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Wildlife in Art, Science and Public Attitudes Essay

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Updated: Nov 29th, 2020

Nothing in the world exists in a vacuum, and the ability to find links between different things defines the degree of our maturity. People often forget that the planet is not their property, and it makes them utilize harmful and unethical approaches to wild animals and their rights. In 2015, Kate Clark presented a series of taxidermy sculptures with human faces to illustrate people’s unwillingness to recognize themselves as a part of nature (Froelich).

The combination of the brilliant idea and extremely controversial art materials raises a lot of concerns. At the same time, the existence of such projects highlights the need to answer the following question: where do we stand concerning wildlife? If there is one more approach apart from the normalization of violence against animals and supporting hypocritical animal protection initiatives, people have to find it.

In modern works devoted to wild nature and its meaning for the human race, some authors tend to criticize the approach to understanding wildlife based on the romanticization of nature as an object. For instance, in her work titled “A Shark in the Mind of One Contemplating Wilderness,” Tempest Williams argues that wild nature is unique in its beauty when it is “in motion.” The author is a professional naturalist and environmental activist, and her love for nature prevents her from seeing animals as things that can be studied in any possible ways. Although the preservation of animal remains with the help of taxidermy belongs to the techniques that are commonly used in science, the author claims that there are many hidden threats and ethical issues associated with it.

The use of animal bodies can lead to further progression of scientific knowledge in biology and increase common people’s levels of zoological literacy. However, apart from its scientific purposes, taxidermy can sometimes be seen as a form of art, and this tendency bothers modern environmental activists.

As for the essay by Tempest Williams, one of the author’s main arguments relates to people’s inability to understand the beauty and complexity of wilderness by staring at dead bodies surrounded by decorations aimed at representing forests, meadows, snow-covered regions, or other places of habitation. In her work, Tempest Williams criticizes her opponents’ points by comparing and contrasting her experiences related to wild nature in motion and its said immortal form.

The author argues that in the context of art, the presence of “stopped power” and “controlled sensation” prevents such art objects from representing wild nature as it is (Tempest Williams). In this connection, the work explains the need for animal protection in a unique and unhacked way, explaining the inappropriateness of objectifying wilderness.

The existing links between wilderness, violence, and the transformation of art seem to be used to justify the unnecessary exploitation of natural resources, including animals. After getting acquainted with the projects of Damien Hirst, a contemporary artist from the UK who uses the bodies of animals to challenge common statements about mortality, Tempest Williams gets at the heart of the problem with the understandings of wilderness.

In her opinion, Hirst’s approach to art that involves “taking things out of the world” to get to their essence is extremely contradictory and aims to oversimplify the concept of wilderness (Tempest Williams). Kate Clark takes these things a step further and demonstrates the flaws of this approach to wildlife by uniting mutually exclusive ideas. On the one hand, she wants people to realize that they belong to nature and wild animals do nothing bad to be mistreated and exploited (Froelich). On the other hand, her sculptures still present the dead bodies of wild creatures, which can be considered unethical. The introduction of only one new element such as a human-like face can drastically change people’s perceptions of animal remains in art by appealing to their conscience.

Instead of demonstrating the laws of nature and the aesthetic value of untouched wildlife, the willingness to turn animals into art objects eventually leads to the normalization of violence. In the opinion of Tempest Williams, the inability to think holistically when approaching the mystery of life makes people of art understand the beauty of a living creature “not as a continuum but as the texture of the functional design.”

However, apart from the recent trends in art, thinking about wild animals outside of context and its consequences are also closely tied to emotional states and, to some extent, double standards. In her article “Keegan: Why We Care about Whales,” Marina Keegan demonstrates that people’s emotions related to the suffering of animals heavily depend on the biological species and the degree of media coverage. Telling about her volunteering with pilot whales that are not on the verge of extinction, Keegan brilliantly illustrates the consequences of taking things out of context by comparing people’s attitudes to the suffering of big wild animals and some massively exploited species.

Due to her experience, she realizes that “people are strange about animals” since the killing of “thousands of fish” taking place every day does not make them cry, whereas any beached whale gets tons of attention (Keegan).

To some extent, Keegan’s discussion of priority-setting in people’s attitudes to wild nature aligns with the conclusions of Tempest Williams about holistic thinking in understanding the beauty of life. For instance, when asked to think about different species of fish, people are likely to imagine an object and an alimentary product rather than a living creature in its habitat, trying hard to survive and reproduce.

In the case of big animals that are not exploited at the same rate, the tendency to “take things out of the world” can sometimes be replaced by the romanticization of wilderness (Tempest Williams). For instance, when efforts to protect a marine mammal are needed, people can get a full picture of the situation – the silent call for help in its eyes, its drying skin, the inability to echolocate, and a beautiful beach as a battlefield (Keegan). Judging from such heart-searing stories, observing wildlife and its suffering in context leads to a more humane approach to animal rights.

In the modern world, there are two approaches to wilderness and wildlife, both of which represent extremities. Striking the right balance between the mutually exclusive needs of two separate groups can be extremely difficult, but they need to do it is obvious. Reflecting on the aesthetic and conceptual value of Damien Hirst’s works, Tempest Williams demonstrates the ugliness of wild animals’ suffering presented as something beautiful and criticizes people who normalize the exploitation of animals in art.

Similar to Keegan’s article, “Once the Wild is Gone” by Bill Adams demonstrates the reverse of the coin. According to Adams, people’s willingness to deify wild nature can manifest itself in different forms, ranging from indispensable conservation initiatives that bring positive results and prevent further reductions in biodiversity to the neglect of people’s well-being.

The ways to define the value of wild nature concerning the human race greatly vary, and it impacts both trends in art and the character of the conservationist rhetoric. Adams argues that “the tunnel vision of wilderness preservation” is an approach that can be harmful both to people and wild animals since focusing on one particular species without considering inter-species connections and people’s rights does not solve the problem of natural resource exploitation.

For instance, more than twenty-five years ago, many people lost their houses and farms due to the creation of the Mhaginga National Park in Uganda to increase the population of mountain gorillas in the region (Adams). Although such cases are not extremely common, both Adams and Keegan demonstrate the opposite side of modern animal rights advocacy by pointing at activists’ selectiveness. In her discussion, Tempest Williams encourages people to see the beauty of nature as a continuum. However, people make choices emotionally and apply their aesthetic preferences to any situation. As a result, some animals such as elephants and whales are considered more charismatic and deserving help than the others, which is hypocritical (Adams; Keegan).

To sum it up, people’s attitudes to wildlife, the proper way of depicting it, and animal rights are among the problems that can easily polarize society. The very fact that there are mixed opinions about provocative artworks that illustrate the gap between animals and people demonstrates that such issues are complicated and multidimensional. The majority of people, including the authors mentioned above, say that nature is precious and it should be studied, glorified, and protected. However, analyzing popular opinions in a detailed way, one can note that there is no consensus regarding the most balanced approach to wild animals’ rights. Given the complexity of the problem in question, this dialogue is to be continued.

Works Cited

Adams, Bill. “AEON. 2012. Web.

Froelich, Amanda. “True Activist. 2015. Web.

Keegan, Marina. “Yale News. 2009. Web.

Tempest Williams, Terry. “.” The Nation. 1999. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Wildlife in Art, Science and Public Attitudes." November 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/wildlife-in-art-science-and-public-attitudes/.


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