Written by Alaina
I often wonder why people do not contemplate the ethics of a decision before it is made. Today, I can upon a painting at the Denver Art Museum that struck me to my core. After all that I have seen, the ways people exploit animals, I am not sure why this surprised me, but it did.
Dozens of butterflies, of various species, were adhered to yellow paint in random positions and paint splattered to their innocent wings as if super glue were thrown across them onto the canvas. The name of the artist is Damien Hirst. Hirst said he used the butterflies metaphorically as a “danger of holding things we love too tightly”. Their fate was sealed on household paint as Hirst described. This was not inevitable, not anything that was bound to happen in nature in a butterfly’s habitat, nor was it necessary.
In 2008, an Algerian-French artist named Adel Abdessemed created an exhibit that sparked great controversy. His exhibit included video clips of animals being beaten to death. When Abdessemed was asked in an interview “how do you define art?” his response was “Art is always dangerous, but not perverse. It’s not neutral. It’s not about design”. Was the public expecting an exhibit from this man that showcased sheer brutality and savagery? Abdessemed went on to ask a question of his own “When you eat a steak, you’re not going to ask yourself if you’re using or abusing a cow, are you?” In my case, I don’t have to ask myself questions pertaining to if I am using or abusing animals, because as a vegan, I reject all forms of animal exploitation. I know that more people are asking themselves that exact question since every year, the number of people who identify themselves as vegan continues to rise.
Some may comment that there are distinct differences between the species that were used brutally by Abdessemed and Hirst. Yes, different species were represented in both instances (mammals and insects), yet this line we have drawn outlining which species are okay and not okay to exploit just keeps us going in circles. More people today are becoming vegan and reject animal exploitation, but continue to eat honey. Again, we are drawing a line based on species, but their honey does not belong to use just like a cow’s milk belongs to a calf and not humans. A butterfly’s animation and beauty should not be plastered on a canvas, nor any other animal or insect. Here is my question to you, the reader. If we continue to exclude specific species from our realm of morals, our sense of wrong, then who is to say that one day we don’t look at another species and exclude them as well?
People have always come up with excuses so that their guilt feels more at ease when they make decisions that exploit animals or insects. The food conglomerates make huge profits off these excuses and ones you have heard includes eating grass fed beef is more sustainable or eating “humane” meat is kind to the animals. Obviously both of these excuses are just that, excuses, they are defense mechanisms people have built to feel like their decisions have merit. These animals and insects deserve the same consideration that we provide to people. Regardless of their intelligence, everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive and live a full happy life.
The interviewer was Peter Laufer, author of the book No Animals Were Harmed: The Controversial Line Between Entertainment and Abuse (if you have not read this book, I highly recommend it.)
Laufer, P. (2012). No animals were harmed: The controversial line between entertainment and abuse. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press.