The relationship between humans and dogs spans thousands of years, with the earliest domestication of the canine species serving a myriad of practical and companionship purposes. Fast-forward to the modern age, and the connection has only deepened, paving the way for new and unexpected endeavours, one of which is dog painting.
This article investigates instances where dogs have been encouraged or taught to paint, analysing the patterns and techniques they naturally lean towards. The underlying question this paper aims to explore is, can canine creations genuinely be considered art?
Art has long been considered a human activity, with creators using it to express emotions, convey messages, and represent the world around them. In recent decades, however, we’ve seen a burgeoning interest in animals producing art, particularly our closest companions – dogs. While some might dismiss this as mere amusement or a novelty act, others believe it provides genuine insight into canine cognition and creativity.
Historical Instances of Canine Painters
The phenomenon of dogs creating art, while surprising to many, isn’t entirely new. Some of these canine painters have gained quite a following over the years, with their works finding places in art exhibitions and private collections.
Perhaps the most famous painting dog, Tillie, an adorable Jack Russell Terrier from Brooklyn, began her art career at a young age. With the guidance of her owner, she created works through a technique involving scratching, biting, and clawing at pigment-covered boards and sheets. Tillie’s works have been displayed in over 20 solo exhibitions worldwide.
Her works are characterised by an intense, abstracted frenzy. The scratched surfaces often revealed multiple layers of colours beneath, lending depth and texture. The chaotic nature of her works was juxtaposed with moments of unexpected clarity, where patterns seemed almost deliberate. Some art enthusiasts even see Tillie’s works as an echo of the Abstract Expressionism movement, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings but with a canine twist.
Another well-known canine artist, Jumpy, who is a Blue Heeler and Border Collie mixed breed, used brushes held in his mouth to create his works. He could even write ‘I love you’ (albeit in emoji shorthand) on his canvas. Jumpy’s paintings often featured vibrant colours and energetic, sweeping strokes. The dynamic swirls, dashes, and lines conveyed motion and spontaneity. Some of his works had a central focus with radiating brushwork, while others seemed like a dance of colours across the canvas.
Patterns and Techniques
Most dogs, when introduced to painting, exhibit a few consistent techniques:
- Random Brushwork: The initial approach often mirrors a dog’s playful behaviour, with random strokes and an unpredictable pattern.
- Paw Prints: A step away from the brush, some trainers guide dogs to dip their paws into non-toxic paints and create patterns on the canvas.
- Mouth-held Brushes: As seen with Jumpy, this technique involves dogs holding brushes in their mouths. It offers a semblance of control, albeit limited, over the strokes.
- Scratch and Claw Technique: As employed by Tillamook Cheddar, this technique brings forth a visceral and raw quality to the art.
Observing these patterns, it’s clear that dogs, while capable of producing varied works, don’t necessarily follow a human’s understanding of composition or thematic representation.
Is It Really Art?
The million-dollar question is, can these canine creations be termed ‘art’? The answer, as is often the case in art discourse, is subjective.
- Expression of Emotion: If art is a medium to express emotions, then dogs, known for their range of feelings, certainly qualify. A wagging tail, an excited bark, or a focused demeanour during painting may indicate a sense of joy or involvement.
- Unpredictability and Novelty: Art is often celebrated for breaking patterns and surprising viewers. In that vein, the unpredictable nature of a dog’s painting might indeed be considered artistic.
- Human Interpretation: A significant part of art lies in its interpretation. While a dog might not have intended to portray ‘loneliness’ or ‘joy’ in its strokes, human viewers often ascribe such emotions and themes to the artwork.
- Commercial Value: The commercial success of canine artists like Tillamook Cheddar indicates that there’s a market for such art. While market value shouldn’t be the sole criteria for defining art, it’s an undeniable factor in its recognition.
Many critics argue that canine paintings, while novel, lack intent. They suggest that these works are mere products of instinctive play rather than genuine artistic expression. Another point of contention is the role of human trainers or owners who guide the dogs, implying that the true ‘artist’ is the human behind the scenes.
While the debate rages on about the artistic authenticity of canine paintings, there’s no denying the intrigue they generate. Whether viewed as a genuine form of expression or a charming novelty, these paintings underscore the multifaceted potential of our furry companions. They remind us that creativity, in its most primal form, is not the exclusive domain of humans. The next time you come across a painting by a dog, take a moment to appreciate not just the artwork but the unique bond between man and canine that made it possible.