Studying paintings can be good for someone’s health, making them feel more engaged and resilient, increasing confidence and lowering rates of depression and anxiety.

The Nord- Trondelag Health Study of 130,000 Norwegians aged 13+, found a definite correlation between life satisfaction and engaging with at least four arts-related leisure activities, whether passive or creative. Another study by the University of London scanned the brains of volunteers and found that seeing art they found beautiful triggered an immediate release of dopamine to the brain, mimicking the physical sensation of falling in love. This shows the great capacity of paintings to produce pleasure & happiness and to give relief from stress.

Animal paintings can similarly inspire happiness as beautiful art works. Additionally, they take inspiration from the idea that looking at animals can help someone to understand humans better. According to John Berger this originated from the spiritual nature of the gaze of animals which lead to their systematic use as metaphors. This developed into the ancient ‘universal use of animal signs for charting the experience of the world’, such as how the sign of each hour of the day for the Ancient Greeks was an animal.

Faience statuette of the hippopotamus-shaped ancient Egyptian Goddess Tawaret, protector of mothers and children

Their prominence in art also may have reflected how they were part of peoples’ most immediate visible surroundings until the early 19th century in most societies. The earliest known expression of their coexistence with humans is the Neolithic cave paintings in La Pasiega  from 64,000 years ago. Depicting their parallel existence could be used ‘to convey, with irony or admiration, the excessive or superlative qualities of different moments’. This capacity of animal art led to their depiction as having apotropaic value (possessing attributes humans felt they lacked) such as in Egyptian bird deity images.

Finally, animal art could be politically effective in protesting cruelty. Grandville’s The Public and Private Life of Animals (1877) used their metaphorical significance by showing animals being pressed disturbingly into the contemporary human way of life. Hogarth’s Stages of Cruelty (1751) used pictures of animals in the first two stages, progressing to cruelty to humans in the third stage.

Grandville, Today's Metamorphoses p. XXIII.jpg

Thank you for reading, happy Summer holiday for soon, please take some time out, and if you want to, please look at some animal paintings. I would personally recommend Marc Chagall’s cow and horse paintings because they are so expressive.