11"h x 21"l;
Photo by Melisa Kroening
Animal, as tool, has a long and varied history with man as his master. While we have moved on in the past century from beasts of burden performing a great deal of the work on American farms, and city streets, much of the world still depends on the labors of these "gentle giants" for food production and transportation.
Because we owe our very existence to this relationship, at least at some point in our ancestral pasts, I find it difficult to criticize this aspect of our history. We humans would be fewer in number and (while that might not be such a bad thing), much the poorer in achievements if not for our use of animal labor. Breeding has selected for animals that are more inclined to go along with this lopsided contract, creating creatures that are more easily trained and less determined to exercise their own will, and in many cases it seems they are genuinely content to work for us in exchange for a steady portion of feed each day.
In my depiction of the ox, I have attempted to deal with the tensions inherent in our utilization of a fellow being. On the one hand, it is hard not to admire all the toils of our ancestors, to create this special relationship, as they most certainly worked alongside their beasts, body and soul, to
support their families and at the same time also loved and cared for their various animals. And it is hard not to admire the beauty and strength of the products of our careful breeding. On the other hand, in the bargain, ultimately the domesticated creatures have existed for the advancement for man, period.
We live in a golden age, of sorts, for such animals, as many are now-a-days no more than oversized pets, coddled and caressed and fussed after like an only child. In the grand scheme of things, it is not a bad time to be a "beast of burden". In the meantime, we have bent and twisted the nature of our animals to the point that they are every bit as dependent upon us as we have been of them. Through selective breeding, away from traits that had provided for their continued success as species, they can no longer survive without the careful attention of their "makers", as it were.
As we move away from a time when we depended upon the labor provided by these creatures, are we now obliged to provide for their continued existence, beyond their utility to us, and to the peril of the various wildlife species that might exist in their stead, or are we obliged to phase out their reproduction, thereby phasing out their entire lineage, because we no longer need them to do our work?