Category Archive for: ‘Lynn Ruth Miller’




An ape cannot speak about his art
Anymore than a monkey can discuss a his digestion.
Jacques Cocteau and Lynn Ruth

In the late sixties, a gorilla won the Modern Art competition at the Detroit Museum of Art. The animals’ owner put several tubes of paint and a blank canvas in the ape’s cage.  The furry artist, whom I shall call Sybil, stomped on the tubes of paint and smeared the colors on the canvas with her paws.  After an hour, she tired of dancing and began eating the tubes of paint.  Her owner pulled the canvas out of her cage, hosed Sybil down and was amazed at the finished canvas.   It reminded him of a combination of a Jackson Pollack with a smattering of Kandinsky, a dash of Picasso and traces of Klee.  When Sybil’s masterpiece dried, he varnished it, framed it and entered it in the museum’s competition.

To his delight, the painting won first prize.  He bought a jeweled collar for Sybil, pinned a pink ribbon in her hair and brought her to the award ceremony. It was a little dicey getting her in the front door  but the owner insisted she was a service animal  He managed to keep her from molesting the guests by feeding her bananas and bit of cadmium red. When they called his name to accept the award, Sybil joined him on stage.  He told the astounded judges that it was not he who created the masterpiece they so admired.  It was his Sybil.

Years later, I took a class with the fabulously talented realistic painter Joseph Sheppard and he told me that Sybil was indeed a magnificent talent.  Indeed, he had joined her in her cage a few years after her triumph to raise money for the museum.  Together they painted a still life that hangs now in that same museum.

Evidently, gorillas not only paint, but they know what they are painting. Sister and brother gorillas Michael and Koko were taught sign language.  As a result, Koko (the artist in the family) was able to explain to her curator Dr. Penny Patterson, that she had painted a bird.

Just this past month, word is out that a zoo in North Dakota is selling the artwork of its 275 pound orangutan named Tal. His paintings are so colorful that they literally fly off the wall.  The animal’s favorite color is yellow and often he eats as much of the paint as he smears on his canvases. “Could be because it looks like a banana,” said the zoo’s curator.

There is no doubt that creativity is fundamental in the ape psyche. The animals  love using crayons, pencils and finger paint although they prefer oils they can eat. Everyone knows that children have the same propensity to eat the colors they use to paint. I believe we can learn a lot from the apes and their ability to transform their creative efforts into funds that support their favorite institutions.  I propose that we exhibit and sell all the paintings from local kindergarten classes to pay for amenities in their schools.  Think of it! We would no longer have to pay taxes to support education!  Our kindergartners would finance the system for us…and who knows?  There might be enough money left to reward the young artists with a few bananas.









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