Fiona is a famous artist. And she’s a hippopotamus. She was born at Cincinnati Zoo in January 2017, and she became an artist fast. Fiona was an adorable calf born 6 weeks early at 29 lb., but now, at 650 lbs, she’s become the resident hippo painter. But she’s entering a very busy art scene.
She’s only one of a surprising hoard of gifted zoo creatures. Chimpanzees have painted for years. Elephants have done it for as long as even they can remember. Now dolphins do it, rhinos do it, penguins do it, even snakes and bugs do it. Woodland Zoo offers work by 36 different artist-animals. Houston Zoo offers art by lions, leopards and others for $250 each. (1) Rocky, the octopus at Point Defiance Zoo, certainly has huge production-potential. (2) Clearly Fiona’s art scene is crowded, so how does she survive.
Zoo animals, clearly, can make a lot of art–and, if they are given treats, they will. People buy zoo art only because it’s made by animals. It is, of course, solipsistic that we value zoo art because animal-artists emulate humans. Their art has been a huge success, and this art market is very lucrative for zoos.
Is it that simple? Zoos strongly encourage animals to make art, zoos tell us that animal artists are not mere labourers in a profitable art industry. Apparently they are artists, and their lives are enhanced as they paint. An emerging artist-orangutan, Rudy, is currently “obsessed with painting” at the Houston Zoo.(3)