Artist as Animal

The Portrait Galleries on this website reveal with numerous examples that artists often use other people as their alter ego. However, their self-identification with other characters is not restricted to human beings as the entries under this Theme show. Many artists, from the first shaman onwards, have identified with or represented themselves as dogs, cats, monkeys, horses and even dragons. Kafka became a cockroach. Artists feel at one with virtually everything in a painting. That iconic ox and donkey from The Nativitity, for instance, paired and watching every scene of Christ’s birth since the earliest centuries of Christian art, are not mentioned in the Gospels. Yet, as animal-observers, they are almost always an alter ego of the artist, in part because the ox is the attribute of St Luke, patron saint of painters.   

Artists do not represent themselves as animals to hide the concept that every painter paints himself from the patron; that is not their principal purpose. They do it either because they feel at one with an animal or because, as mystics, they believe that behind the individualistic mask of the self lies unity. Indeed sexual desire defiantly asserts Man’s unity with Nature: we are all animals. Artists in any age, like ordinary people in the so-called “Dark Ages”, see life in plants and rocks too, however strange that may seem to the rest of us. If you have trouble grasping this, try to remember that most of us in this material world of the twenty-first century have lost our imaginations. The natural world of vision is not real, as even science tells us; what we see is an illusion. Only the life of the mind is real and that, in art, is what we are looking at.

All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)

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