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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Bear Art

Grizzly Bear and Cubs, artist unknown (to me, at least).
One of my most popular series of posts continues to be paintings of wildlife. The most recent post dealt with Giraffe Art, but others have included elephants, tigers, zebras, fish, birds, deer, and probably some others I can't bring to my seventy-two-year-old mind at the moment. And those are just the wild animals. Today we'll take a look at one of the oldest and most popular denizens of the zoo--the bear.

Even without a bottle of Coke, these guys are so...refreshing.
Before we talk about "bear art," perhaps we should watch an exceptionally talented artist actually paint some. His name is Marcel Witte. The Dutch artist calls his painting Migration. The video details the painting process of a life-size polar bear mother with two cubs. They are floating (migrating) on an air mattress in the shape of an ice floe. At the current rate of Arctic ice melting, this somewhat strange idea might not seem so strange after all. Could a few hundred (claw-proof) air mattresses be the answer to climate change for the polar bear?

Migration, 2011, Marcel Witte

Koala Bear,  Ivy Michelle Berg
Biologists tell us that there are eight existing bear species of bears, all descended from the canine branch of the ancient Carnivora family tree (as opposed to felines), with the giant panda and the apparently nearsighted spectacled bear being the oldest living close relatives of the clan. The sloth bear, and sun bear are senior to the Am-erican and Asian Black bears. The brown bear and his pale cousin, the polar bear, bring up the rear as the newest and most recent develop-ments in the Ursine family. The polar bear is a mere 400,000 years old while the Giant Panda dates back some 19-million years. Australia's Koala Bear (above, left), despite it's name and appearance, is not a bear at all, but a marsupial.

Of all the bears, only the Giant Panda is a vegan. With few exceptions, all other bears prefer their meat very, very rare.
Hunting bear, faithfully copied
from a cave wall by a Disney
animator for Brother Bear.
So, what about "bear art"? Historically, from the earliest days to those of the present, art content has always been related to that which important to the artist. Bears have been hunted for sport, food, and folk medicine. Their meat is dark and stringy, like a tough cut of beef. In Cantonese cuisine, bear paws are considered a delicacy. Bear meat should be cooked thoroughly, as it can be infected with the parasite Trichinella spiralis. You probably could have gone all day without knowing that. Bear images are as old as art itself, dating back to the linear paintings on cave walls (roughly 20,000 years ago). Bears were an important part of the cave artist's diet; thus they were an important element in their subject matter. (Artists tend to paint their food before they kill it.)

Fish are an important part of a grizzly bear's diet; but though they still live in caves, they seldom paint fish on their walls.
Beware of the Bear, Gail Finger.
In more recent centuries and cultures bears have been wor-shipped (from afar, no doubt). In a similar manner, artists during such times worshipped them in their paintings, likewise from a safe distance. Today, even with the advent of zoos, few artists paint bears "in plein air." A few might try to sketch them from life; but reportedly bears are not very cooperative models, and sleeping bears tend to prefer dark places. Thus the bear painter is at the mercy of the much braver (and adventurous) bear photographer for the wooly content of his paintings.

The American Black Bear, Al Agnew.

In literature, bears are mentioned in the Old Testament Bible. the 2 Kings relates the story of the prophet Elisha calling on bears to eat the youths who taunted him. Bears are popular in children's stories, including Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and Gentle Ben. The Brown Bear of Norway was an early version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, was published as The Three Bears in 1837 by Robert Southey, and illustrated in 1918 by Arthur Rackham.

The Three Bears, 1918,
Arthur Rackham

Ted Spread, 1994, by Ditz
The cartoon character Yogi Bear has appeared in numerous comic books, animated television shows and films. The Care Bears began as greeting cards in 1982, and were featured as toys, on clothing and in film. All over the world, many children—and some adults—have teddy bears, stuffed toys in the form of bears, named after the American President Theodore Roosevelt when in 1902 he had refused to shoot an American black bear tied to a tree. Smokey Bear has become a part of American culture since his introduction in 1944, with his message "Only you can prevent forest fires."

The Bear Dance, William Holbrook Beard
Bears, like other animals, may be symbolic as to nations. In 1911, the British satirical magazine Punch published a cartoon about the Anglo-Russian Entente by Leonard Raven-Hill in which the British lion watches as the Russian bear sits on the tail of the Persian cat. The Russian Bear has been a common national personification for Russia from the 16th century onwards. Bears in captivity have for centuries been used for entertainment. They have been trained to and were kept for baiting in Europe at least since the 16th century. There were five bear-baiting gardens in Southwark, London at that time; archaeological remains of three of these have survived. Across Europe, nomadic Romani bear handlers called Ursari lived by busking with their bears from the 12th century.

The Bear Party, Stella Violano


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