Monday, April 18, 2011
A Matter of Dignity, Respect, and Self-Determination
In a previous blog, we did the readers' advisory thing and discussed a book called Why Cats Paint. The same authors, Burton Silver and Heather Busch, wrote a companion book, Why Paint Cats: the Ethics of Feline Aesthetics (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2002) (ISBN 9781580084727).
Silver and Busch present the colorful photographs with informed commentary about the ethical and artistic principles involved. There is a sense that the authors are having some fun with this art form, but they successfully deliver a serious analysis that is artistically substantive. By all means, please read Why Paint Cats to make up your own mind about the subject. The book is available at several Evergreen Indiana libraries.
Now I'll indulge in delivering a soapbox speech.
The distinction between cats painting and cats being painted upon may be reduced to a matter of respect, free will, and self-determination. Humans providing painting materials that are harmless to felines (which, needless to say, does not include all painting supplies), which the kitties themselves then use to create their own art work, is different than applying such paints to cats' bodies. In the former case, the cat may choose to play around in the paint, creating whatever art may result. The kitty can jump around and smear the paint on canvas here and there, or s/he may turn away with a derisive flick of the tail. When the cat becomes the canvas and is compelled to serve as a "work of art" by a human "caretaker," that eliminates feline autonomy. It is no longer a voluntary collaboration; instead, it becomes a coerced enterprise.
Allow me to provide a parallel example that may better impress my human readers. How dignified do you think it would be if adult artist/people forced human children to become "living canvases"? Let's turn the kiddies into walking, talking paintings! If people are supposed to respect one another, especially the less powerful (i.e., human youngsters), then why shouldn't we, as felines, be entitled the same measure of respect from human caretaker/artists? To a cat, dignity is everything.
Cats are intelligent mammals. They know when they are being abused. "Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked," to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. from his famous book The Common Law (1881). (Holmes later served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court [1902-1932].) If people want to create art, that's fine. Just don't force another intelligent life form to participate against his/her will.
Some of these artists might respond by postulating that the felines that served as the "living canvases" participated freely and willingly. I frankly doubt it. I have known cats all my life, being one myself, and I can assure you that kitties dislike feeling physically uncomfortable more than anything. We don't like our fur dirtied by foreign substances like paint; that's why we groom ourselves so carefully. We value cleanliness, and being covered in paint is hardly that. There is, of course, the related question of how one measures feline assent when a human artist decides to submit the cats' bodies to various and sundry artistic indignities, but that, I suspect, begs the question.
Primarily, I use this blog for humor, although we like to keep you informed about what's happening with my Library, too. I'll climb down from my soapbox now. Check back tomorrow to see if we have any new jokes or funny stories. It could happen. You never know.
Helping to Preserve Feline Dignity, Respect, and Autonomy,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
Serious Stuff News Beat
P.S. In his music CD The Persistence of Memory (2011), the Music Man composed an entire series of percussion selections musically interpreting the paintings of Salvadore Dali. To hear a few tracks from this CD, watch my Library's program trailers and book trailers below, which use the pieces as soundtracks.