Art Appreciation

Peach Inspecting PaintingThere is an art gallery in the space where Peach and I spend most of our time, and there is a triptych of large landscape paintings that was temporarily installed a couple of weeks ago near where she spends a lot of time. She had been periodically making motions indicating that she wanted to fly up to the largest painting, which is obviously not a safe thing to let her do. I couldn’t tell whether she perceived the painting as having dimensionality that would allow her to land on something portrayed IN the image, or if she intended to land on the top, but each time she made that crouching, about-to-take-off movement I deflected her, moved her, or otherwise blocked her. Since her attention to different objects ebbs and flows, this was not a constant fixation, thank goodness.

A couple of days ago she focused her attention on trying to get up to the painting again. This time, instead of trying to figure out how to get her to pay attention to something different, I wondered if she just wanted to be able to get closer to better experience the painting. So I picked her up and held her up close to the painting. This allowed her to see it in detail, and also touch it with her tongue, which she did in different areas as I held her up to them. This is not dangerous for the painting since it’s acrylic and a flat vertical surface with nothing that a beak could get a hold of. I would never let her get anywhere near the edges, of course.

Peach-Exploring-PaintingPeach is in an environment surrounded by art, but she showed particular interest in this painting. It’s the only painting she has been exposed to that shows a relatively realistic portrayal of a landscape, with trees, paths, and rocks. I have been thinking a lot about two elements of parrot (specifically, cockatoo) perception related to this:

  1. Cockatoos experience elements of the world for reasons that are independent of any basic survival needs, like other animals with highly evolved intelligence. They enjoy (or dislike) things based on personal preferences, which are based on the aesthetic elements of color, texture, sound, pattern, etc. This is most obvious with music, which has been explored considerably with cockatoos specifically. But it seems like the ways that they interact with the world visually could be the same kind of experience/exploration, just not as easy to interpret or analyze. This is related to curiosity about the world in general, but it’s more than that.
  2. Illian PaintingWhat is a cockatoo’s ability to connect a visual representation of an object with the thing itself? In other words, can a cockatoo look at a photograph of an almond and recognize it as an almond even though it is 2 dimensional without scent? What about an artist’s rendering of an almond that is not entirely realistic? How is this affected by a human indicating in words that the image is an almond? Or to give another example, can a cockatoo recognize a painting of a tree as a tree?

The two paintings shown are 2/3 of the First Snow Series, by Paul Illian.

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