Paintings by Elephants

It has been discovered that elephants enjoy a number of human past-times, such as games, dance and art. Elephant sanctuaries are now encouraging elephants to explore their creative talents by allowing the elephants to paint.

Elephant Artists

An elephant’s trunk can be thought of as being a long, supple appendage that allows the elephant to grip objects. Some elephant artists are taught by their trainers to hold a paintbrush by wrapping the tip of the trunk around the paintbrush, whereas others are encouraged to place the brush into a ‘nostril’ at the end of the trunk, to give the elephant more control over the brush.

Most elephant trainers will assist the elephant artist during the painting process. Some will guide the elephant’s trunk across the canvas, while others take a purist approach to art and leave the elephants to create their paintings unaided. Generally, an elephant trainer will set up the easel and canvas and load paint on to the brush before handing the paint brush to the elephant. Elephant artists have been known to get impatient with their assistants, and will tap the brush against the assistant’s chest to demand more paint. 

Paintings by Elephants

Elephants can be trained to reproduce recognizable images, such as other elephants, scenery, and recognizable objects such as flowers. They can even be taught to make self-portraits. However, to some this isn’t true elephant art. When left to create alone, elephants paint in an abstract style using lines, curves and dashes of paint to form the finished work. 

Trained Elephant Paintings

Elephant trainers can teach an elephant to reproduce an image over and over again. The result is a picture that could have been drawn by an eight-year-old child. Although endearing, this form of art is losing popularity with elephant art fans, as the elephants are taught to paint these pictures as a performance, similar to a dog who has been taught to do tricks. For elephant art purists, these reproductions of the trainer’s initial design don’t constitute as ‘real’ elephant art.

(Above) Elephants can be taught to reproduce a specific image, which they are then asked to reproduce for tourists. On each of the paintings above, you can see a stamp of authenticity – this shows that an elephant was the artists behind the painting. Whether this is truly ‘art’ or not depends on an individual’s opinion of what art is.

(Above) The images above show a few of the designs that elephants have been taught to reproduce. 

Untrained Elephant Paintings

Some elephant sanctuaries that specialize in elephant art will train an elephant to hold the brush and show the elephant how to apply paint to the paper, without teaching the elephant to create a specific shape on the page. These elephants are given the space and time needed to create whatever imagery they desire. The result is a simple, abstract collection of lines, shapes and colors. 

Trainers claim that the elephants know when the piece is done, and the animal will often stand back and admire their work before heading down to a river to swim. It has also been suggested that like human artists, elephant artists have ‘off’ days, when the artistic well runs dry. 

Elephant Art in the Guinness Book of World Records

Maesa Elephant Camp trumpeted its way into the Guinness World Records for a large painting created by eight elephants. The camp now holds the records of “Largest Painting by a Group of Elephants” and “Most expensive Painting by a Group of Elephants”. The event was also documented on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

Elephant Art Online

Buy Paintings by Elephants

Elephant art can be bought online through various websites. Here are just a few to get you started:

Thai Fine Art, Elephant Art Gallery, Elephant Paintings, Elephant Art

Most elephant sanctuaries that are creating elephant art use the money raised by the paintings to create a better lifestyle for the elephants that they house. There are however some elephant owners who simply use the elephant’s creativity for their own gain. It is up to the buyer to decide which situation they would prefer to support through buying elephant art. 

Watch Videos of Elephants Painting

More Articles on Art:

Specimens of Mythological Creatures Displayed in Japanese Museum

Hollow Face Illusions: Statues Whose Eyes Follow You Around The Room

Artistic Mahines: Robot Art

Man Without Eyes Paints a World He’s Never Seen

Calvin and Hobbes Fan Art: Tattoos

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20 Responses to “Paintings by Elephants”
  1. BruceW Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Raises interesting questions about how sentient a creature has to be to create art or even to recognise an image, and that in turn informs debate about the roots of art in the evolution of our own species.


  2. Magic Quill Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 6:27 am

    fantastic.


  3. BluSphere Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Haha. At first I thought “.. BY elephants?” and I thought you should have written OF elephants. But it turned out you were right! Pretty funny article. Thanks for sharing.

    Regards,
    BluSphere


  4. Catherine South Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 6:37 am

    I tried to find some info on whether elephants who are trained to create ’self-portraits’ are aware that they are painting a representation of themselves, but I couldn’t find anything.
    I don’t think they actually recognize that a collection of lines on a page is what humans would recognize as being an image of an elephant.


  5. Suni51 Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 6:58 am

    One of the better ones on this site, grand.


  6. Shining Star Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Good One, Keep Sharing


  7. Larry Fish Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Amazing what animals can do.


  8. Analyst Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Very interesting! Pictures don’t lie! Thanks for sharing!


  9. Ken Gack Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Interesting article…however I remain skeptical. Although I am sure animals can be trained to do many surprising things, assigning the human trait of ‘creativity’ is a stretch in my opinion. If they did in fact possess this capability, I’m going to venture a guess that they’d use it to address more basic needs such as food rather than something much higher on Maslow’s hierarchy such as art.
    - Ken


  10. Jerry Bradford aka Jerry Atrixx Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    There was once an Elephant who made the best tasting peanut butter in the world. But, alas he was caught embezzling and eating up all the profits.


  11. Mzalendo Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I never thought an elephant could paint so I read the article’s title figuratively, till I read the article and was startled, very. Thanks for the informative piece.


  12. BlogArtist Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    This is very interesting. Nice article.


  13. Catherine South Says...

    On November 24, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    @Ken
    I’m not that knowledgeable about elephant psychology, but while researching this article I discovered that elephants have been known to doodle in sand with sticks and to create patterns in mud with their trunks. Whether this constitutes as ‘creativity’ or not… I think that’s up to each person, as it seems that we all have different concepts of what art and creativity is.


  14. Nina Mason Says...

    On November 26, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Fascinating! I just caught the title and had to look.
    Thanks for sharing.


  15. fred Says...

    On November 28, 2010 at 6:27 am

    I am a HHUUGGEE animal fan and i think its amazing what they can do! I think they can paint better than me!


  16. crisdiwata Says...

    On December 1, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Those elephants were artistic and intelligent. They’ve found another uses for their nose. I wonder how they able to recognize colors and images.


  17. shobhana Says...

    On December 3, 2010 at 4:29 am

    I tend to agree with crisdiwata. Is it possible??? How do we really know if the paintings bought online through the sites you mentioned are really painted by elephants???


  18. SharifaMcFarlane Says...

    On December 10, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Really interesting article. I wonder how their unguided paintings would do in a regular exhibition of abstract work.


  19. Henry Quick Says...

    On February 9, 2011 at 2:21 am

    The real elephant art abstract paintings do very well alongside human art actually. I am the founder of The Elephant Art Gallery (since 2000) and for a few years we had elephant and human art hung next to each other in my physical art gallery in Chiang Mai. It was fascinating to see how most guests did not know the difference. If you’d like to read more articles about this, how ‘real elephant art’ is defined and how to spot fake elephant art, or if you’d like to donate to elephant care (Thai elephants are an endangered species) do please visit our website elephantartgallery.com which is referenced in the article (and the first four photos of elephants painting are from our site).


  20. letschat6 Says...

    On January 24, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Woah! This is very interesting!


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