"We'd had a couple of beers, and it just started looking more and more like art to us. Could be outside a federal building," says Whit Deschner in this NPR article about a charitable auction centered around salt-lick "art" made by animals.
I like the idea of salt-licks as art. The article got me thinking about whether animals other than humans can be considered artists, too. My thinking went something like this:
What might be considered the art of animals is of course really an array of highly developed survival tactics - a spider's web spun for catching food, a weaver bird's nest carefully constructed to attract a mate and shelter young, the sand-patterns made by pufferfish as an elaborate courtship display, and countless other marvels.
The salt-licks didn't become art till they were noticed as such (after a few beers, which is sometimes what it takes). So, after some deliberation I conclude that while many animals have amazing skills, the resulting structures or performances are not on their own, art.
What we call "art" is still someone noticing something in a new way, beyond the obvious.
Animals make the salt-licks. Humans notice their aesthetics. Whit Deschner noticed, to be precise, making the whole project his art.
Then again, art is a human survival tactic. It's the foundation of civilized life and without it, developed minds take little pleasure in living. A society without art is pretty much an oxymoron, in fact. I can't think of one, because art is part of culture, and to form a society means to form a culture of some kind. Art is built in to our social structures because it is built in to us. It doesn't take much to see why attempts to squash expression, or failure to support the artistic life of a culture are so dangerous. We defund the arts at our peril.
But I digress.
The NPR piece gets me thinking that perhaps saltlicks and sculpture aren't that different after all.
It's less whether animals are artists, too, and more whether art is just as necessary to human life as salt is to animals.