Mollusc Art

by Steve Jones

How the snail's approach to love and passion became a work of art

All biologists risk being eaten by their subjects: Timothy Treadwell, the expert on Alaskan grizzlies, made his exit pursued by a bear (and was the posthumous star of a Werner Herzog film, Grizzly Man), while plenty of marine biologists have been killed by sharks, and herpetologists poisoned by snakes. It is, at the least, an honourable end for a student of Nature.

I, on the other hand, have just had the less noble experience of seeing one of my books consumed by snails, the creatures I have studied for 40 years - and in the interests not of science, but of art. The artist Finlay Taylor (who explains that he "uses books as containers of his ideas") has left a copy of The Origin of Species plus my own attempt to update it in Almost Like a Whale in his garden for the past several rainy months. The molluscs have chewed mightily on both - turning each, I am assured, into an artwork.

advertisementThe event was part of the launch of the 2008 Big Draw festival, which runs throughout the coming month and, with events all over the UK, hopes to "get everyone drawing". To match the hungry molluscs I promised, rashly, to talk on "Snails in Art and the Art of Snails". The title, I soon found, was the easy bit.

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