Animals and Art

Ron Padgett (1996 Grantee)

Published in the Foundation for Contemporary Arts 2007 Grants Booklet

I was saying that sometimes I feel sorry for wild animals, out there in the dark, looking for something to eat while in fear of being eaten. And they have no ballet companies or art museums. Animals of course are not aware of their lack of cultural activities, and therefore do not regret their absence. I was saying this to my wife as we walked along a path in the woods. Every once in a while she would go Unh-huh or Hmmm, but I suspected that she was wondering why I was saying such things. I was saying them in order to see how they would feel when spoken without any hint of irony. Then I quoted the remark about human life as nasty, brutish, and short, but neither she nor I could recall who had said that, though I offered a guess (Carlyle). In fact I had seen the quotation ascribed to someone recently, but I did not mention this to her, for fear of appearing senile. But the truth is that I do not bother to try to remember information that I can look up in a reference book, thinking, I suppose, that I would prefer to fill my mind with the impressions and sensations and spontaneous ideas and mental images that fly past so quickly. Would such a person as I make a good animal? The news today is that scientists have finished the genetic mapping of the human being, and it turns out that we are 99 per cent chimpanzee. I don't feel 99 per cent chimpanzee. It makes me wonder about the enormity of the remaining one per cent, the sliver that causes me to take the subway up to the Met and look at pictures and sculptures and other beautiful and interesting objects, then go to the museum cafeteria and have a cup of tea and a bun, all without the fear that some creature is going to eat me. But back of all of it is a spreading sorrow for those that hide and tremble in the dark.

Ron Padgett's books include the poetry collections How to Be Perfect, You Never Know, and Great Balls of Fire, as well as three memoirs, Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted BerriganOklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers; and Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard. His most recent translation (with Bill Zavatsky) is of Valery Larbaud's Poems of A.O. Barnabooth. He has collaborated with artists such as Jim Dine, Alex Katz, George Schneeman, and Joe Brainard. For more information, go to