Cat Paintings: The Mysterious Chat Noir Litters Art History

Mr and Mrs Clark

The mysterious chat noir litters (a pun already? Awesome) art history like so much shed fur; the terribly unsubtle feline companion stealing the show in Manet’s ‘Olympia’, that ice cool white Percy out-cooling Mr and Mrs Clark in Hockney’s portrait. Their irresistible allure peppers art and music –check out Rossini’s ‘Duetto buffo di due gatti’; or, an incredibly silly operatic duet where the sole  lyric is ‘Miaow’ – and a visit to the famous Cat Museum in Amsterdam shows the ridiculous variety of forms in which our beloved furry friends can permeate visual culture (a stone sculpture of mating  moggies, anyone?)

So how does Snoopybabe, Grumpy Cat (should probably put a ©in there for that one..), Lolcatz, Maru fit into this? In short, they don’t. Like most inherently selfish, self-serving mammals of the felidae variety, they’ve metaphorically come into our house, eaten all our nibbles, shredded our slippers, and we’ve been bowled over by their sheer lol-ness, their I-can-haz-ness, their Thug Life-ness like lemmings. Internet memes, perpetuated by the same recurring catalogue of “Oh girl HOLD ON – are those shoes on sale?” cat photos with assorted captions, are now the instant gratification symptom of the no-attention span generation. This is now a visual part of our vocabulary, with even politician Luke Foley posting cat memes as part of his election campaign for NSW Labor (Icanhazmajorityplz?). Perhaps there is a very real threat that our capacity to look and engage with images is becoming seriously eroded by our addiction to Maru attempting to enter smaller and smaller boxes, like so much catnip.

The question is, where does visual imagery go from here? A characteristic, interestingly of Art 15 currently going on in Kensington Olympia, is a predilection for BIG BRIGHT COLOURFUL INSTANT WOW, all interior design with max colour and min meaning. Certainly, I’m not suggesting the artworks were particularly vacuous and lacking in skill. But much of it was designed to instantly grab the attention (rare commodity) of punters. In a gallery, the average time spent looking at a piece is 5 seconds. The time for Lolcatz is almost certainly closer to .5. Ask yourself which figure you are closer to when visiting Art 15 and you may be alarmed. I certainly wa.. hey look a cat with bread on its head! © 2015 all rights reserved

Photo courtesy Tate and David Hockney © all rights reserved


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