During her week-long visit to Earthfire , wildlife artist Anne London shared her insights on the connective nature of art and why it’s so important in a world of increasing isolation. Listen to the full episode below.
SUSAN: We had a conversation yesterday, just a beautiful free-flowing conversation about the nature of art and animals and what’s so important. One of the things that you said so beautifully yesterday is how good art with animals—which is what you do—helps us feel not alone.
ANNE: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, I think probably one of the reasons I’m still so content with my subject matter—I’m heading into my fifth decade with the same subject matter. For any artist, that’s really something. Artists tend to jump around and make leaps of thought, and then they change it up. I have changed my style here and there, but I’m still very married to the animal imagery. And sometimes the cultures that I meet living closely with animals—say the bushmen in Africa—I do also like to draw them. Because really, it’s the same discussion, as an artist. I’m reaching into a rectangular shape—we’ll call it a canvas—and I’m trying to touch and remember the experience the animals I encounter and also the people who live closely with animals I encounter. So it’s not a flat canvas as much as it is a door that I open and I’m reaching into. That’s what it feels like.
And in regard to feeling alone, let me speak to that. Especially making art—whether you’re writing as you do or painting like I do—it’s a solitary endeavor. And the fact that we all have evolved our frontal cortex isolates us even more so, I think. And it’s interesting that people talk about their search for identity. That sounds like they’re trying to reinforce the solitude, doesn’t it? Instead of opening up to all of the rest. You know, that search for identity is sort of a crutch in modern times to not deal with something more important. It’s like, if you’re so inwardly directed—selfies on cameras, or all the stuff that people do that seems so narcissistic—it is kind of crutch. We tell ourselves it’s important to have our own style and our own flair and our own identity without addressing the identity we share as other earthlings. The wolves and the bears out there have an identity that they openly share with no filters. They openly share it. In fact, part of their survival depends on being open and sharing. They don’t have the clutter of frontal cortex like we do. And so, okay, frontal cortex allows me to be an artist or you a writer or scientists to take notes or a musician to compose a beautiful concert. I get it. But the fact that the animals—I think—don’t have the clutter to their experience, they experience everything. They hear a concert in the wind in the trees. Or they sing when they howl. It’s a spontaneous, natural, holistic thing. We have to come at it from this intellectual place. It’s hard for us to get underneath the filter and back to the thing that’s analogous to those animals out there. It’s hard for us to get back. And that thing that makes it hard also isolates us.
We were talking about cultures—I will refrain from calling them primitive, because really, the mechanism I’m going to talk about is quite sophisticated. The mechanism of, perhaps in some cultures, leaving their body through a trance. Or singing back to the animals. Or having chants or drum rhythms that transport them out of just their own personal experience and into the greater experience. Those old cultures, they have something they’re still connected to. And I think we’ve lost that. I think we’ve become mired in justifying our frontal cortex. What do you think about that?
SUSAN: Now, how do you relate that back to not feeling alone, or helping us feel less alone?
ANNE: Well, when I go to an art museum, and I find the one or two pieces that speak to me and I stand in front of them, and for whatever reason, the artist has brought to bear their mastery of what they’re doing, and their vision and what they’re saying, that has allowed me—the viewer, the consumer—to drop the artifice of soul intellect and just engage with the piece of art. That’s a huge success in art. When somebody stands in front of a piece of mine, for instance, and they get emotional—I see them get teary—best compliment in the world. When I’m in a museum and I have that experience, or when you’re sitting at a concert with some incredible music and you’re transported, you have forgotten that you’re witnessing the work of someone else. You’re not thinking that. You’re just experiencing something. And so, if art can unlock the ability of a human with—call it the tools or call it the years of trying to master your concept or whatever it is—if you can provide a transcendent moment for someone else with your art, then you’ve just, in a way, brought them into your same territory. And that’s when you’re not alone.
The animals do it naturally. The animals have a sense of place and of being in place. We lose that because we’re so busy busy busy with all of our human activities that we forgot something older and more basic.
I always wonder about those cave artists—you know those cave artists that, to our knowledge, were the first people to chronicle the outside outline of a bison. And why? What would be the compelling nature of dragging your materials into a cave with a torch? It was difficult. Getting up to the ceiling—we know that they had to bring in scaffolding materials, which means that they had help. It wasn’t just one crazy artist alone. It was a group of people intent on this gesture. And what was the gesture about? They weren’t making art. Art’s not a concept to them. But they were having a moment of objective awareness of something that they had experientially had outside of the cave with the animal. So here you have the beginning of objective thought. You would have to have a tiny bit of objective thought to remember—remember, they didn’t have sketch pads, they didn’t have cameras—those beautiful, beautiful drawings of bison and lions and everything were done from memory. Memory was big! I think our memories have atrophied—listen, I can hardly remember where my car is parked anymore, because now I have a stupid fob on the keys, right? So the memory atrophies. Memory is hugely important to animals. It’s how they remember to migrate where they need to go, or find a food source, or how to raise their young because they were taught by their parents. Memory was a much bigger factor.
But now you introduce this objective, tiny seed, probably mostly in humans, although I’ll argue I can find examples of art in other species—we’re not alone there either. But that little bit of objectivity, we love to call that objectivity intelligence. We give it a lofty word, that objective quality. And I would argue, it’s not always intelligent. Wars. Toxic chemicals. Treating people poorly. Those are the result of objective quantification, right? So the thing that could make a beautiful painting on a cave wall has evolved—developed, been embroidered, whatever you want to call it—and now we have children being separated from their parents at the borders for an indeterminate amount of time, and being justified. That’s an objective decision somebody made in an office. It’s not a reactive decision, like being in the same room with those kids and hearing them cry. You see where I’m going with that? It’s the objective seed that might have been responsible for a beautiful painting on a cave wall and is indeed part of a what I do as an artist and what you do as a writer. It’s also warped, twisted, and brought to bear on some pretty ugly things.
SUSAN: It’s not balanced with heart.
SUSAN: It’s separated from heart. Otherwise, it would not be warped.
ANNE: I agree.
SUSAN: And it’s the abstraction that we do, trying to make it scientific, objective. But you say objectivity is the danger. Too much heart would be a danger, too. It’s a balance that we need and we haven’t found it yet, as humans, but we rather urgently need to. I would like to go back to the idea of seeing great art in a museum, and how, if it’s great art, you begin to enter into that artist’s experience. You feel what they feel. See what they see. You’re enriched by the whole thing. And that sense of connection is what makes us get really emotional. I think that only works with great art. Not good art or ordinary art. What is it that makes great art, that does that? My own theory before you as an artist—a professional—correct me on that, my own feeling is that we’re in the line of truth of the universe somehow. We somehow have tapped into something that is profoundly true. And we’ve done the craft so that we have a craft for it. And somehow, we’re in tune with something. And good art is beautiful and you get some nice stuff, but it doesn’t have the impact of great. Do you agree? And what is it that makes it great?
ANNE: Well, you know, I’m often struck by this when I’m in an art museum. There are many pieces on walls in museums all over the world that you’ll hear people say, “Oh! My five-year-old can do that!” We hear it all the time. And they’re not wrong. A five-year-old—although they may not be making, by a critic’s value, great art, they are making an honest piece of artwork. And you go to art school, and you learn all this stuff, and the joke is you spend the rest of your life trying to forget everything you learned in art school. And that’s a little extreme in wording, but what’s meant by that is that you want the techniques and exposure to materials that you had in school to become like muscle memory. But your greater work is trying to get back underneath the layers of the frontal cortex—back to when you were maybe five, and when you put a mark on paper, you felt the mark. You didn’t, as a 30-year-old with an MFA, let’s say, decide before the paint hit the canvas, oh, this is the perfect place to put it. If you’re a five-year-old, you just put it, and it becomes the perfect place, okay? So in criticizing art and putting art into the categories of good art, I would say that I look at children’s art sometimes and I get feelings. I’m transported. Because of their honesty. They’re not burdened by art history yet or, hopefully not, critics at that point. And there’s something genuine and beautiful about that.
And I would also say, no coincidence, children generally communicate well with animals, don’t they? They’re attracted to animals. They reach out for animals. And animals are also conversely—usually—very tolerant of human children. And I think that’s because, very much so, we have children and animals all have maybe one thing in common: they’re not yet cluttered. The children aren’t yet cluttered, so the communication is easier.
SUSAN: This isn’t developed yet.
ANNE: Right. Exactly. So, you know, your struggle as an artist is to get underneath. Let the intuitive guide you. Let the muscle memory of all your training inform your arm. But then let go—and that’s when the best work happens. I’ve seen pieces that weren’t necessarily acclaimed by anybody, but that moved me—really moved me. And then I’ve seen pieces that people go on and on and on about. There’ve been more books written about the Mona Lisa, for instance. I’m not a particular fan of that painting, I have to tell you. Call it sacrilege. It’s not my favorite painting. I think he did other work that was far more interesting. But anyway, the idea of great art, it’s like, that’s so individual. And it’s so different. And I’m sure that right now, there’s somebody looking at their Elvis painting on black velvet and they’re having a transcendent moment. And who am I to say that’s not authentic as an experience? The viewer brings something to it.
SUSAN: It’s the honesty that you’re talking about that makes it great, then.
ANNE: I think so. But you know, not for nothing, the viewer—the viewer’s honesty in approaching art. Like a critic. A critic, by and large, has lost their ability to be moved, okay? Because they’ve made it a business. It’s an occupational hazard for an art critic—music critic, whatever critic—to walk in and by somebody else’s standard that they were given, assess whether something’s good. It’s really ridiculous. You know, it’s really ridiculous. A critic would call art a noun. Art is a noun to a critic. Art is a verb to an artist, and art is also a verb to an open mind. Right? A critic sees it only as a noun. How sad.
SUSAN: Something you said that really interested me was animals hearing concerts in the wind, the song of the bird, the wind in the leaves and the grasses. So you’re saying animals feel beauty in art. Do they also make it?
ANNE: Well, of course, I can’t get into an animal’s brain. But I will tell you things I have witnessed. So, there was a time when I was very heavily invested in producing images of marine animals. I was living on the coast out in California. I spent a lot of time in the company of several dolphins that were in captivity. And while I was there, they had a little room called a hydrolater that they let me sit in—it was at the bottom of the tank—with my sketch pad, and I would be there for hours. And the dolphins, at first, they’re very interested—why are you here? And then they’d kind of relax and they’d do their thing. And I saw the dolphins start to blow bubble rings. Now when I tell people about this, if you haven’t seen this, you’re going to think that I’m crazy or in drugs or something, but this is what happened. You see a dolphin by themselves, separate from the other dolphins, go to the bottom of the tank, which is, perhaps, 40 feet at most. They kind of hunch over where the shoulder blades would be, their eyes kind of go closed, and they emit from the blowhole on the top of their head a perfectly circular tiny—it’s like a wire of silver. It’s a perfect bubble. And how they do this—because you know the hole on the top of their head isn’t a hole. It’s actually more like a flap that closes like this. They’ve learned to manipulate the surface here like people who make smoke rings when they’re smoking. So this tiny ring comes out. Now, what happens is the dolphin backs away and regards this bubble. Now, it’s air. It’s going to wobble upwards. As the air goes upwards, it expands. So the bubble goes from a tiny, thin, silver bracelet-looking thing up to bigger hoop like this, and now it’s thicker like that—like a rope. It stays intact. How do they do it? By the time it gets from 40 feet down to the surface, it can become as big as a hula hoop and as big around as this [holds hands up in front of face like she’s holding a basketball]. And they watch it. I’ve been watching the dolphins do this, and they’re watch this creation hit the surface. And they’ll do it multiple times. Sometimes, they’ll go up with it and they’ll cradle the ring with their pectoral fins, and they’ll make it dance a little bit.
And then I saw, though—this really blew my mind—I saw a dolphin blow a ring and follow it up. It was about this large [holds up hands about 3 feet apart]. They blew a second ring underneath the first one, which rose faster—they somehow had put more air into the second ring—and it rose up, very fast. The forces of air molecules and water in these two undulating bubbles that are circular, they’re rising, and they join and became one big… So the dolphin is watching this, I’m watching it—I’m watching the dolphin do this.
Let me tell you, there is no way you cannot call that art. It’s fun. Because it doesn’t last—there’s plenty of artists now that do work that doesn’t… those things are meant not to last. It’s a performance piece. It’s a dance. Whatever you want to call it. The dolphin’s doing it for fun. There’s no quotient for survival that I can see. In fact, they don’t want to do it with other dolphins. It’s a solitary endeavor. I so related to this. So, we consider their brain power, their cortex and so forth. We put them on a plane of being a higher thinking individual, like gorillas and chimps, humans, you know, and dolphins, and a couple other animals—dogs are beginning to be more evaluated as being higher. Now, I don’t know—I haven’t lived with wolves to know if they rearrange the forest to their liking. Or maybe they dig a den with certain types of curves that don’t answer anything.
SUSAN: They do a deliberate harmony with their howls.
ANNE: Harmony with the howls.
SUSAN: Beautiful harmony. And different types of harmony for different moods.
ANNE: How could you not call that art? What’s the difference between—because we catalog it on paper? But, you know, really, when you start talking about the differences, they start to minimize, I think.
SUSAN: That example of the dolphins was gorgeous. I want more.
ANNE: Well, okay, you know, I have seen—and you know, I can’t quantify this, and I’m sure any scientist who studies elephants is going to be rolling with anger over this—but I have seen elephants doing things in the dirt that are interesting. So, you see a baby elephant pick up a stick. It’s hard for them when they’re little to actually hold something with their trunk. But they pick up the stick and then they drag it around in the sand and the dirt, and then they’ll keep dragging it around. It’s like, well, are they just involved in carrying a stick? Or is the mark on the ground something that’s part of what they’re doing. I cannot say it isn’t. Who can say that? No one can say that—that those marks aren’t important to that little elephant. And big elephants pick up things and move them around. What for? It looks better over there. I don’t know. Interior decoration for elephants. I don’t know. And the blue bower bird. You’ve heard about the bower bird that lays out blue objects in a perfect semi-circle, weaves a perfect bower—a little bit of architecture—over his place, and he’s trying to entice a mate. Or so they say. Maybe he’s just making art and a female thinks that’s groovy. I mean, why does it only have to be trying to entice a mate? That’s a human label on that. You know, the fact that a female comes over, well, that could be just the gravy. Like, come up and see my etching sometime, right? [Laughs] I don’t know. But it’s beautiful—it’s really beautiful.
SUSAN: So, you think they have a sense of beauty?
ANNE: As much as we do. I mean, if you were a Martian looking down at us and you had to quantify why we do things…
SUSAN: You say, “As much as we do.” Actually, a sense of beauty is not in the forebrain. A sense of beauty is something deeper. So that’s perhaps why you’re saying they have the same sense of beauty in the way that we do. We can talk about it, we can objectify it, and do all kinds of other things, but the fundamental experience of beauty is definitely not a forebrain kind of thing.
ANNE: I think that’s so true. How well said, that we do objectively talk about it—we’re doing it now. We’re talking about beauty. Not only as viewing beauty, but making beauty. We’re talking about that. We’re not doing it, we’re talking about it.
SUSAN: To the extent I can, I try to feel it as I talk about it, so that as I speak it, some of the energy of the feeling and the beauty comes out in how I speak. And I think that’s a really important thing for all of us to try to do—rather than take our words and disconnect them from that, so they become empty, abstract words—to always keep them rooted in feeling.
ANNE: Well, good writing. When I read a good writer, I think that would be something I would agree with. When I read a terrifically phrased sentence, it’s just a thing of beauty. Or a paragraph.
SUSAN: And it evokes.
ANNE: Yes, very evocative.
SUSAN: It evokes, which is from that deep place. Do you have other thoughts of animals making art?
ANNE: Yes. How about whales singing in the ocean? That’s an interesting thing. The whales, as I understand it, they—humpbacks, in particular—the humpback whales have a song, and then every year, they add a new stanza to it. And the other pods in other areas of the world somehow know that and add the stanza to their song. Why? Is there some survival quotient here? It’s just beautiful. And if you see them singing, it’s very interesting to see these humpbacks hanging in the water. Without moving a muscle, they hover, and they stay at the perfect buoyancy while they’re singing. I think I’ve seen it where they’re usually heads-down doing this. And the sound, if you’re in the water with them when they’re singing, it goes through your body. It very much is felt. The acoustics of water—and our bodies are mostly body—you really do feel it. But the fact that they add stanzas is amazing, isn’t it? What for? If it was just about mating, there would be no need. But the fact that they find it beautiful to add… Now, maybe they’re more attractive to their audience if they add a stanza, but I would say, any rock star with teeny-bopper groupies has experienced the adulation of audience. So really, are we any different?
SUSAN: I’ll tell you, our bears love being adored—from a distance, but they want the adoration. [Laughs] They want their appreciation and their attention.
SUSAN: Are there other things you think are important to share about your feelings about art, beauty, animal, wildlife, why you continue being so fascinated by it and it continues to a growth for you even though it’s the same type of subject?
ANNE: We were talking about this before, and I think that you have—at least, let me say from my standpoint—entering my fifth decade on the same subject matter. So I have a creative inertia. My idea keeps me going. My creative inertia. But that said, most artists have these sudden leaps, where, let’s say, you’re doing something for so many years, and then out of the blue, you try a new technique, a new color pattern, new brushes, completely new whatever. You can still be doing the same subject matter, but you make these leaps. And I was thinking about this the other day, it’s like, you know, everything has a component like that so that we have an inertia. You have an inertia here.
SUSAN: You mean a positive inertia.
ANNE: Oh yeah.
SUSAN: Because inertia means a negative feeling, bored, etc.
ANNE: Oh, no, positive inertia just as well.
ANNE: Your positive inertia here is everything you’ve created at Earthfire that enforces, that reaches out to people, that tells us that we’re not alone, that these are sentient creatures that are worth being saved on their individual levels. Everything you do here—and as many years as you have—you have an inertia going forward. And every now and then, like me in the studio, out of the blue you get an idea. It’s like sudden pop. It’s not taking you away from your subject matter. But it’s an interesting phenomenon. I often wonder, where do these crazy ideas come from when I’m in the studio? It’s an interesting problem. I think when you don’t have enough ideas, I think, it’s time to get off that horse. I have too many ideas. You seem to have too many ideas, right? I think that’s part of what keeps us going, is that we keep having these things bubble up to the surface. So I’m going to say that my drawing and my art, I see it as also a phenomenon that you can employ looking at other things. It’s that, yes, you have creative inertia, but then you have this pop, right. So for instance, right now we’re having a lot of inertia that’s negative in our country about division. And things are fanning the flames of division. They have their own inertia, born of their need to control. So, divided, polarized, it’s just terrible. It’s more isolating than anything. People think that joining a polarized team on one end or the other is joining a tribe. It’s not. It’s actually more isolating. I find that to be a sad thing. It’s like, no no no, you put yourself in a small place now, not a big place.
SUSAN: Talk about the bushmen a bit, because they’re so different.
ANNE: Yes. That’s a clever segue. [Laughs] Yeah, the bushmen. You know, the bushmen are interesting because they—
SUSAN: But you spend a lot of time with them, first.
ANNE: I do. I’m in the Kalahari Desert, sometimes twice a year, in Africa. And there’s one particular group of bushmen that we’ve become very close with. And we became very close with their patriarch, who also serves as the shaman for the group, and their leader. And you know, he died a few years ago, and we were very much saddened by it. And I got the email in America about his passing, and the amazing thread of communication from people all over the world. There were people from Austria, and people from Australia, and people from Vietnam, that had somehow bumped into this little guy, this leader. And he was the most unassuming person. I had done a drawing of this guy and given him the drawing, and you know, he didn’t even know it was of him because he had never bothered to look in a mirror. His family, with signs and their language, which is clicks, told him, “That is an image of you yourself.” And he had never known it.
So what I’m saying is that they don’t have the isolation, the need to see themselves as a separate person. The mirror thing just isn’t all that important to them. We have a hard time imagining not looking at ourselves in the mirror at once a day to see that we’re not too crazy looking, and some people are obsessed with it. But for that group, the sense of individual is not nearly as important or pursued as the sense of a group living with the bigger group of the wildlife around them. The fluid nature of their reality—the fluid nature wasn’t governed by, “We are units. We are individuals.” It was a comfortable reality that if they needed to or they wanted to go into a trance, they could leave this particular carriage and go join the carriage of a lion, which is part of their cultural heritage. I had the great fortune of having the trance dance performed for us and hearing lions roaring in the background and being told by my interpreter, “That is your friend. He’s out there, roaring at you.” And I said, “He is? What is he saying?” And the interpreter said, “Don’t you understand that?” Because she was also from that tribe. And I said, “No, I can’t.” And she said, “He’s saying thank you as a lion, because you did this teaching of his kids during the day.” And I was so moved by that. I mean, what better thank you could you get than that one. I mean, the common language we had was the animal’s roar, even if we didn’t share the same human language. I don’t even know if they think of themselves as separate from the animals. I think this is just an easy interface for them. They live with it. They can hear the stars making music at night. They think we’re poor for the fact that we can’t. They don’t understand how we don’t hear that. Isn’t that interesting?
Yeah, the bushmen are really magical people. But they do illustrate that it’s possible to forget yourself—your SELF—and be joined by a much greater community, be it other human beings or the animal nations out there. They remind me of that. It’s a huge source of inspiration for me at home.
SUSAN: And that’s how you do your art—attempt to get into that space.
ANNE: I do. I have to say that I’ve always had that feeling of leaving this and feeling, as I’m touching the lion’s face, let’s say, or the wolf’s face, of touching myself as a wolf. So it’s almost like I’m the object in the painting, and the human hand is touching with a paintbrush. It’s like reconnecting somehow. That’s what it feels like. It’s like being in two places at the same time.
SUSAN: Your paintings are exquisite. They’re not like any other paintings I’ve seen. They are so vivid of the animal’s being and soul. You ought to be rich and you’re not, which is a shame. You’re doing a little bit of what the bushmen do. Another thought that I had while you were talking about this gentleman with respect to painting, not knowing himself separate, made me just go back to the cave painting thinking. I don’t know why, because it’s sort of… They’re painting the animals they’re being, perhaps?
ANNE: They feel those animals.
ANNE: I think that’s a good way to paint, too.
SUSAN: And that’s why your paintings are so gorgeous.
ANNE: Well, I appreciate that.
SUSAN: And their paintings, as well.
ANNE: Yeah, you know, the bushmen art in Africa is some of the oldest artwork done by hominids known now. So they also, even though they have this concept of being at one with their environment, they also have that seed of objectivity, enough to put artwork on the wall. The seed of it. Now, I can tell you that these same people, this is one of the very oldest cultures still living on the planet.
SUSAN: Including some of the oldest.
ANNE: Right. And you find them out there and they’re still living, wearing skins, making ostrich shell necklaces on their skin, and living in the desert that would kill me in two days. These are just amazing people. And they’re very deep people. They don’t suffer for things to think about. They’re very deep in their thinking. When I manage to be with the bushmen and we manage to share some common thought, I know immediately what they’re thinking. It’s like they somehow convey it to me without English. And I certainly don’t understand their language, you know, the clicks. But you can understand cadence or forcefulness, and eye contact that comes with it at the same time. Like when you’re with an animal. Let’s say you’re at close quarters with a wolf and you heart the wolf’s panting, and you see the wolf looking at you and the cadence of their panting is almost like a cadence of speaking. [Pants] And then they stop. I think that means something. Without assigning it words, I can assign it a feeling. Words get in the way a lot. But it’s kind of what we have. Words. Visual imagery.
SUSAN: We have both, if we’d use them.
ANNE: If we’d use them, yeah. But, you know, humans can be so duplicitous and hard to read.
SUSAN: I have a question for you that’s a difficult one, and we’ll see if we want to continue with it or not, which is it seems that there are forces which want to destroy beauty in all its forms. Destroy art. Destroy animals. Destroy the bushmen. Destroy beauty. They want to destroy anything that’s beautiful. Any thoughts about that?
ANNE: Yes, it’s the fear-based concept, to destroy as a way to control. If you can’t—if you don’t have the wherewithal to open your heart to just view a beautiful lion, if you don’t have the capability to connect with this old stuff, then—my opinion about trophy hunters in particular, is that they want to destroy. Why? Then they can take the skin and put it on a form, pop some glass eyeballs in and have it in their living room. It’s like they’ve dominated it. It’s like this need to dominate, because they don’t know how to let go and just be with, for whatever reason. Now, I’m not talking about people who hunt to eat, right? Even the bushmen hunt to eat. They’re very respectful. They have a ritual that they do after they’ve killed an animal. But you see, a trophy hunter doesn’t act that way. What is their ritual? They stick their boot on the animal’s neck and have a picture?
SUSAN: Not just that, horrible as it is. But in general, we seem to want to destroy anything beautiful, kind, and good.
ANNE: Yes. That is something I agree with. I do kind of go off on a tangent because this thing about trophy hunting is big for me.
ANNE: But you’re right. There are people who would rather see no one have great art than to just let it be. There are people who are that jealous, afraid they’ll never get it, don’t like the fact that they’re excluded from an experience, so they’d rather eliminate the experience. Like the people who shoot up people randomly. They don’t know these people. Why would you do that. If you’re so frustrated with the world, why would you take that away from someone else? It’s a control issue, it’s an anger issue, and I think that anger comes from lack of connection. So you know this is something that Earthfire really addresses, and I really love that. It’s like, if we can get the connection to come together again, if we can happily and joyfully show people, “Look! You can get there, too. You can get there with us.” It’s going to be a ripple effect. There are going to be people who go home—they’ve never had that experience until they come here, and they’re going to go home and go, “I can’t believe I looked into the wolf’s eyes. It looked back at me! I had a moment!” Right? That’s what you’re after, to get that connection back. This is—and we’ve mentioned this before—the conservation of empathy. Empathy is an endangered thing right now. It’s being chipped away. And it is the thing we need most. It’s the thing we need to put before all else. Everything needs this empathy up front, before we take action.
SUSAN: Connection first.
ANNE: Right! Or you condemned. You rule by the sword, you die by the sword.
SUSAN: Or you make decisions that are relatively useless in the long run. Decisions like… well, I can’t think of one right now, but you don’t make decisions based on the connection and the awareness that comes from the connection and therefore, the decision is truly good for you and the other being. We make objective, as you would say, decisions without taking in all that really important evidence that’s non-verbal.
SUSAN: And we just make scientific, objective decisions that miss the heart of everything, and therefore miss any real support of life.
ANNE: Yeah, there are so many things that want to deprive us.
SUSAN: That’s why your art’s so important. It’s why the work I do is so important. We’re trying to connect.
ANNE: And I think… And I would suggest this, too. You know, you think about zoologists or field biologists or veterinarians or anybody at all that has ever spent any time working with and helping animals. And you ask them, what got you onto this pathway? Why are you doing this? What was the earliest moment you can remember that leads in a straight line to where you are right now? For me, it was a dog that I was friends with. And that dog and I bonded. And the next thing along the line was the movie Born Free, when I was a little kid it came up, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And the next thing after that was meeting a movie star that had over 400 animals that she was taking care of because they were retired movie animals and they would have been just shot otherwise, and seeing the noble purpose there and how much energy she put into that. And now these many years later, after making art for all these decades, and I meet you and Jean here. And I see, oh, you see how wonderful that is that again, we’re not alone. But there are lots of people working on similar pathways, right? And those pathways come from the earliest, earliest, earliest place where we were able to empathize—not sympathize. It’s a beautiful moment.
Anne E. London is a world renowned wildlife artist and conservationist. Early in her career, after visiting a refuge in California for big cats, elephants, and many other endangered species retired from the media, she began melding her artwork with her love for animals. Anne started to focus on creating dramatic pieces that provide emotive portraits of wild animals, especially endangered species. In the decades since, she has developed a remarkable career as both an internationally recognized artist and a champion of animal conservation.
Through her frequent visits to wild locations, Anne witnesses animals firsthand and records the face of nature through her Portraits of the Wild series. She draws only what she sees and viscerally feels from the animals’ perspectives while immersing herself in the natural surroundings.
Now in her fourth decade as a fine artist, Anne has expertly used her work to raise money and awareness for endangered animals. She is active in several animal conservation organizations and serves on the board of directors for the Project Hope Foundation. Anne is also a member of Earthfire’s Advisory Circle. Learn more about Anne and her art at www.aelondonstudio.com.