Etsy Journal

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Short Stories: Animals of High and Low Moral Standing

by AnimaliaShop

Jul 9, 2012

Artist R.S. Posnak takes an unusual approach to organizing the animals on her striking posters.

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers.  We were immediately smitten with artist R.S. Posnak's posters organizing animals by their perceived moral standing. Here's what she had to say about them. I was inspired to make these prints by a class I took in graduate school about the authority of design. In that class, we talked about how design can convey a certain esteem – that is, we give our trust to certain objects that meet our expectations visually. For example, the design in a natural history museum helps the viewer to believe the information that is relayed in the museum. In this case, I was thinking about Smithsonian posters that display the classification of animals. So I took that same format, a format whose content we would normally take for granted to be nonfiction, and put something completely subjective and nonempirical.

On another level, these prints are simply about our tendency to anthropomorphize animals. I don't think anthropomorphism is inherently a bad thing; I think it helps us to have empathy with other creatures. But I do think we need a reality check sometimes, especially when we demonize animals like snakes and rats, who are just going about living their lives in the same way the rest of us are.

To decide what animals should be on the high morals list and what animals should be on the low morals list, I used a combination of gut feeling and cultural associations. It's been fun to debate and discuss which animals should go where. The wolf being on the low morals list is often questioned since it's a "noble" and attractive furry mammal. But I put it in the low morals category because of proverbs like "wolf in sheep's clothing," and the wolf's role in stories like "Little Red Riding Hood" and "The Three Little Pigs." I also often get the comment that I should put a human on the low morals list – and I would, but I don’t want the image of a human messing up the aesthetics of the piece.

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