Collective Understanding January 28, 2014 | By Jim McNutt
Photos: Elizabeth Bolton
The number and variety of human activities that involve watching animals and making or viewing images of them is astounding. In an hour’s time I can find hundreds of different examples, ranging from a studio artist completing a painting of a bear to a photographer standing in an Antarctic field surrounded by penguins. A recent discussion turned up childhood story books featuring Australian fauna and a group of people intently watching a hawk’s nest from the middle of an urban traffic island near Boston. From medieval cabinets of curiosities to Enlightenment encyclopedias to contemporary efforts such as theEncyclopedia of Life people have attempted to organize knowledge and images of non-human life on the planet. Images range from the purely imaginary drawings found in beastiaries to microscopically revealed worlds of bacteria. The sum total of the effort involved staggers the imagination.
From this it follows that practically everyone has some personal experience with images of animals. Whom do you know who is not familiar with elephants or chimpanzees or dolphins? For that matter, if someone mentions a strange animal, do you not have quick google access to learn about it? Try “pink fairy armadillo” or “lamprey.”
At a time when consciousness of biodiversity has become paramount to a sustainable Earth, the long human experience of making and viewing images of animals serves us well. It not only makes us aware of biodiversity itself, but in the continuing replication and repetition of images, it challenges us to discern the qualities of the images, to find the art in life.
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