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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 15:39 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Elephants brush up on new skills

Different strokes for different folks

People who want to poke fun at modern art sometimes say it could easily be produced by monkeys splashing paint onto the canvas.

Would you buy elephant art? David Willis reports
But the idea of the animal artist has been taken quite seriously by an art academy in Thailand, which is training elephants to paint pictures.

According to its founder, Alex Melamid, elephant art is gaining growing acclaim and the international market could soon be awash with their work.

[ image: Expressing the inner elephant]
Expressing the inner elephant
The academy hand-picks the elephants for their artistic talent and encourages the former beasts of burden to express their inner selves on the canvas.

The project is not only a possible money-spinner, but could be used to safeguard the survival of the species.

Thousands of elephants lost their jobs in the timber trade nine years ago when logging became illegal. Many - whose keepers could no longer afford to feed them - simply starved to death.

But those with an artistic bent now stand to earn fame and fortune - using a lot less physical effort - at Thailand's first Academy for Elephants.

Putting people to shame

Mr Melamid, an artist from Russia, is passionate about the new masters of abstract expression and the spontaneous work they produce.

[ image: Elephant art:
Elephant art: "Better than an average human"
"If you compare this painting to what you have on your wall, this painting is much better, by any standards," he said.

"There's dispute about whether it's better than famous artists such as Jackson Pollock, but the point is that an average elephant can paint a better painting than an average human."

The art has also been admired by some of Thailand's major art galleries and dealers.

According to art dealer Sombat Wattanatha, the paintings bear a remarkable resemblance to a local artist.

"I like the detail and the technique. These pieces could sell for at least 100 each," she said.

Perhaps it's not enough to compete with the likes of Jackson Pollock, but it certainly seems a better option than dragging logs.

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