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Elephant Painting Portrait Video

Summary:
Video shows an elephant apparently painting a recognizable portrait of an elephant holding a flower (Full commentary below).



Status:
True (Elephant uses a series of previously learned brushstrokes to create the picture)

Example:(Submitted, April 2008)
Subject: Elephant painting video

There is a youtube video going around that shows what looks like an elephant painting a self portrait, holding the brush in its trunk. Have not be able to verify if the video is real or not. Seems very hard to believe that even an elephant would have enough intelligence for this Here is the video





Commentary:
This rapidly circulating video shows footage of an elephant painting a portrait using a paint brush held in its trunk. During the course of the video, the artistic pachyderm paints an immediately recognizable sketch of an elephant holding a flower.

Although quite amazing, the video is genuine in the sense that the elephant is indeed applying paint to paper by herself. However, she is not consciously painting a free-hand (or free-trunk) "self-portrait" from memory as some commentators have suggested. Instead she is "creating" the portrait by using a practiced series of brushstrokes that she has previously been taught. The particular artist depicted in the video is almost certainly "Hong", an elephant that lives at the Maetaman Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand. An article about Hong published on The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project (AEACP) website notes:
Two years ago, Hong began painting with her mahout, Noi Rakchang, and has steadily developed her skills. After learning how to paint flowers, she moved on to more advanced paintings. She now has two specialties. One is an elephant holding flowers with her trunk, and the other is the Thai flag. An elephant with so much control and dexterity is capable of amazing work. Just for clarification, with these realistic figural works, the elephant is still the only one making the marks on the paper but the paintings are learned series of brushstrokes not Hong painting a still life on her own.

We are sure that as Hong continues to investigate her artistic side, her paintings will become even more beautiful.
Although she is certainly talented, Hong is not the only elephant painter. The phenomenon of elephant artists is well documented although, more commonly, their works can be considered abstract art rather than more realistic portraits like the example shown in the video.

©iStockphoto.com/Eric Isselée

Elephant
With these more abstract creations, the art is truly the work of the elephant and is not usually guided by humans or the result of a defined set of previously learned brushstrokes. A human helper must hand the paint-laden brushes to the elephant artist, but, with genuine abstract elephant art, the application of the paint is done by the elephant alone. An article on The Elephant Art Gallery, another site dedicated to elephant art, explains:
They are completely unaided during the creation of each painting, except for the handing over of the brushes. As soon as the paint loaded on the brushes has been used up, the elephants hand the empty brushes back to me (often banging my chest impatiently with their trunks) and wait to have the brushes reloaded.

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 obviously have spatial awareness and they carefully apply the strokes within the confines of the paper, rarely going over the edges except, one can assume, as an artistic gesture.
Elephant paintings often command handsome prices of hundreds of dollars each, with one such painting reportedly selling for $25,000. Non-profit groups such as the AEACP put much of the proceeds generated from elephant paintings back into elephant conservation projects and initiatives.

Some view only those abstract paintings created by elephants without direct human intervention or the prior learning of brushstrokes as true elephant art. Others question if paintings made by animals can be really considered art at all. The answers to such questions are a matter or personal opinion. But, art or not, these paintings do graphically represent the amazing intelligence and dexterity of these wonderful animals.

References:
AEACP: Thailand - Hong
The Elephant Art Gallery - Our Inspiring Collection of Elephant Art
How Is Elephant Art Made?
The Scientist : When I see an elephant...paint?
Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project

Last updated: 22nd April 2008
First published: 22nd April 2008

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen