The question in the title of this post involves not one but two enigmas: Artistic merit is an abstract and slippery concept, and assigning intention to the actions of other species is a perpetual challenge. Thus, the question invites various, contradictory answers. Still, I find myself inspired by the activities of other animals, and believe that many biological phenomena are rich with artistic value.
Biologists have also taken an interest in the vocal patterns of other organisms. These researchers have investigated the evolution of species by tracing specific tones and tunes across space and time. For example, the neuroethologist Darcy Kelley has explored the various lineages of Xenopus frogs—the same type as my pets—in part through sonic clues. In her most recent article, she suggests that species-specific calls are the result of selective pressures. Thus, for these organisms survival hinges on an ability to sing and detect appealing songs, which consequently allow them to find mates. David Rothenberg, a musician as well as a philosopher of science, has used this fact as a starting point to suggest that the evolution of life has been guided by a pursuit of beauty. (Rothenberg’s current interests are in the music of bugs, and he has several upcoming events in the Northeast this summer where he will perform compositions alongside insects, including the emerging swarm of cicadas.)