Research Project - Anthropomorphism

My objective is to research into anthropomorphism.

The first anthropomorphic drawings I came across were in a comic book series entitled Black Sad. Black Sad is a detective/thriller/film noir novel written by Juan Diaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido. The idea that a serious novel can be carried by animals (especially a cat as the main character) is an interesting pivot point for the juxtaposition of reality and imagination. Susan Herbert realises this in her illustrations of famous artworks such as ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Birth of Venus’ etc.

My work really parallels that of Herbert in the sense that it’s a modification of something very relatable and broad/famous, (e.g. famous artworks or famous musicians). The style of personifying animals through art that is driven by popular culture seems to appeal to a variety of audiences, from artwork to music, film to novels.

Animal Farm for example, by George Orwell depicted a message of those in power, with the pigs overthrowing the farmer and taking over the farm. Eventually they anthropomorphise in an emotional sense (besides merely talking like humans) and become like humans, with their flaws, jealousy, anger, greed and corruption. The pigs (reputedly the most intelligent of farm animals) took over a dictatorship, with lesser intelligent animals filling in the ranks below, Horses, Cows and Sheep (in descending order respectively). Mirroring the real-life intellect with Orwell’s conceptual character design was a clever way to allow the story to unfold easier. In my work I have chosen to draw musicians in two different animal forms, cats and dogs. This, for very specific reasons allow us to identify with the illustrations by creating a uniformity to the artists. Since the musicians I have chosen are extremely famous (to help with identification by the public) I have decided to use some of the most common animals that every person would identify with and relate to. Cats and dogs are pets to many people in western civilisation and as such are commonplace in many peoples minds, as such are the musicians, actors, and other media types that are portrayed in the press, on television, books and the internet. I am reflecting the commonality of the musicians with the high frequency in which we find ourselves interacting with these pets.

The research, in places, helped me to discover different styles of personifying animals and indeed animalising humans. Some work such as Guarnido’s Black Sad moves along a pictorial timeline, with an ever-pulsing story helping to create a divergence in art style and imagery, combining both the structure of the lines and the texture/colour of the illustrations to convey a more vivid realisation of the plot. However, except the work of Herbert as already discussed, my work seems to be quite dissimilar (although fitting into the sectors of anthropomorphism and personification of animals) to much of the mainstream art. In some ways it has distracted me from my main aim and original style, by tempting me to draw more like the illustrators that I have researched alongside this project. The influences, while from a professional and well-established community, don’t perhaps help me to find a uniquity but to produce familiar artwork as the work that can already be seen in the published climate.

This is why I chose to carry on my work in the style that I have been developing over the last few years. As different as it is from the work that’s already established, I feel that this will benefit me in my identification and uniquity as an artist and help to make my work stand out.

I feel that this project has taken an interesting route, and although I have been interested in animals and the theme of anthropomorphism for a long time, I think that I have gained more knowledge on the subject and it has helped me through my research and the subject for my final major project has gained more depth alongside it. I have also found that anthropomorphic subjects are extremely popular in art and the media, and have been for many years so there are many artists out there that use this theme as their subject, although through my research I have not found many, if any artists that have portrayed musicians in the way that I have for this project. In another way, even though there a variety of artists that illustrate this theme in many different ways, it has been difficult to find a lot of textual information on the theme that I have chosen. Also finding any artwork or illustrators that have created work that is similar to mine; I feel like I am in a more niche market. Overall I feel I could have looked in more depth into anthropomorphism and its audience/target market, and how that could have helped me in finding my own audience for my work. Though this research project has also helped me to see that my work is more unique and that ‘Anthropomorphism’ is a broad subject that has been and will always be popular, as some audiences love to put animals out of context and into a fantasy world, to break away from the norm and give animals that extra personality to sympathise and empathise with them. Even though we know that animals can’t talk and do not have the same thought processes as humans, we decide to give them those characteristics in films, tv, books and even as our own pets, to make them part of the family or to see them as equals. This subject will carry on being more and more popular as we shall always prefer the fantastical to the reality of life in some ways.


'Watership Down' – written by Richard Adams and published in 1972.

'Animal Farm' – written by George Orwell and published in 1945.

'Blacksad' – written by Juan Diaz Canales and published by Dargaud in 2000.

'Impressionist Cats' – written by Susan Herbert and published in 1992.

'Shakespeare Cats' – written by Susan Herbert and published in 1996.

'Pre-Raphaelite Cats' – written by Susan Herbert and published in 1999.

'Sowa's Art: An Enchanted Bestiary' – written by Michael Sowa and published in 1996.

Why We’re All Animal Lovers…

'It's hard not to stand in a remote field surrounded by rabbits, some alive and some very dead from myxomatosis, and not think of Richard Adams' novel 'Watership Down'.

Consistently in print since its 1972 publication ‘Watership Down’ is of course a novel about the trials and tribulations of a family of rabbits. Imbued as they are with the characteristics of human society - language, culture, mythology - however, it is not really about rabbits at all, but a novel about the journey of life itself, with the same concerns and themes as those explored by Homer nearly three thousand years earlier. In other words, it is the perfect case of literary anthropomorphism - the transference of human traits into animals.

Anthropomorphic literature is a sub-genre within itself, but why has it proved so endearingly popular? Why do writers feel the need to imbue animals with human characteristics? The simple answer is: because it wouldn’t work any other way.

George Orwell used a farmyard setting in ‘Animal Farm’ to convey his political allegory. He could have written a novel about a breakaway society of humans left to govern itself, but you suspect it may not have been as been digestible and therefore perhaps not as successful.

Let’s not forget that ‘Animal Farm’ manages to tackle such weighty issues as communism, anarchism and the class system without once resorting to such terms. The humans that feature in the book bare similarities to real historical figures such as Hitler and Tsar Nicholas II, but are also deeply flawed characters in their own right, from the heavy-drinking farmer who neglects to feed his animals to the hard-nosed neighbouring landowner.

'Animal Farm' is still taught to school children, and remains for many the entry point into the political thought processes that shape the planet. It took some talking pigs and horses to achieve that.

Perhaps that is anthropomorphic literature’s main strength: rather than diluting ideas, it presents them in a new medium. In doing so, it broadens the readership so that books meant for adults soon find an audience with younger readers. So on one level Animal Farm is about a lack of pig-feed, and on another it is an overview of world politics in the first half of the 20th century.

There are many other examples of books that can be read on different levels, by readers of very different ages. ‘Tarka The Otter’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, or Russell Hoban’s symbolically-loaded ‘The Mouse and His Child’ can all be found in the children’s literature sections of bookshops, yet work as allegorical grown up fictions too.

Other enduring examples include Jack London’s ‘White Fang’ and ‘The Call of the Wild’, two high-adventure companion tales that concern the civilization and de-civilisation of wild and domestic dogs respectively during the era of the Klondike Gold Rush. As with all anthropomorphic literature, it is through animals that London raises questions about our interpretation of what it means to be civilized and how corruptible a concept that can be. Told from a dog’s eye perspective, it turns out man is more violent, greedy and gratuitously cruel than any creature in the animal kingdom.

None of which may come as a huge surprise, yet the popularity of anthropomorphic literature as a genre is as strong as ever. As countless examples show, the appeal of these books stems not from the exploration of animals but the social and personal realities they convey. They may be filled with memorable animal characters, but the feeling of empathy such stories create is uniquely human.’

Written by Ben Myers, 10th June 2008.

Trailer for the 1999 version of ‘Animal Farm’. There was another version made in 1954.

The novel and film both have human characters in them, but they are regarded as lazy and greedy characters, so the story focuses on the animals on the farm, and gives them individual personalities, although some have more than others. The pigs consider themselves the most intelligent and appoint themselves as leaders and controllers of the farm. The other animals are convinced that they are better off than when they were controlled by man, until the pigs start working the animals harder for less food, change the laws of the animals and start to behave like humans, walking upright, carrying whips and living in the old farmhouse. The old statement the animals made, “four legs good, two legs bad”, eventually changes to “four legs good, two legs better” as the pigs become their human counterparts. This was to show the political unrest during the Stalin era before World War II and the results of the influence of Communist policy during the Spanish Civil War; “”ceaseless arrests, censored newspapers, prowling hordes of armed police” – “Communism is now a counter-revolutionary force”.

Trailer for the 1978 film ‘Watership Down’.

Richard Adam’s story about a group of rabbits whose warren is about to be dug up so they journey to find a new home, tells the story from the rabbits’ point of view and gives them all a voice, including their own language and folk tales. It shows a whole new view of the world from their side, as we see the evil of man has he destroys the rabbits’ warren; “men will not stop until they have spoiled the earth” and they come across many perils along their journeys such as being captured by the cold-hearted Efrafans, led by tyrannical Captain Woundwart who runs his warren like a prison. The novel and film give the rabbits a personality and more character and we can emphasise more with their turmoils when giving them a voice.

I decided to work a little on recreating my friends as dogs to see if it came out successful. Hopefully they won’t be too offended with being transformed! I just used a fine liner and a brush pen to do a quick sketch from photos - I feel that they look ok apart from that it isn’t easy to tell who is who…
This first sketch is of myself and my boyfriend…

I decided to work a little on recreating my friends as dogs to see if it came out successful. Hopefully they won’t be too offended with being transformed! I just used a fine liner and a brush pen to do a quick sketch from photos - I feel that they look ok apart from that it isn’t easy to tell who is who…

This first sketch is of myself and my boyfriend…

Dani, Joe and Emily…

Dani, Joe and Emily…

Sadie, Neil and Natalie…

Sadie, Neil and Natalie…

Jam and Chesca (with little Florence)…

Jam and Chesca (with little Florence)…

Erin and Freddi…

Erin and Freddi…

Trailer to the 1993 film, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.

This is just an example of a whole variety of films out there that have talking animals in them. This is mainly a theme to bring a whole new personality to the animal characters and to appeal more to children who would probably see animals or even their own pets as other ‘people’ in a way. We also wouldn’t necessarily see talking animals in films made for older or adult viewers, as people become more knowledgeable and experienced the older they get; they understand that animals don’t have the same thoughts and experiences as humans do, so unless the animal is talking out of context or is supposed to be talking primarily for humour, talking animals become less appealing to the older viewer.