Animal-made art

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Capuchin monkey Pockets Warhol creating an artwork

Animal-made art consists of works by animals, that have been considered by humans to be artistic, including visual works, music, photography, and videography. Some of these are created naturally by animals, often as courtship displays, while others are created with human involvement.

There have been debates about the copyright status of these works, with the United States Copyright Office stating in 2014 that works created by animals cannot be copyrighted.



Lolo the donkey ("Joachim-Raphaël Boronali") painting in front of witnesses

A painting partially made by Lolo the donkey, Et le soleil s'endormit sur l'Adriatique [fr] (Sunset Over the Adriatic) was exhibited at the 1910 Salon des Indépendants attributed to the 'excessivist' Genoan painter Joachim-Raphaël Boronali, an invention of writer and critic Roland Dorgelès, who painted much of the painting. It sold for 400 francs and was donated by Dorgelès to the Orphelinat des Arts.[1] The painting forms part of the permanent collection at l'Espace culturel Paul Bédu (Milly-la-Forêt).


Painting by Congo the chimpanzee

During the late 1950s biologists began to study the nature of art in humans. Theories were proposed based on observations of non-human primate paintings. Hundreds of such paintings were cataloged by Desmond Morris. Morris[2] and his associate Tyler Harris interpreted these canvas paintings as indications of an intrinsic motivation toward abstract creativity, as expressed through an exploration of the visual field and color. Many of these painters progressed over time by expanding or contracting the area of paint coverage, the horizontal or vertical stroke relationships, and even the development of content. Such paintings were exhibited in many modern art museums during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cultural and scientific interest in these paintings diminished steadily and little note is taken today.

The most successful chimpanzee artist is Congo (1954–1964). Morris offered him a pencil and paper at two years of age, and by the age of four, Congo had made 400 drawings and paintings. His style has been described as "lyrical abstract impressionism".[3] Media reaction to Congo's painting abilities were mixed, although relatively positive and accepted with interest. Pablo Picasso was reportedly a "fan" of his paintings, and hung one in his studio after receiving it as a gift.[3][4] In 2005 Congo's paintings were included in an auction at Bonhams alongside works by Renoir and Warhol. They sold for more than expected, while Renoir's and Warhol's did not sell. American collector Howard Hong purchased three of Congo's works for over US$25,000.[4][5][6]

A more recent example is Pockets Warhol, a capuchin monkey from the Story Book Farm Primate sanctuary, who has been painting since 2011.[7]


A trained elephant painting in Chiang Mai

Elephants in captivity have been trained to paint as a form of zoo environment and behavioral enrichment. An example of this is seen at Melbourne Zoo.[8] However, research published in 2014 indicated that elephants gain little enrichment from the activity of painting apart from the positive reinforcement given by zookeepers during the activity. The scientists concluded that the "benefits of this activity appear to be limited to the aesthetic appeal of these paintings to the people viewing them". The elephants draw the same painting each time and have learned to draw it line-for-line.[9] It has been alleged that cruelty is involved in some tourist destinations where elephants are trained to paint.[10]


In some dolphin shows, educated dolphins[11][12][13] and beluga whales[14] paint with brushes. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has taught several of its dolphins to paint.[15]


Bini the Bunny (born 2012) is a Holland lop rabbit who paints abstract art on small canvases, holding a brush in his mouth. His paintings are featured on a YouTube channel.[16]

Penguin (2019), painting by Pigcasso


Pigcasso (2016–2024) was a South African pig who gained international notoriety for her abstract expressionist paintings, which have sold for thousands of dollars around the world.[17] Pigcasso was rescued from an industrial hog farm as a piglet by her owner, Joanne Lefson, who taught her to paint using positive reinforcement techniques. Lefson used the proceeds of the sales of Pigcasso's paintings to raise funds for her farm sanctuary in Franschhoek, South Africa.

Each of Pigcasso's works was signed by means of the artist dipping her nose-tip into beetroot ink and touching it onto the canvas.

Pigcasso and Lefson are the first non-human/human collaboration to have held an art exhibition together, which took place at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town in 2018.[18][19] Pigcasso's most expensive work sold in December 2021 for US$27,000, making it the most expensive animal-made art piece ever to have been sold at the time.[20][21][22]

Other animals[edit]

A spokeswoman for the United States Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008 said that painting animals at zoos in the US included kangaroos, ocelots, red pandas, a rhinoceros and a Komodo dragon.[23]

Photography and videography[edit]

Accidental self-portrait by an elephant with a GoPro camera in Koh Phangan, Thailand[24]

Crested macaques[edit]

In mid-2014, equipment owned by nature photographer David Slater was used by a Celebes crested macaque in Tangkoko Nature Reserve in Indonesia to take a series of self-portraits. This led to a copyright dispute known as the 'monkey selfie case'.[25]


An elephant at West Midland Safari Park was reported to have taken a 'selfie' using a dropped mobile phone belonging to visitor Scott Brierley in May 2014.[26]

In 2015, an elephant in Koh Phangan, Thailand, took a running GoPro camera from traveller Christian Le Blanc and filmed some video footage.[24]


One of the videos created by bears in 2023 using Tom Scott's lost GoPro camera

In 2023, after British YouTuber Tom Scott made a video featuring bears at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in Montana, the bears found a lost GoPro camera and accidentally turned it on, capturing two videos which were recovered by Scott when the camera was found. Scott declared that as the footage was "created entirely by bears", he believed it to be in the public domain, and uploaded it to the Internet Archive.[27][28]

Mating displays[edit]

Some animals create visually impressive displays as part of their mating behaviours, which have been described as artistic. These include bowers constructed by bowerbirds and geometric circles created by white-spotted pufferfish.[29][30]


Nora the Piano Cat at the piano


It has been noted since ancient times that elephants seem to have an affinity for music. The Ringling Bros circus featured an "Elephant brass band" which they claimed could "play popular songs of the day in tune and in time".[31] In the 1950s, German evolutionary biologist Bernard Rensch found that elephants can distinguish 12 tones on the musical scale and remember simple melodies, even when played on different instruments at various pitches, timbres, and meters.[32][33]

The Thai Elephant Orchestra is a musical ensemble consisting of six to fourteen Thai elephants who play heavy-duty musical instruments. Three CDs of their music have been released.[34]


Nora the Piano Cat is a tabby cat who featured in a 2007 viral YouTube video playing the piano.[35] In 2009, recorded footage of Nora was included in CATcerto, a piece by Lithuanian composer Mindaugas Piečaitis.[36]

Copyright issues[edit]

One of the self-portraits of a crested macaque involved in the Monkey selfie copyright dispute

The copyright to an artistic work is typically held by its author. In cases where the artistic work was created by an animal, intellectual property analysts Mary M. Luria and Charles Swan have argued that neither the human who provides the equipment used to create the work, nor the human who owns the animal itself (when applicable), can hold the copyright to the resulting work by the animal. In these cases, the animal's work was not an intellectual creation of the humans, and copyrights can only be held by legal persons—which an animal is not.[37]

The question of ownership of copyright for photographs created by animals was tested in the monkey selfie case, in mid-2014, after equipment owned by nature photographer David Slater was used by a Celebes crested macaque in Tangkoko Nature Reserve in Indonesia to take a series of self-portraits. Slater claimed copyright over the image, arguing that he had set up the situation. Other individuals and organizations, however, argued that the photographs, as the work of a non-human animal (and thus not the work of a legal person), were public domain.[25] Slater stated that the upload of the images to Wikimedia Commons, a free media repository, had cost him more than £10,000 in lost income; he unsuccessfully attempted to have the media removed.[38][39] In August 2014, the United States Copyright Office clarified their rules to explicitly state that items created by a non-human cannot be copyrighted, and lists in their examples a "photograph taken by a monkey", which would appear to reference this case.[40][41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Groinowski, Aux commencements du rire moderne. L'esprit fumiste, José Corti, Paris, 1997, p.296.
  2. ^ Morris, Desmond (1962). The biology of art: A study of the picture-making behavior of the great apes and its relationship to human art. Taylor & Francis.
  3. ^ a b Waldemar Januszczak (2005-09-25). "Congo the chimpanzee". TimesOnline. London. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  4. ^ a b "Dead Chimp's Art Sells Big". CBS News. 2005-06-20. Retrieved 2008-06-01.
  5. ^ "No Chump Change for Chimp Art". All Things Considered. NPR. 2005-06-21. Retrieved 2008-06-01.
  6. ^ "Paintings by Chimpanzee Outsell Warhol, Renoir at Auction". 2005-11-29. Retrieved 2008-06-01.
  7. ^ "Meet the Monkeys of Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary". Archived from the original on 2021-04-29. Retrieved 2021-04-29.
  8. ^ "Animal artistry". Zoos Victoria. Archived from the original on 12 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
  9. ^ English, M; Kaplan, G; Rogers, LJ (2014). "Is painting by elephants in zoos as enriching as we are led to believe?". PeerJ. 2: e471. doi:10.7717/peerj.471. PMC 4103097. PMID 25071994.
  10. ^ "Elephant Artists? Here's Why Making an Elephant Paint is Cruel, Not Cute". One Green Planet. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  11. ^ Padgett, Sonya (February 3, 2013). "Mirage dolphins take artistic turn, making paintings for guests". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  12. ^ Phillips, Steve (2014). "Dolphins at IMMS learn to paint for new interactive program". WLOX-ABC. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  13. ^ Sanchez, Frank (2008). Dolphin Painting Project. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  14. ^ The Telegraph:Beluga whales learn how to paint
  15. ^ McCoy, Amanda (February 24, 2014). Painting Dolphin. SunHerals Multimedia. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  16. ^ "Talented Little Bunny Creates Beautiful Works Of Art, All On His Own!". Jumble Joy. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  17. ^ Peter, Zamayirha. "Pigcasso a millionaire". Citypress. Retrieved 2021-08-09.
  18. ^ "WATCH: Pigcasso launches art exhibition - and it's anything but hogwash!". Retrieved 2021-08-09.
  19. ^ "Meet Pigcasso, The World's First Pig Artist". DOGOnews. Retrieved 2021-08-09.
  20. ^ "Pig painter Pigcasso's artwork sells for whopping £20,000, creates history". 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2021-12-21.
  21. ^ "Move over, Banksy: SA's Pigcasso sells painting for more than R400k". The South African. 2021-12-20. Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  22. ^ "Pigcasso brings home the bacon after selling an abstract artwork for a record R400 000". Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  23. ^ Ramde, Dinesh (7 April 2008). "Dumbo paints! Animals make zoo artwork". USA Today. Gannett Company. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
  24. ^ a b "The amazing elephant selfie. But is it a world first?". BBC. 22 May 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Can monkey who took grinning self-portrait claim copyright?". Metro. 14 July 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  26. ^ "West Midlands Safari Park elephant 'takes selfie' with dropped mobile phone". 29 May 2019.
  27. ^ Dorn, Lori (24 July 2023). "Bear Steals Tom Scott's GoPro and Takes a Selfie". Laughing Squid.
  28. ^ Scott, Tom; grizzly bears (22 July 2023). "Grizzly Bear selfie". Internet Archive.
  29. ^ Diamond, Jared (1 May 1986). "Animal art: Variation in bower decorating style among male bowerbirds Amblyornis inornatus". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 83 (9). National Academy of Sciences: 3042–6. Bibcode:1986PNAS...83.3042D. doi:10.1073/pnas.83.9.3042. PMC 323443. PMID 16593691.
  30. ^ Matsuura, Keiichi (1 January 2015). "A new pufferfish of the genus Torquigener that builds "mystery circles" on sandy bottoms in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan (Actinopterygii: Tetraodontiformes: Tetraodontidae)". Ichthyological Research. 62 (2): 207–212. Bibcode:2015IchtR..62..207M. doi:10.1007/s10228-014-0428-5. ISSN 1616-3915. S2CID 254164102.
  31. ^ "Ringling Bros. world's greatest shows ... The funny, wonderful elephant brass band ... digital file from original print". Library of Congress.
  32. ^ Scigliano, Eric (December 16, 2000). "Think Tank; A Band With a Lot More to Offer Than Talented Trumpeters". New York Times. Arts.
  33. ^ Flores, Graciela (June 1, 2007). "When I see an elephant...paint?". The Scientist. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  34. ^ "The Biggest Thing Out Of Thailand: An Elephant Orchestra". WUNC. August 3, 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2023.
  35. ^ Whitwell, Tom (March 3, 2007). "Microtrends: Piano-Playing Cats". The Times. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
  36. ^ "Kūrinys katei tapo rimtu gyvenimo pokštu" (in Lithuanian). 2009-06-20. Archived from the original on 2012-03-07. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
  37. ^ "Monkey Selfie Lands Photographer in Legal Quagmire". The Lightbox. Time. Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  38. ^ "Photographer 'lost £10,000' in Wikipedia monkey 'selfie' row". BBC News. August 7, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  39. ^ "Wikipedia reveals Google 'forgotten' search links". BBC News. August 6, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  40. ^ Axelrad, Jacob (22 August 2014). "US government: Monkey selfies ineligible for copyright". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  41. ^ "Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (public draft)" (PDF). United States Copyright Office. 19 August 2014. p. 54. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 September 2014. Retrieved 24 September 2014.

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