Chimpanzees, as anyone who bawled their eyes out watching Project Nim can attest, are not people, but our genetically almost identical cousins have a lot in common with us—and that apparently includes making art. They may not congregate in and then be priced out of the hippest neighborhoods, wear complicated scarves, and bemoan man’s inhumanity to
man chimp. But at the very least, you can take a retired chimp, give her some paints, and and there’ll be a little bit of abstract impressionism in front of you at the end of the session.
Right now, the Humane Society is running an art contest with six of those retired chimps—creative ladies and gentlemen who had been rescued from a grim life in medical research or "entertainment" and placed in one of six sanctuaries around the country.
According to the Humane Society, chimpanzee art serves several purposes. It gives retired animals in sanctuaries an activity; it allows human observers of the work to discover that, perhaps, Jamie of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum, Washington, is able to create an image that expresses how she feels inside; and the attention from chimp art is a hook for fundraising at sanctuaries around the country.
As far as how the chimps come to be painting or develop their particular aesthetic, a Humane Society spokesperson told us: "Chimpanzees at sanctuaries are provided with several enrichment activities and painting happens to be one of them. For those chimpanzees who have expressed interest in painting [!], they are given the necessary supplies and are given the freedom to create what they choose and how they choose. For example, one participating chimpanzee, Brent from Chimp Haven, only paints with his tongue. And another chimpanzee, Jamie from Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest likes to paint on nontraditional surfaces like toys and walls. Each chimp’s way of painting is entirely unique to them."
The winner of the contest will earn his or her sanctuary a prize from the Humane Society. Winners will be announced August 29, and the paintings will be auctioned off to benefit the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance. Voting is open online now until August 22, and your opinion will be factored into the decision-making process (along with guest judge Jane Goodall!). Or you can return to the site and distribute your votes evenly—artists are sensitive, after all.
Check out the art and artists in the slide show.
UPDATE: Brent wins!