We humans like to think creativity begins and ends with us.
It is we who write the poems, the novels, the symphonies and the columns (Keats, Beethoven, me). It is we who paint the Mona Lisas, the Last Suppers, the fruit in a bowl and the rubber boots sitting in the teacher’s art class (Leonardo da Vinci, William Bailey, me).
It is we who sculpt the Davids, the Thinker and the clay ashtrays (Michelangelo, Rodin, me). We who create works of art from spare automobile parts, copper wire, driftwood and the skeletons of pothead whales (Prestini, Jure, not me).
I know I’m leaving out several areas of artistic endeavour here, but the editors give me only so much space to work with. Blame them.
I know some of you are proclaiming with great intensity that nature is far more creative than any of the above — sunrise and sunset, cumulus clouds reaching into the heavens, a meadow full of buttercups, a hillside in autumn and so much more.
The smell of pig, poultry and human waste, the decaying carcass of a 50-foot whale, a beach full of rotten caplin. (Just wanted to give a bit of a balanced view here.)
The fact is, however, that neither humans nor nature have a monopoly on creativity. A bird’s nest, a spider’s web and a beaver’s dam are all excellent examples of creativity and ingenuity in the animal kingdom. Not to mention the tail of a male peacock and camel humps.
But now, the animal kingdom has gone one better. Seems there’s this chimpanzee in Brazil who is close to being the next Picasso. He may even be close to being the present Picasso. How do I know the chimp is a male? Because his name is Jimmy, and people don’t christen even monkeys with male names if they aren’t male.
That may be an unwarranted assumption on my part. John Wayne’s real first name was Marion. Then there’s gospel singer George Beverly Shea. And Johnny Cash was a boy named Sue. Nevertheless, as far as I’m concerned, Jimmy the chimp is male.
If you haven’t already figured it out, most of the foregoing is entirely irrelevant to the topic.
The subject of this epistle is the fact that Jimmy spends 30 minutes a day creating what critics are calling exceptionally beautiful paintings. He avoids burning out his creative self by refusing to work longer.
In that sense, he’s very much like professional baseball relief pitchers who come into the game sometimes to throw only three or four pitches and then go and sit down again. For that, they are paid millions of dollars a year. Of course, I know why they’re used that way. I’m just comparing them to Jimmy.
Actually, the main focus of interest for this column is not that Jimmy is painting. I assume he’s working in the abstract expressionism style of artists such as Jackson Pollock, which is distortion and exaggeration. Artists in this mode often simply threw paints and other things at the canvas to achieve maximum emotional effect. Never did understand it.
We have a beautiful painting in the expressionism school of art hanging in our living room. It was painted by our granddaughter, Robyn, when she was two years old. I call it “smoke and fire” because that’s what it reminds me of. People who see it think it was professionally done.
So there’s nothing remarkable about a simian who is painting on canvas with a brush and different colour paints. What is remarkable, and what drew my interest, was the fact that people — ordinary human beings like you and me — are flocking to this Brazilian zoo in their thousands to watch Jimmy create his masterpieces.
Now, come on, people! We’re talking about a monkey here! Don’t you know he doesn’t know what he’s doing? Darwin suggested we have the same common ancestor as the monkey, but it wasn’t that one, OK?
It’s cute, but it isn’t something that should draw tens of thousands of people to watch for 30 minutes a day. It’s in the same category as people who see the face of Jesus in the smoke ascending from a forest fire, or the Virgin Mary in the pattern of the shingles on a roof.
These people are kooks with overripe imaginations and a rather distorted sense of what passes for a divine presence. The thousands who respond to that stuff by falling on their knees and praying mightily for healing and the like are supposed to be ordinary people with some common sense. It scares me when people are so gullible as to be taken in by such “phenomena.”
One wonders how easily they can be motivated for more diabolical purposes. Then we remember the ease with which Hitler and other dictators convinced whole nations of people that the most monstrous policies, i.e. the “putting to sleep” of people with disabilities and the persecution of the Jews, were in everyone’s best interests.
OK, it’s only a few thousand people flocking to see a chimpanzee wielding a paintbrush. You think perhaps I’m taking this stuff a little too far? You don’t think there’s a problem?
The problem, people, is that most of them think the fool monkey can actually paint!
You don’t think so? I refer you again to the Jesus figure in the clouds and the Virgin Mary on the barn door (the latest sighting). Crowds were blocking the roads to see this unbelievable sight, and some of those pictured on TV had tears running down their cheeks. They were moved and inspired, they said.
If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.
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I want to thank everyone who wrote to inquire about my new book, “A Spoonful of Sugar,” which will be coming out in a few days. The response was really gratifying. As soon as books are available, I will be getting a free copy out to both of you.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.