Animals Need Great Artists

Francisco de Zurbaran, Agnus Dei, 1638, San Diego Museum of Art

An important function of art is (and always has been) to bear witness.

The 18th century seems to have been a time in which the idea of animal rights was beginning to take root in some minds. The artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s imagery may strike us as neutral that way–neither dismissing nor advocating that animals have their own lives and legitimate perspectives.

But that the debate of animal rights was very much in the air at the time was made clear in a shocking set of prints by artist William Hogarth, The Four Stages of Cruelty from 1750-51. What a vast difference in mentalities between these two contemporaneous artists!

While Oudry was painting for his courtly patrons, Hogarth was making prints for popular distribution–visually to assert that cruelty to animals is on the same ethical continuum as cruelty to one’s own species.

Of course words can help to bear witness too, as Matthew Scully did in his recent book, Dominion, where he gains access to the hellish world of factory farms, whaling, and commercial safaris. But such books can be easily avoided. What ethicist Peter Singer points out, so rightly, is the need for artists to expose what is otherwise hidden: the 100 billion animals who suffer unspeakably in the US every year because of factory farming.

We need the vision of artists, including photographers (similar to the Depression’s Dorothea Lange) to expose the horror deliberately hidden from sight.


4 thoughts on “Animals Need Great Artists

  1. Good Evening Vicki!

    The information that you share with us here is AWESOME!

    And your SOOOOOOOO right… NEEDS to be exposed….and LOOKED AT!

    What has ALWAYS amazed me about human nature, is the fact that people so EASILY can expose themselves to horrendous horror films that depict senseless killing, cruelty and violence….and be PREFECTLY fine with that.

    But God forbid they look at TRUTH…….”Oh no…that’s too horrible for me to look at”!

    You’ve struck a VERY deep cord within me when you mention “animal cruelty”.

    I have absolutely NO tolorance for it….NONE!

    BRAVO dear friend…. for opening your voice to speak TRUTH!

    I will be visiting the site links you listed here!

    I admire you Vicki.

    And THANK YOU from the center of my heart!!!!!

    Have a fabulous Memorial Day weekend.

    Be well,

    P.S. – So GLAD we’ve met!

  2. Warm greetings, Ron!

    You are just the best! I too am glad we met–isn’t it a marvellous thing about this blogging medium? I never expected it would be so rich an experience!

    I am glad to have you as my ally in the cause of animals. Your gentle ways can help to open people’s eyes–onward, my friend!

    YOU be well!


  3. Hey Vicki

    More on the cruelty debate.

    Used to be a veggie but now lapsed, but still concerned over the ethics of ‘meat’.

    It’s worth checking out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Meat’. He argues for an engagement with the production process as the only way to ensure that animals are farmed (and butchered) in an ethical manner. It’s a good book if hard reading at times. Good recipes as well. Enjoy.


  4. Hi Mark,
    Good to find you here!

    Thanks for the reference to Hugh F-W, whom I did not know about. Does he talk about where things started going awry in the way animals are farmed? Is there a way for our urban populations only to buy ethically-farmed meat? I would like to know more about the practicalities of how to do that. It’s so daunting!

    And, do you follow his recommendations?


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