Dogs and art

Had an interesting experience this afternoon at an exhibition in Figeac. It was unusual on two counts, firstly we were allowed to enter with our dog.

Brief digression to wife, self and previous dog (a Maltese terrier) being refused entry to a 2009 Bristol Arnolfini Gallery exhibition, Lapdogs of the Bourgeosie which claimed to be ‘investigating the latent issue of class underlying the field of contemporary visual art. The project is an open question, an invitation to a discussion long overdue, and does not offer foregone conclusions or rigid hypotheses other than the relevance of the conversation itself.’ Nevertheless despite this apparent openess, a singularly humourless young man on the door prevented us from participating in ‘the conversation’ because of our dog and despite my protestation, “But, we’re bourgeoisie and we’ve brought our own lapdog.”

Anyhow onto the second, more interesting point. Upon entering today’s dog-friendly exhibition, we were confronted by a life-size terracotta sculpture of a seated man who had three heads (one in the usual place and one on each shoulder). Our young miniature poodle froze in her tracks, began barking furiously, then bravely tried to attack the sculpture, which was many times her size (cue laughter from the humans in the gallery. I’d never before seen an animal react so strongly or emotionally to a work of art. She definitely recognised it was a man with three heads.

Mind you, the afore-mentioned Maltese did engage with and damage a large paper sculpture at a vernissage in Montpellier. But this wasn’t iconoclasm, she was simply trying to get inside it (perhaps one could intellectualise this as ‘canine spatial exploration of form’ - but I won’t). Fortunately, the artist was one of my oldest friends and I’d curated the original exhibition for which the work had been made.

And so, on to the actual point of this post - has any one else had a dog or other animal definitely react to a representation?


Our dog, who accompanies us most places as is happily possible in France, barked at sculptures in a musée des beaux arts, and a stone lion in a public square - an archaeology museum left him cold. He quite often sees things in the distance and will react to the profile, and when we get close we find it is a log. There is some hard wiring in his brain - but he is a cattle dog.


Thanks for that, really interesting. I’ve previously noted that our dogs (past and present), will bark at people walking with crutches or some other physical disability that forces them to move differently to other people.

All the dogs I have had have barked at statues when young. Also Lexi barked at an advert- a large photo of a woman’s head above the cash point. She definitely didn’t think a head should be so big.


My wife has just told me that a long time ago, she had a cushion whose cover depicted the dog in the van Eyck painting known as The Arnolfini Marriage (nothing to do with Bristol and no, I haven’t asked her why she had it!) and a previous Maltese of hers began barking at the dog depicted on the cushion.

So, while I find dogs barking at inanimate 3D representaions very interesting, dogs reacting to images is even more so, as, I think, anthropologists have found indigenous peoples who had to be educated to ‘read’ photographic portraits. Not trying to make any point about canine superiority, but merely suggesting that an ability that we take for granted may not be as innate as one might presume…


That is just so brilliant!

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A great story! Our very friendly dog took a violent dislike to a particular election poster we happened to come across several years ago. No, it wasn’t Sarkozy, or president Normal, not even La Blonde or Sego. It was a life-size Philippe de Villiers who got 2.23% of the vote in the 2007 presidential election. He growled and barked away at it. The same thing happened with a young guy who came offering to spray the mossy roof. I would trust that dog’s judgement!

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Going off on a bit of a tangent here but we touched upon it with dogs having an overdeveloped sense of what is normal, i.e barking at someone with crutches or a really large hat.

My dog Lexi has this thing now on our walks that if a car is parked in an unusual spot in the forest for example where she is not used to cars she is really suspicious, to the point of not really wanting to walk past it. I realised the solution to this was to say a loud cheery ‘bonjour’ to the car, just like I would do to someone we might pass on a walk. Having said hello to the empty car we can walk past it no problem.

Problem solved apart from looking completely mad! Oh and living in the Charollais countryside I have to say bonjour to a lot of cows too if they happen to come running up to the fence :joy:


Yes, several times, I have delivered many dogs, mainly Dobermanns, to a kennels near here which is used as a holding place for dogs awaiting adoption. The owners are Great Dane nuts and have several of their own. But also 2 life size concrete statues of sitting Danes ‘guarding’ the entrance to the compound.

Some ignore them, some don’t notice them, but one or two have come upon them suddenly and jumped back in a most comical fashion. :laughing:


Oh and living in the Charollais countryside I have to say bonjour to a lot of cows too if they happen to come running up to the fence

This is a common occurrence, especially with calves in the field, and has caused the death of people before now walking through such a field with a dog.

I used to walk along a country lane with one of my dogs, and, at certain times all the cows would rush up to the fence to keep a close eye on her. The lone bull in the field took absolutely no interest at all. Cows may look docile, but can be dangerous.