Why I Draw and Paint Animals.

Let me start with a quote from John Berger:

The eyes of an animal when they consider man are attentive and wary. The same animal may well look at other animals in the same way. He does not reserve a special look for man. But by no other species will the animals look be recognised as familiar. Other animals are held by the look. Man becomes aware of himself returning the look.

John Berger, Selected Essays, Bloomsbury Publishing , page 260, Para. 3

The first recorded cave paintings are of animals and stick figures of those who hunted them, they were perhaps painted because of the significant importance they were for survival.

That relationship continuously changed as animals were domesticated, used for entertainment, sport and harnessed for work and each change has been documented through art. Today our past bonds with animals are very different to than of even recent history, meat is processed in factories, wildlife television coverage with powerful zoom lenses offers us views of animals we would never experience in life, very few circuses’ now use animals, and we embrace cats and dogs passionately as part of the family. (1)

Looking at animals I see understand better what marks me out as human but it also leads me to question the concept of anthropomorphism that attributes human values to animals. I believe most non human animals, especially those closely associated with humans in social settings actually feel longing, loneliness, loss, unhappiness, feel pleasure, enjoy companionship and experience happiness to some extent, and whilst these feeling may manifest themselves in ways we recognise as human it is perhaps the case that these feelings and emotions are not exclusively human but experiences felt by all sentient being to some degree.

Animals in law are treated as objects, they have no rights, but in 2014 the Nonhuman Rights Project (2) brought a case to court in New York about ‘Tommy’ a chimpanzee, kept in a cage in a Manhattan warehouse to try to establish rights for ‘Tommy’ they lost the case but will appeal, as the lawyer put it, the chimp has no more rights than a table or a chair. This would seem intuitively wrong but how one protects and defends animals and if they were extended rights is difficult to see who would bring a case as an animal could not do this. (3)

More recently this year The Nonhuman Rights Project brought another case to court on behalf of two chimpanzees Leo and Hercules used for medical experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island. For the first time in US history, a judge has granted two chimpanzees a petition – through human attorneys – to defend their rights against unlawful imprisonment, allowing a hearing on the status of “legal persons” for the primates.(4). In all journeys many steps are required but this for me is one of those memorable steps. The next hearing on Leo and Hercules’s appeal is to be held on May 27th 2015.

Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century said “I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”

Now Leonardo seems to have given up meat at an early age, myself, sadly I have only come to this standpoint at the age of 63, this short statement highlights a small segment of my personal life journey to a ‘place’ where I am comfortable, why I draw and paint animals and it works for me. It is not a plea to “convert the wicked” so if you are tucking into a Chicken Madras, Beef Bourguignon or a Lamb Casserole tonight, Bon appetite!

As you enjoy them, a thought to ponder, how we treat animals is a mark of our humanity.


  1. Synopsis of a section from an essay “Why look at animals” by John Berger.
  2. http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/
  3. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2014/12/04/new-york-court-rules-that-tommy-the-chimp-is-not-a-person/