Art, Animals, and Activism

Art is so much more than pretty pictures or even interesting compositions. Art can also be inspiring — in more than the usual sense. Because art has the ability to touch us at deep, emotional levels, it can stir us to action. This seems to be especially true when art involves animals.

Several years ago, a group of artists known as Artist Ambassadors Against Poaching (AAAP) worked in conjunction with the African Wildlife Trust to help preserve the dwindling elephant population in that nation.

Art as a means of promoting animal welfare is not new, however.

I recently learned the interesting story behind a painting titled Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner, painted by Edwin Landseer in 1837. The painting is housed today in the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The gallery tag reads:  “This scene of the sentimental devotion of a dog won praise and popularity for its famous artist, Edwin Landseer. The animals he painted display human feelings and characteristics. One of the important aims of British art of the day was to illustrate sentiment and affection in paintings.”

This painting’s story, however, goes far beyond its mere illustration of feeling and affection.

In March, 1881, Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner was reproduced in Our Dumb Animalsthe first magazine in the United States dedicated to animal welfare. It was published by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and became an important part of early animal advocacy campaigns.

MSCPA advocates saw Landseer’s painting as a way to show that both humans and animals shared similar emotions. In the painting, the dog is mourning the loss of the old shepherd, a close companion. He rests his head on the wooden coffin, refusing to leave his friend’s side even after death.

Another art advocate who used her work for a good cause is a young girl — Kat — who at the age of ten created Kids Against Lab Beagles, using her love of art to help the Beagle Freedom Project (now known as Rescue + Freedom Project). She learned about the plight of lab animals after adopting a rescue beagle and knew she wanted to help put a stop to animal cruelty. She began painting and selling acrylics of beagles.

In 2010, young artist Olivia Bouler raised over $100,000 through her bird drawings to help birds in the Gulf Oil spill. She was eleven years old when she contacted the Audubon Society with her idea.

An even younger artist — Connor Jones — sold paintings at a yard sale and raised over $100 in support of a local animal shelter. He was nine years old.

Here are a few additional artists you might want to check out:

Jo-Anne McArthur

Dana Ellyn

Peter Max

Dan Piraro

Sue Coe

Dan Witz

Tamara Kenneally

Gale Hart

Roger Olmos

These artists are from many different places, and they represent a variety of styles and media. All are united, however, in their advocacy for animal rights.






  1. What a beautiful post, I’m glad I stumbled upon it. There is much to be said about how animals were/are depicted in art. It would make for an interesting research topic. One of my favorite paintings is Bellowing Cow,1871 (Brüllendes Rind) by Rudolf Koller. Every time I see it, I wonder if the artist wanted to convey a deeper meaning.

    Liked by 3 people

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