endangered Species and Raising Funds for Elephant Parks
“It’s often a shock for people when they find out that Asian elephants are an endangered species, but sadly this is a fact. If something isn’t done to halt the rapid decline in numbers, it is likely that within the next 50 years, this amazing creature will be gone forever,” said Issarapom Kaewthanasawad, Director of The Elephant Art Gallery (TEAG).
The reason why these elephants are painting these pictures is to raise money for their Elephant Hospital which they have at Maetaeng Elephant Park. They treat not only their own elephants but all the elephants in the area. There are almost three hundred elephants in the area and everyone of them is treated free of charge.
The Process of Creating a Painting by an Elephant
It is a lot more difficult than one might think.
For many people, it’s not easy to admit that elephants are artists. But for anyone familiar with these majestic creatures, there is no doubt that they possess a strong artistic flair!
First and foremost, smart-but-often-overlooked animals like elephants have the ability to paint paintings. They don’t do so all by
Elephants learn by copying the motions of their mahouts. If they apply a good stroke, they’re generally rewarded with bananas for example.
While the elephants are painting, they don’t just wave their trunks around in the air, splashing paint onto the paper in a ‘hit and miss’ fashion. On the contrary, they clearly have the spatial awareness to carefully apply the strokes within the confines of the paper, rarely going over the edges except, one can assume, as an artistic gesture.
“Elephant art is an original painting that is created by an elephant of its own volition, unaided in the creative process by humans. The ‘unaided’ part is the key to what makes one painting a work of art (and truly amazing) and another painting a poor imitation (and at worst simply a hoax).
No two paintings are the same and like all abstract art, none depict recognizable objects or images. This is elephant art at its purest. This is real art.”Said Kaewthanasawad, a collaborator in the Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Each elephant painting can be considered a unique and original piece of art.
Where Can You See Paintings Done by Elephants?
There are a number of elephants painting for us to enjoy, including works done by elephants which are actually famous worldwide.
You can find such elephants paintings at some specifics Zoos over America as for example in the Indianapolis Zoo, but such practice is most common in Southeast Asia, namely in Thailand. If you don’t have the pleasure of watching it live, then get to know some of the most famous painting elephants artists:
Famous Elephant “artists” worldwide:
- Srim-Siam, Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC)
- Jojo, a 9000-pound elephant with a knack for painting art, TECC
- Suda, Maetaeng Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Tombi, an African elephant, one of eight that participate in the animal art program of the Indianapolis Zoo
- Lucky, one of six female African elephants artists at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
“Jojo stands in front of the canvas and stares, waiting for the spark of inspiration to guide the paintbrush. The 20-year-old is one of the most talented of his peers, producing critically acclaimed works, which have fetched thousands of dollars…What makes the young artist unique, other than his distinctive paintings, is that he paints with a trunk…”The Culturist
Can You Buy a Painting Done by an Elephant?
If you are really interested in buying an elephant painting and aren’t able to get it directly from where they are originally painted, there are some websites selling them, including marketplaces like Etsy, but we always prefer to get them directly through the original institutions that promote this activity, helping them raising awareness and funding their own conservation projects.
How to know that it’s an original painting done by an elephant? And are you buying from a trusted seller or organization that takes good care of their elephants and doesn’t just force them for tourist activities like in many places?
With our environmental and sustainable consciousness and awareness, we’ve researched and identified some places where you can order art originally done by elephants that can be trusted, namely:
- The Elephant Art Gallery
- The Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic
- Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project
There are many great places on the internet where people can buy paintings done by elephants, and we would recommend that anyone interested in buying one of these works does through one of the websites above, or through an organization they can trust and know all the work which is behind the conservation of this endagereead species.
How Much is an Elephant Painting Worth?
You will find original elephant paintings ranging from $300 to around $600, depending on the painting itself, the elephant that painted, or from which organization you buy it from.