Jessica Augier Triptich

Laken Bridges, BFA Exhibition Title: "Flight," March 14 to 18, 2011Slocumb Galleries, East Tennessee State Univeristy, Johnson City, TN; Senior Exhibition; Bridges is recepient of the Honors Undergraduate Research Fellowship 2010 Grant at ETSU.


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The Chamula community in Mexico follows the Mayan belief of animal souls.12 They believe that each person has a corresponding animal soul that is born when the person is born and that shares its human counterpart’s experiences. Chamula people seeking to discover their soul animal look to their dreams for clues and guidance.13


The Uduk people of East Africa identify specifically with antelopes and consider themselves a part of the antelope family.14 Unsurprisingly, antelope rock art is popular in Africa, likely due to their social and psychological importance.

 

Ancient civilizations and prehistoric art

Much of history and all of prehistory shows us that previous societies did not make a distinction between humans and animals and that animals were treated with reverence and respect. In ancient cultures, the serpent often symbolized rebirth because it could shed its skin.  Though it was not necessarily built to represent life and rebirth, the Serpent Mound, a large effigy mound in Peebles, Ohio, certainly depicts the grace and power of a serpent and like the cave art of Lascaux, continues to remind modern culture of animals’ place in previous societies and our dependence on animals and nature.
The ancient civilization of Cahokia in Illinois also offers information about the importance of the animal in history. Artifacts of the Rattler Frog Pipe, a representation of the Leopard frog, have been found near the civilization site.  According to animal studies, the Leopard frog is first frog to leave hibernation in Spring.15 Because frogs are associated with water or rain, it is likely that these pipes were used by shamans in agricultural fertility rites.16

 

Literature and Mythology

It seems the animal is rarely missing from religious ceremonies or mythological tales.  In both realms its role has varied greatly, from power and worship to punishment and sacrifice.  In Christian lore, the lamb is often associated with Christ.  However, in some West African tales, it is the chicken that represents spirituality. According to Ashanti tradition, one is in the presence of God when a hen comes from the ground.17  Often, associated art portrays the chicken as “cosmic life-giver.”18 Many stories of creation include animal references.  In one story, the blame is placed on the dog for being manipulated by the devil and subsequently betraying man.19 Other mythologies relate to the dog as a symbol of healing, and some cultures have used dogs as cleansing “corpse-eaters” or spiritual and physical healing agents.20 Though this type of practice is not widely popular today, traces of the belief remain.  An old French proverb says that the tongue of the dog is medicine.  Jungian lecturer Barbara Hannah explains that “Jung associated saliva with ‘soul substance’…we might say that the dog really massages us with the essence of its soul when it licks us.”21


Romantic poet Charles Baudelaire was familiar with animal symbolism and used it in his writing.  In poems that were banned from his series, Les Fleurs du Mal, Baudelaire used cat metaphors to describe his lovers.  Interestingly, Baudelaire considered poetry, art, and sex as types of escape routes from the misery of existence and, over time, cats have symbolized each of Baudelaire’s “escapes.”22

 

Jung’s belief that the self is represented by an animal23 can be seen in an excerpt from Plato’s Phaedrus, which describes a charioteer driving two horses. One horse is of good breed and fine character, but the other horse is a poor breed that does not follow well.  In this story the horses represent the human psyche and the charioteer must control both sides of his psyche in order to be successful.24


The Panchantantra mythologies are stories featuring animals that educate and teach lessons to build character and are popular among children in India.25  Author Jawaharl Handoo notes that the mythology of the past continues to influence the stories of today. He states, “even in the modern world this symbolism seems very popular with children everywhere… the heroes of popular culture, such as Donald Duck and Spiderman, seem to be extensions of traditional symbolism and conform to the model of the animal tale in which this symbolism finds expression.”26

 

Animal in art

In considering the animal in art in light of my research, I have realized that grouping all images and forms relating to animals into the generic and vague category of “animal art” does not acknowledge the individuality of each piece or place on it the value it deserves. Message and meaning vary greatly in animal art; even what has been considered animal portraiture can expresses ideas relating to both society and the psyche.

 

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13 Ibid.
14 Willis, Roy, ed. Signifying Animals. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.
15 Affandilian, Dave, ed. What Are Animals to Us? Approaches from Science, Religion, Folklore,
Literature, and Art. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007.
16 Ibid.

17 Ryan, Kathleen and Pam J. Crabtree, eds. The Symbolic Role of Animals in Archaeology. Vol 12. Philadelphia, PA: Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology (MASCA), 1995. Print.
18 Ibid.
19 Willis, Roy, ed. Signifying Animals. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.
20 Ibid.
21 Hannah, Barbara. The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals: Lectures given at the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, 1954-1958. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 2006. Print.
22 Rubin, James H. Impressionist Cats & Dogs: Pets in the Painting of Modern Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Print
23 Jung, C. G., and M.-L. von Franz, eds. Man and His Symbols. United States: Dell Publishing, 1968. Print
24 Hannah, Barbara. The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals: Lectures given at the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, 1954-1958. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 2006. Print.
25 Willis, Roy, ed. Signifying Animals. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.
26 Ibid.