Art & Decor Trends

Animal Art Totems: Choose Art Based on the Animal in You

Many of us choose to live in the city and the suburbs, which has its own perks, but we miss nature (definitely not the mosquitoes). We miss the peace and privacy that comes with it: So we seek hiking trails, mountains to climb, and preserves to take photos of endangered species. For all of humanity’s history, animals have played an important role in our evolution by providing us with food, shelter, warmth, and companionship.

Heade - Ruby Throated HummingbirdAnimals have also played an important role symbolically, be it spiritually or aesthetically. Animal totems are prevalent in many cultures and traditions, with various meanings. The Vikings wore bear skins to intimidate the opposing force, symbolizing courage; to the Celts, the bear often symbolized the sun. There is evidence in some cultures of the bear representing fertility; We have a modern association of Mother Bears’ fierce protection of her young that we associate sometimes with our own family and motherly reactions. Ever wondered why a particular artist chose to paint a certain animal?

Perhaps the animal meant strength over adversity or survival to the artist, or maybe he or she just really liked that animal as a kid. In a way these animals are like totems, bringing spring (growth and comfort) into our homes, reaffirming a state of mind we want to have. It can make us think, too, of that CEO with paintings of great hunts in his office to stay in the hunter’s mindset, to close the deal and snag the prolific client. When the time comes for us to have children, we often commission murals of animals and buy our children stuffed animals and coloring books of their favorite animal.

We can use animal symbolism to make the act of decorating our spaces easier and feel more connected with the personality of ourselves, our families, or our company. Here are a few associations between animals and their symbolic messages. This information is a guide only, but it can provide a starting point for you. Our symbolic associations with animals are natural, based on their behavior and habitats.

Animals and their Symbols

  • Hummingbird Symbolism

    The hummingbird generally symbolizes joy and playfulness, as well as adaptability. Additional symbolic meanings are:

    • Lightness of being, enjoyment of life
    • Being more present
    • Independence
    • Bringing playfulness and joy in your life
    • Swiftness, ability to respond quickly
    • Resiliency, being able to travel great distances tirelessly

    The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird by Martin Johnson Heade reflects “swiftness,” “playfulness,” and “enjoyment of life.”

  • Wolf Symbolism

    In the spirit animal kingdom, the wolf symbolizes:

    • Sharp intelligence, deep connection with instincts
    • Appetite for freedom
    • Expression of strong instincts
    • Protective

    He Stands Guard by Peggy Miller of the modern Collection exudes the traits of “protective,” “strong instincts,” and “sharp intelligence.”

  • Fox Symbolism

    The symbolic meanings associated with the fox are:

    • Physical or mental responsiveness, increased awareness
    • Cunning; seeing through deception; call to be discerning
    • Ability to find your way around, to be swift in tricky situations
    • Affinity with nocturnal activities

    The Fox by Franz Mark is a Cubist work, which in style reflects the traits of “discerning” and an “ability to find your way around.”

  • Butterfly Symbolism

    What is the meaning of the butterfly? This animal is primarily associated with symbolism of change and transformation.

    • Powerful transformation, metamorphosis in your life, personality
    • Moving through different life cycles
    • Renewal, rebirth
    • Lightness of being, playfulness

    Blue Morpho Butterfly by Martin Johnson Heade reflects “powerful transformation” and “lightness of being.”

  • Lion Symbolism

    The lion often symbolizes:

    • Strength
    • Assertiveness
    • Personal power

    Lions are also animals who dominate other animals in nature.

It’s important to ask yourself what animal is your favorite and why? What associations did you have with your animal as a child? Dolphins, for example through studies and human experience, have proved to be helpful, intelligent, and social creatures; so we develop these associations about this animal.

Learn about the animals habits and their habitats. You can then purchase an oil painting of that animal and use the colors in the painting to decorate your space. This idea of decorating may feel more appropriate for zoo offices, children’s rooms, or the CEO’s hunting theme…but animal symbolism in art can be useful across many rooms and environments.

What animal would you choose, and what meaning would it represent in your home or office environment?
**(Symbolism knowledge gathered from

About the Author

Tiffany Chaney is a freelance writer, artist and graphic designer residing in North Carolina. In 2012, her first poetry collection Between Blue and Grey was released. Find out more about her at