Friday, April 30, 2010
By Julia Williams
I recently received an email from a friend that had dozens of pictures of elaborately painted cats. The email claimed that many pet owners were partaking in a new fad of having their cats painted by professional artists. Supposedly, people paid as much as $15,000 to have their cats painted, and the paint jobs would need to be repeated every three months as the cat’s fur grew out.
My first thoughts were (in this order): gosh, that can’t be healthy for the cats to lick the paint off their fur; $60 grand a year to paint your cat? Some people have too much disposable income; and finally – this can’t be real…can it? With that last thought, I realized I had to consult my good friend “Mr. Google” to ferret out the truth.
I discovered that this email featuring stunningly painted felines, like so many other emails, is a hoax. It’s an offshoot of two “art” books about cats by Heather Busch and Burton Silver. The first was Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics. Following the huge success of this first book, the authors released a second title, Why Paint Cats: the Ethics of Feline Aesthetics. Whereas the first book discussed cats as artists, the follow-up featured cats as canvasses.
These books are widely believed to be well-crafted spoofs, but they’re written so convincingly that many people, including some professional book reviewers, have taken them seriously. The first book purports to be “an unprecedented photographic record of cat creativity that will intrigue cat-lovers and art-lovers alike.” In a style that persuasively mimics art criticism, Why Cats Paint discusses the many different aspects of feline creativity, with representative works from the best known cat artists around the world. The authors allege that cats who paint are aesthetically motivated, and their works should be regarded as genuine art.
That sounds a lot like the stuffy high-brow world of art criticism, doesn’t it? But then the authors come up with this little gem: “While we hope this book will inspire readers to carefully examine paw patterns in litter trays for examples of aesthetic intent…it is not our intention to give instruction on methods of encouraging cats to paint.” In other words, be on the lookout for “art” when you’re cleaning your cat’s litter box. Haha! That image is amusing enough, but this Newsweek quote made me giggle: “Yes, cats can paint. The phenomenon has to do with territorial marking, acrylic paint smelling a little like cat pee, and a lot of pet spare time.”
The second book, Why Paint Cats: the Ethics of Feline Aesthetics, has spawned countless discussions about the propriety and potentially harmful effects of painting designs onto a cat’s fur. Although the authors will not admit that the pictures were achieved through computer imaging (i.e., photoshop magic), it’s pretty hard to imagine that anyone would really think painting their cat is a good idea. For one thing, how are you supposed to keep them still long enough to a) paint them and b) allow the paint to dry?
Then again, we’ve all seen people do incredibly dumb things, so is painting cats as farfetched as it might seem? I don’t know. I do know that, photoshopped or not, I really enjoyed looking at the amazing pictures of the painted cats. Cats are transformed into butterflies, belly dancers, the night sky and American flags. They sport rainbow colors on their faces and flanks, and clowns on their backsides. Which, by the way, was probably the inspiration for this: “By the time you finish flipping through Why Paint Cats…you'll have more questions than answers. Seeing Charlie Chaplin's face painted on a cat’s rump has that effect.”—Heather McKinnon, Seattle Times.
If you are a fan of felines, I think you would really enjoy reading Why Cats Paint and Why Paint Cats. I must offer two caveats about these books though. First, look for the large, coffee table editions and not the miniaturized ones, as the downsizing does significantly reduce their overall amusement. Secondly, please do not attempt to paint your own cat. Besides endangering your beloved feline, you risk great peril to your own limbs, which would surely be scratched and clawed to bits during such a foolish endeavor.
Read more articles by Julia Williams