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208 × 156 mm
208 pages
67 illustrations, 15 in colour
19 May 1997
  • £14.95

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Monkey Painting Thierry Lenain

Towards the end of the 1950s biologists, investigating the question of how art originated, came up with the idea of getting monkeys to paint pictures. The monkeys’ paintings showed some of the aesthetic qualities that Tachism and Action Painting had made acceptable. Consequently, exhibitions were organized and attracted much controversy, catching the attention of artists such as Dalí and Picasso.

Monkey Painting places this colourful episode within the context of the human sciences. Thierry Lenain explores for the first time the origins of ‘monkey art’ – from the classic theme of the Monkey Painter to the most recent experiments – showing how this amazing activity can be part of a cultural history where modern art and evolutionary thought meet. But if monkey painting is a product of scientific intervention, it also highlights the animals’ own capacities; and the author gives serious consideration to these issues.

Drawing on a large body of historical and scientific evidence, much of it unpublished, this book sets out a new interpretation of quasi-artistic behaviour in monkeys, showing that there may be a fine line between it and ‘true’ art.

Monkey Painting will be of interest to those interested in cultural studies, aesthetics and anthropology, as well as biologists and animal psychologists.

‘[the book’s} review of this extraordinary episode in the history of art and anthropology makes enthralling reading . . . [Lenain] cannot help let slip an infectious fascination with our primate cousins . . . [he] succeeds in making his book unputdownable.’ – The London Magazine

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Thierry Lenain is Professor of Art Theory at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. He is also the author of Art Forgery (Reaktion, 2011).