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Short Stories: Animals of High and Low Moral Standing

Jul 9, 2012

by AnimaliaShop

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

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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3 Featured Comments

  • HandsomeandBella

    Ali Perez from HandsomeandBella said 5 years ago Featured

    I really love the subjects of low moral standing. I think its just as cute to think of some of their antics. Like a skunk vindictively lifting its tail at an enemy. I also heard "teenage" sharks are often the ones that will bite a human once and then swim away. Literally biting off more than they can chew.

  • truthbeautyandlove27

    Colleen O'Neal from truthbeautyandlove27 said 5 years ago Featured

    hmmm it is a thought provoking question, I live in a wooded area and have a love hate relationship with the deer. While they are beautiful creatures I hate how they jump in front of my car! Its true though that people do demonize some creatures. Like a squirrel is so cute while a mouse or a rat are in the not good catagory. The bushy tail makes all the difference!

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 5 years ago Featured

    I think this art is meant to make us think, not as a judgment of the animals moral worth or lack of worth. Humans judge the animals based on how we are affected by them, not on their intrinsic value as fellow creatures on Earth. For example, stories were written with wolves as villains, because at one time they were numerous and could endanger people, plus they are still seen as competitors for game and livestock. (This even though dogs are decendants of wolves.) Artists often try to bring attention to the unexamined beliefs we live by. I have a birdfeeder in my backyard that I love to watch the birds feed from, but don't particularly like the squirrels that also benefit, and even less the fruit rats that take a share of the scattered seeds. It's hard to see rats as "nice" like the colorful birds seem to be. (They are far more destructive, of course.) But they are part of the community of animals that live in our neighborhood and have their place. Thanks for sharing this work with us!

59 comments

  • uswatsons

    Sylvie Liv from SylvieLiv said 5 years ago

    :) your work is super interesting! In my opinion, the animals you chose of high moral standing are, in general, cuter. I wonder if they are (mostly) cuter because they are usually less of a threat or nuisance to me!?

  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    Judith and Raymond from AnnaOliveDesigns said 5 years ago

    Love your work! Your collections are spot on. I loved that you categorized them as being high or low moral standing. It is kind of thought provoking...why we imagine certain creatures are held to a lower standard while others are held in higher regard.

  • econica

    Natallia from econica said 5 years ago

    love your work! :)

  • econica

    Natallia from econica said 5 years ago

    I actually had an interesting discussion with my kids about the way we see animals based on a combination of gut feeling and cultural associations. We agreed there is beauty and grace in each and every animal some are just harder to see....:)

  • decembermoondesign

    Doreen from decembermoondesign said 5 years ago

    why a toad?

  • EmiliaFaith

    Edie Ann from OhHoneyHush said 5 years ago

    Very nice!

  • VoleedeMoineaux

    Hillary De Moineaux from VoleedeMoineaux said 5 years ago

    very cute!

  • HandsomeandBella

    Ali Perez from HandsomeandBella said 5 years ago Featured

    I really love the subjects of low moral standing. I think its just as cute to think of some of their antics. Like a skunk vindictively lifting its tail at an enemy. I also heard "teenage" sharks are often the ones that will bite a human once and then swim away. Literally biting off more than they can chew.

  • Caerphily

    Caerphily from LostAccoutrement said 5 years ago

    I love these posters! Everything has a story behind it, and it what makes any objects more intriguing! Great idea and good job!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    Love :)

  • sonyarasi

    Sonya Rasi from sonyarasi said 5 years ago

    Great work!

  • lovelygifts

    Linda from lovelygifts said 5 years ago

    Great work and interesting article!

  • studiotuesday

    david scheirer from studiotuesday said 5 years ago

    Fun and interesting concept. I like it!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 5 years ago

    Interesting idea, I guess by creating a listing your inherently approving some animals over others. Its quite deceptive, I'm sure not everyone likes moths or frogs for example!

  • truthbeautyandlove27

    Colleen O'Neal from truthbeautyandlove27 said 5 years ago Featured

    hmmm it is a thought provoking question, I live in a wooded area and have a love hate relationship with the deer. While they are beautiful creatures I hate how they jump in front of my car! Its true though that people do demonize some creatures. Like a squirrel is so cute while a mouse or a rat are in the not good catagory. The bushy tail makes all the difference!

  • maclancy

    Marianne Clancy from maclancy said 5 years ago

    I have always loved this seller.. her work reminds me of my daughter's illustrations in her store Animalgam here on Etsy. I love the idea of high and low moral standing. Watercolor animals are amazing. perfect medium!

  • totemcolorblocks

    Pamela from totemcolorblocks said 5 years ago

    Congratulations Rachel! Your art is incredibly clever and unique! And of course your curatorial work at Animalia rules. :-)

  • sylviatrench

    EB from SharpLilTeeth said 5 years ago

    every animal is important to the earth. it's just that we humans don't always see their worth. earthworms do such important work composting and aerating soil. vultures clean up carrion, helping to stop the spread of decay and disease. pigs are such valuable livestock, yet we still see them as "dirty" or "unclean"... just because it isn't in a disney movie or feature prominently on greeting cards, doesn't mean a humble animal isn't worth its weight in gold to the natural world.

  • CopperheadCreations

    Sarah from CopperheadCreations said 5 years ago

    Animals are all awesome...but sometimes I'd like to forget about spiders that are offensively large and fast. And can jump. And whose eyes you can see from across the room in a flashlight beam. :( Boo. Two thumbs down, universe. Keep on keepin' on, spider, but let's keep it outside instead of on my tv screen while I'm trying to watch "Storage Wars", OK? (My punishment, perhaps?)

  • kikiparis

    Dominique Adeli from KidzCreationz said 5 years ago

    I love all animals--when I saw your work the 1st thing I thought about is the Chinese New Year taken to a new level...

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 5 years ago

    Cool

  • tattoodgrl

    Carol Holum from BeadToLive said 5 years ago

    I love a lot of the 'low' moral standing animals....sometimes they are more interesting... good work!

  • CaramellyBurn

    Caramelly Bee from CaramellyBurn said 5 years ago

    Great work!

  • Rembrandtrocks

    Celena McMahon from Rembrandtrocks said 5 years ago

    Kinda Quirky and Kinda Cool!

  • apollinerei

    Jess Wilson from thepolymertwist said 5 years ago

    I love this.. and I'm more keen on the low moral animals :3

  • pinksnakejewelry

    pinksnakejewelry from pinksnakejewelry said 5 years ago

    Wonderful Post!!!!

  • sasudar

    sasudar from PressRelease said 5 years ago

    I agree with sylviatrench who has said above: '' every animal is important to the earth. '' No creature in this world is inferior to any other one. Each exists for a purpose. It is our duty to preserve each one.

  • atreasure

    Haylee from aTreasure said 5 years ago

    These look great! Very inspiring :)

  • GoldenSpiralDesigns

    Lola Ocian from GoldenSpiralDesigns said 5 years ago

    Wonderful and hilarious. I love the cheeky humor!

  • elleestpetite

    Donna Thai from PetiteCuisine said 5 years ago

    This is an interesting concept I often wonder about myself. I think culture plays a big part in how we personify animals.

  • HoodVintageandWool

    Elisabeth Ryan from hoodwool said 5 years ago

    I love art that manages to convey an insight through absurdity. Ranking animals as being moral or immoral is definitley something our society does- like many people feel like it's thier duty to kill snakes whenever they ecounter them. In the past, wolves and other predators have been killed off by people, thinking that thier behaviors were immoral. Now conservationists understand they are just as essential to an ecosystem as anything else. Many parts of the US now have overpopulations of deer as a result of there no longer being any top predators. Thanks for these great posters.

  • TheInspiredTrader

    Deb from TheInspiredTrader said 5 years ago

    I'd sure like to see the wolves moved up! They have tight family relationships animals much like humans. I would hope we've evolved past the stereo-typical associations with wolves.

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 5 years ago

    WOW! What great animals and such an interesting story!

  • HandmadeIsAllAround

    HandmadeIsAllAround from iammieOWLshop said 5 years ago

    Love it!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 5 years ago

    Adorable!

  • TymbaToys

    Maciek and Beata Drewniak from TymbaToys said 5 years ago

    Your work is nice, but the idea of assigning 'moral' stance to animals it just so wrong. Morals is a concept only relating to humans (or so they say.) However, if you trace the history of literature you will find that some of the human characteristics could be represented by images of animals (through a trick called personification.) but trying it the other way around does not seem to make sense :) Anyway, I love your 'Boar watercolor print'. You definitely know how to draw attention of wider public to your work :)

  • tamaraky

    tamaraky from tamaraky said 5 years ago

    Interesting!!!

  • jewelryrage

    Aaron Kish from JewelryRage said 5 years ago

    Interesting!

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 5 years ago Featured

    I think this art is meant to make us think, not as a judgment of the animals moral worth or lack of worth. Humans judge the animals based on how we are affected by them, not on their intrinsic value as fellow creatures on Earth. For example, stories were written with wolves as villains, because at one time they were numerous and could endanger people, plus they are still seen as competitors for game and livestock. (This even though dogs are decendants of wolves.) Artists often try to bring attention to the unexamined beliefs we live by. I have a birdfeeder in my backyard that I love to watch the birds feed from, but don't particularly like the squirrels that also benefit, and even less the fruit rats that take a share of the scattered seeds. It's hard to see rats as "nice" like the colorful birds seem to be. (They are far more destructive, of course.) But they are part of the community of animals that live in our neighborhood and have their place. Thanks for sharing this work with us!

  • CougarTShirtCompany

    Cougar T-Shirt Company from CougarTShirtCompany said 5 years ago

    I really appreciate this post. I have never understood why people could not see past culture and superstition when demonizing animals. Thank you so much for bringing this to the surface in such a non-confrontational way. I really hope your art makes people think about this subject. Thank you again. I'm sure the animals on the "low moral" list will appreciate your defense of them! They certainly deserve it.

  • WingedWorld

    Vickie Moore from WingedWorld said 5 years ago

    I laughed out loud several times while looking at your pieces. Glad I'm at home, and not in a coffee shop. Thanks for sharing your quirky, thought-provoking sense of humor!

  • KaiceJoy

    Kirsti Joy from KaiceJoy said 5 years ago

    fun read!

  • TickleandSmash

    Lisa Spinella from TickleAndSmash said 5 years ago

    Congrats! What a great read and beautiful work.

  • emmaginables

    Emma Land from emmaginables said 5 years ago

    Great work, LOVE IT!!

  • AnimaliaShop

    R.S. Posnak from AnimaliaShop said 5 years ago

    Thanks for all the encouraging and interesting comments!

  • wheatleypaperworks

    M Wheatley from wheatleypaperworks said 5 years ago

    Thank you on behalf of all lowly creatures...

  • BaxCatandCo

    Kelly from BaxCatandCo said 5 years ago

    Great work, and hearing the back story of the pieces is very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

  • windycitynovelties

    Windy City Novelties said 5 years ago

    I really enjoyed this piece! Yesterday I saw a story on the Today Show about a mother elephant who saw her baby sinking in a mud hole spring to the rescue by getting on her knees and using her trunk to save her baby. The herd took a break from migration after that to let the excitement settle down. I was so moved by the story. It's great to see animals act like humans. Here's the link to the story w pictures of the whole incident from beginning to end. http://animaltracks.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/09/12644719-a-mothers-determination-elephant-rescues-baby-trapped-in-mud?lite

  • ImYourNonny

    holly mcgee from ImYourNonny said 5 years ago

    I enjoyed this so much! It made me think...then smile...then think again! What would be the criteria to raise or lower an animal's standing? We humans are so fickle, it seems like it wouldn't take much! The lion is a noble creature,symbol of pride, mastery and majesty until we turn on the t.v. and see him casually feasting on a once graceful and beautiful, now mangled and bloody gazelle. Then he abruptly changes species and becomes the ultimate jackass! Food for thought (no pun intended :)

  • lalitkhatri

    Lalit Khatri said 5 years ago

    Your work is truly stunning, thanks.

  • gregorgrace

    Marilyn MacGregor from MacGregorArt said 5 years ago

    What a fun idea - I love your explanation of the process too! As for humans - it's all a game of metaphors!

  • 16emmi

    emmy williams from EMMYSGREENTHINGS said 5 years ago

    VERY NICE ANIMAL PICTURES. I RAN FROM A POSSUM LAST NITE! HIGH MORALS LIST IT! HEHEHE GREENGOSSIPGR*TWITTER ... EMMYSGREENTHINGS.

  • TinsAndThings

    TinsAndThings from TinsAndThings said 5 years ago

    What I find interesting is how hard human animals try to dissociate themselves from other animals. The term "anthropomorphism" is often meant as an insult (even though it's starting to be recognized, for example, that emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness are shared by many other animals and are not exclusively human), while we humans rarely talk about how incredibly anthropocentric we all are and the disastrous consequences of that for the environment and the earth we share with other species.

  • newhopebeading

    newhopebeading from newhopebeading said 5 years ago

    What a cool poster and fun idea. I need to add raccoon to the low list as the raccoon who lives in my yard somewhere is currently on my sh*t list lol you see he tried to climb up the new peach tree I planted and snapped the top 1/2 right off . BUT I may be falsely accusing him as I had only assumed it was him. Yesterday my neighbor warned us the bears are back in the neighborhood as they torn down and bent all his metal bird feeders in half.... and I don't think Mr. Raccoon is strong enough to do the damage I saw in his yard! zoinks!

  • ArtyDidact

    Sharon Parker from ArtyDidact said 5 years ago

    What a clever idea and such lovely artwork. I'm guessing that if each of us who comment were to make our own lists of animals according to the same categories, each person's list would differ in some way. So it's especially interesting to read about some of your reasoning for placing certain animals where you did (eg., the wolf). It reminds me of a book I have at home, a series of essays called "Despicable Species," which looks at animals and plants generally regarded as "bad" and gives you a fuller sense of them. My regard for starlings went up quite a bit after reading the essay about them (starlings are invasive in North America and can be problematic here).

  • ArtyDidact

    Sharon Parker from ArtyDidact said 5 years ago

    "Despicable Species" is by Janet Lembke. Here's a nice review about it: http://scienticity.net/wiki/Lembke:_Despicable_Species

  • Weaselfactory

    Weaselfactory from Weaselfactory said 5 years ago

    So a weasel is of low moral standing? Shocking I say!

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mr. Sal Phan, Bichon Frise from Mclovebuddy said 5 years ago

    can't believe i missed this one. you're absolutely right. the irony, i guess, is that etsy admin. are ACTIVELY engaged in cultivating this kind of "demonizing" and they turn around and they have your shop as a short story. the wolf was actually started by them last year as part of the halloween run among other things. hypocrites.

  • chr15ta

    Christa Smith from EnveloveInvitations said 5 years ago

    Too cute. I think that the wording that you chose - high and low "moral standing" adds to the cute and quirkiness factor.

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