Art Criticism: Our Earliest Mammalian Ancestor

Big news last week – scientists have developed a concept of what the earliest mammal looked like.

Finding out what the earliest mammal looked like is critical. That animal had a lot of responsibility. It is the ancestor to elephants, cats, dogs, monkeys, monkeys who ride dogs, even humans.

Imagine what we could learn from an animal that could handle that responsibility. I am the ancestor to one person and the pressure…my God, the pressure! If I multiply that pressure by billions of species and billions of individuals of each of those species, I get an animal that must have been superb. The scientists didn’t come up with superb.


This is where it all began. Yeah, disappointing. (painting by Carl Buell)

This is their best guess. I’m quite let down. You and I had every reason to expect more.

I don’t know, maybe there is something to it, maybe not. I do know that I’m happy the scientists commissioned this portrait for me to criticize. The artist has made some truly odd choices.

Let’s start with what is going on in the painting. This animal, our great-great-great-great-(etc.) grandfather, is talking to a bug. If they’re trying to get me to respect our ancestors, showing them chatting up beetles is not going to make it happen.

Talking to bugs is ridiculous and delusional. No matter what you tell them, they don’t keep a secret. And when insects tell your secrets, they always slant the story to make themselves look better and you to look like a fool.

Some might argue that this isn’t a chat, it is the last moment of the bug’s life. I’d contend it is not. Look the animal’s expression; he’s smiling. And with his right fore-paw, a gesture to emphasize his point. If this were an accurate painting, the lesson I would take away from it is that our ancestors were close talkers.

Is Squirrel Brown A Color?

And what of the artist’s choice of fur color? Squirrel brown and white? That’s it? This painting was a golden opportunity to go deep into the color palette since there’s no such thing as fossil evidence of the shade of the fur. The painter had carte blanche to pimp this mammal like it was an ’87 Impala. Instead he painted it like some bird feeder bandit.

If there is one part of this painting we can learn something useful from, it is the tail.

Avoid the distraction of our predecessor’s tail getting darker and darker toward the end. The painter is clearly taking artistic license by speculating that this animal had access to a salon to have his tail colored and the will to make that sort of statement. I’d like you instead to focus on the length of the tail.

You see, we know that this is not only our ancestor, but that of dogs as well. A tail that long would be a distraction to a dog. So, we know why this animal did not survive, if it existed at all. It chased its tail almost constantly, whirling itself to death and eventual extinction.

So, unlike some of the other paintings I’ve critiqued, this one stinks. It may be that I’m just disappointed in my ancestors and taking it out on the artist. I just don’t think I’m going to get over that feeling soon.


42 Comments on “Art Criticism: Our Earliest Mammalian Ancestor”

  1. benzeknees says:

    Perhaps the color you find so disappointing is intended as camouflage? To ensure the perpetuation of the species? And even though bugs would not be my first choice of appetizer, I do believe our ancestor is about to nosh on the bug in question.

  2. Betty says:

    It is indeed very squirrel like. This tells me that, like cockroaches, squirrels survived all sorts of mad destruction – all the while remaining nasty creatures. I do believe it is going to eat the insect. Since squirrels tear through my trash bags to dine on all sorts of rancid garbage, I’m certain this mammal would eat the bug.

  3. That little critter bears an uncanny resemblance to a former supervisor of mine, sans the tail and cute smile of course.

  4. There is no sense in my even attempting a comment worthy of “pimp this mammal like it was an ’87 Impala’ or ‘talking to insects is ridiculous and delusional’ (with supporting evidence that suggests you speak from experience).

    This is not only one of your finest art critiques, it is vintage Blurt. Unfortunately, this means at least once during my day, I will giggle to myself at an inconvenient moment.

  5. writerdood says:

    It’s just a rat with a hairy tail. How many times has a mammal evolved into this form? It must be a really common primitive. Insert DNA, stir and cook. Sooner or later, you get a rat. Nuke the world back to protoplasm, and I bet you’d get rats again. Well… not right away, but you know what I mean. There are obviously significant advantages to being a well-adapted rodent that can’t eat almost anything and reproduces like crazy.

  6. I’m pretty sure some politicians today still have a tail and eat bugs.

  7. shoutabyss says:

    Stinks? That’s because that’s the exact same animal where our coffee comes from. Scientists have, by accident, proven the Circle of Life.

  8. We Found Him Captain! says:

    I believe that is a Tutson!

  9. I’m with WriterDood. It’s a rat and a rat by any other name is still a rat. Perhaps the insect is the ancestor of the cockroach. We know that the cockroach will be around until the end of time and beyond so perhaps they were just discussing survival tactics so the rat could join him.

  10. Debbie says:

    Our ancestors were RATS?! Say it ain’t so, Oma! As for him chatting it up with the bug, I’m not buying that. No, you can see from his skinny body that he’s starving. And that bug’s gonna be dinner. If you can call a bug fine dining. See that stick beneath his paw? If he’s not fast enough to chomp on that bug, why, he’s gonna beat the tar out of him and then eat him.

  11. Wendy says:

    I think this artist saw the Ice Age movies, copied Skrat, then dumbed down the color to make it look more “scientific”.

  12. robincoyle says:

    Yeah . . . the artist should have given the squirrel pink-tipped spikes a la Annie Lennox in the 80s.

  13. Disappointing indeed. And why’s he scurrying around in the bushes like that? Doesn’t he know he can evolve the ability to walk on two feet now? Have some self respect, gramps.

  14. A close talker and blind as well: No self-respecting great, great, great, uh lost count, great whats-a-doddle would be seen talking to a bugs behind! Never but they would have read your blog, with help of course from a blog-reading-eye-monkey.
    Love it Oma. I laugh, it is good!

  15. List of X says:

    What I see in this picture: an ancestor of a software developer found a bug…

  16. planetross says:

    Maybe the artist was saying humans came from bugs who were more colorful than those rodent brown gross things with the long tails.
    … and we talked ourselves out of situations for survival.

  17. Bryan says:

    I can’t wait until the day when you meet a stressed out person through work. You tell them, “Look I’m your best friend here” and he says, “Aren’t you that guy who blogged about the rat?”

  18. audreyhipbone says:

    No no no! Our ancestor is the bug, not the rat! You’re looking at it all backasswards!

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