November 26, 2010

Cat Art

        If you search on pictures of dragons, you may notice an entire sub-genre of pictures of dragons and cats.  If you look for butterflies, you'll find butterflies and cats.  Looking for mugs?  How about mugs with cats?  Posters with cats?  Cardigans with cats…  Blankets with cats…  Christmas ornaments with cats…  Bottle openers with ...cats?
        D and I have a theory that  a True Cat Lover will buy anything with a cat depicted on it, whether it be a brilliant work of art or the purest mass-produced schlock - if it's got a cat, the Cat Person will love it.  This is the phenomenon of Cat Art.
        Now, we happen to have a cat, and we're very fond of our cat.  With a feline model so conveniently to hand it's hardly surprising that I've made a number of block prints of cats.  Moreover, cats tend to feature in many of the nursery rhymes that I like to illustrate, so that means even more cats in my art.  Naturally I like to think that the pieces I make are reasonably decent art, cats or no cats, and I would hope that my prints of cats wouldn't be called Cat Art in the term's fullest and most disparaging sense.  All the same, the fact is indubitable that pieces with cats are definitely among my best sellers.  I can only assume that I have benefitted from the unholy magic of Cat Art.  In my defense I solemnly affirm that I have never made a potboiler with a cat merely in order to part the True Cat Lover soonest from his money.
        However, when D and I talk about "Cat Art" it might have nothing to do with cats.  The term has grown in our parlance to mean any piece or category of art that is bought because of what it represents rather than because of any intrinsic quality.  The term now goes beyond cats, and refers to the same idea with any focus, such as Betty Boop, perhaps, or Mystical Purple Things, or golden retrievers, or vintage Coca-Cola logos…   When we talk about "Cat Art" not only might there be no cats involved, but the phrase goes beyond the art itself and can refer more broadly to the entire phenomenon of making, marketing, and selling art that a certain segment of the population is bound to like uncritically.
        In conclusion I can only urge you to Keep Vigilant!  Take heed of the danger to quality and good taste that Cat Art poses!  There's some truly wonderful art depicting cats, but for goodness sake, Beware of Cat Art!

[Pictures: K is for kitten, illustration from Amazing, Beguiling, Curious: 26 Fascinating Creatures, by AEGN, 2010 (adapted from detail of Three Little Kittens, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007);
Pussy-Cat, Pussy-Cat, rubber block print by AEGN, 2001.]

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