by David Stone on February 15, 2013 Comments (0)
What Is Cat Art Today?
Cat Art Is And Isn't
First, let’s be clear that all images of cats are not art, and all art with cats in it is not cat art. Anyone who surfs the internet sees an abundance of beautiful images of cats. Beauty is almost always part of their nature, but beauty isn’t art either. You can take an exquisite picture of your cat, but like life itself, it isn’t art until something happens to unsettle the stillness.
Through history, many famous paintings have entered the public space that include cats in ancillary roles. Some are artfully active. Hogarth’s oil of The Graham Children from 1742 is a good example. Four lovely children pose in formal dress, each with heartwarming smiles that will forever remind the family of the halcyon days of childhood. The most unforgettable element though is the gray tiger-striped cat perched behind a chair on the right, his grinning visage the image of insanity.
I love that painting, but it isn’t cat art. It’s a predictably unusual Hogarth with a cat in it. To be cat art, the cat has to be the central element. Paul Klee’s Cat and Bird oil and ink from 1928 is a good example as is Louise Bougeois’ inventive drypoint and engraving Angry Cat from 1999.
Klee’s cat is expressed in cartoonish colors, suggesting his cat is amused as well as predatory, and both pictures are extreme close ups. Bourgeois’ cat is so angry, she has gone cross eyed and rings of stress line her face like strings of jewels. Her anger is extreme and exquisite.
To be cat art, it must say something about the cat or cats. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does have to create or interpret, essentially doing something more than sitting still.
You can see the images mentioned above and more at Cats From Art History.
Cat Art Early History
Egyptian cats were symbolic and usually associated with females in the household. They seem more revered than other domestic creatures. Maybe their innate mysteriousness was misinterpreted as magic. This we learn from their depiction in some of the oldest art in recorded history.
If lions count – and why shouldn’t they? – the oldest cat art goes back much farther, 32,000 years, in fact, to the “lion lady” (originally lion man) statue found in Stadel cave in Hohlenstein Mountain in the German Alps. Just like 21st Century anthropomorphism, human and animal attributes merged into symbolism.
Cats weren’t the only creature to get the treatment in art preserved in caves, but a huge gap exists between the mysterious ancient creations and those more explicable in early recorded time. The cave art is mysterious because we have only guesses about why peoples for whom life was a daily struggle for survival would so consistently across the world devote precious time and resources to create art.
Anyway, the cat emerges in art in broad daylight over 3,000 years ago as a less anthropomorphized creature and more often one regarded as a god or at least god-like. Domestic cats snoozing under chairs are as common as those pampered as deities. People being what they have always been, it’s a fair guess that the otherworldly were more likely to be preserved.
It’s possible that enough everyday cat art to fill a pyramid got tossed like kids’ drawings as age rendered them irrelevant.
To be continued....