I’ve never seen the author of Tender Buttons and Three Lives look as she looks in this painting by Picabia from 1937. Her head is small, perched on wide and rounded shoulders draped in brown. Beneath the cloak, a soft blue blouse with a large brooch peeks through. On her face, a sort of “oh well” smirk on thin, taut lips.
Monkeys don’t usually have access to cameras, but it’s an extreme case that reminds us of a larger point: animals create objects, images, gestures, songs, and architecture all the time. Whether we label these activities as art is both a semantic and theoretical choice. One thinker arguing that non-human creativity should be included in our definition of art is curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. She asserts that the field of contemporary art is historically determined and far from universal. People imagine that the way they live–and the broad systems that organize their society–are the best, despite the fact that these things are always changing. History never ends, but we’re constantly fooled into thinking that everything has led up to the current moment with some kind of purpose or finitude.