If you’ve visited my website, you already know the pleasure I find in the visual arts. I don’t pretend to be very knowledgable about them. I did grow up in a family where beauty and the arts were valued. And I am lucky to have several friends who share their skill and insights on the formal and contextual interpretation of art. My own interest has settled on depictions of animals, landscapes and nudes, especially their implications for how we experience people, animals and nature. Yet it is the art of animals that fascinates me most.
A funny story. A couple of years ago I was at a conference at Oxford University. I spent some of my free time at the Ashmolean Museum. The ‘Ash’ is a venerable institution, the oldest public museum in England, and an artistic repository of Empire. Parts of the museum are like walking through a garden shop, it being so full of a hodge-podge of objects looted from across the world. While walking about, I noticed a stunning array of animal art, much of it from a time of exploration when traditional creation stories about the animal order were being challenged by the natural histories and geographical expeditions of the time. I tried to talk to one of the curators about this. She smiled indulgently and intoned, ‘We don’t do animal art. That is for children’. Hmm…. You can visit the Ashmolean at www.ashmol.ox.ac.uk.
In contrast, Gregory Colbert does animal art, and I think you’ll find his ‘Ashes and Snow’ exhibit remarkable. In an NPR story, Margot Adler provides an extraordinarily sensitive review. Adler alludes to the spiritual, sensorial and even sensual aspects of the exhibit. Her interviews draw forth a wide set of reactions to animals — respect for non-human others; sadness at the loss of biodiversity; the possibility of peacably dwelling with wild beings. I came to a fuller awareness about our ethical responsibilities to others because of the attentions of a feral cat, and Adler’s story struck a resonant cord in me. It may with you. For Adler’s narrative and a gallery of images, please visit www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4651380. For the exhibit website, www.ashesandsnow.org.