Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is there such thing as an artistic photo of a cute kitty?

     My appreciation of cute kitties is limited.
     Or was. 
     That seems to be in flux, I have discovered, to my amusement and quasi-horror.
     Just last spring, when I was searching for a plausible April 1 joke, I shifted this blog to feature kittens in yarn. That seemed an apt metaphor for all that is cheap and sentimental and time-killing about the online world. This fabulously advanced technology, digital computers and a world wide web, used to pass along cute kitten photos. Sad. 
     Then my co-author, Sara Bader, passed along the photo atop the blog, which she took. And my first, unfiltered, uncharacteristic thought was, "I love that. What a cool photo. I'd like to post that photo atop my blog."
      Several theories:
      A) Maybe it really isn't a good photograph, but my judgment is skewed by bias. Sara is my co-author. We've been working on our new book, Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery for, jeez, nearly four years now. A better, harder-working and more valuable partner I cannot imagine.
      When Sara isn't working in publishing in New York, or busy with our book, she volunteers taking photos of cats for Infinite Hope, a pet rescue shelter in Brooklyn, so the photos can be posted and people can fall in love with the cats pictured and rush to adopt them.  
     So maybe my esteem for her, and admiration for the noble purpose behind these photos—to find the cats good homes— colored my sense of the photo. I recognize that. Or,
     B) Maybe it really isn't a good photo, but my judgment was warped not so much by bias but by age.  Old people are famously susceptible to all kinds of maudlin crap: sad clowns and oils of giant-eyed puppies cowering by garbage cans and schmaltzy violin orchestras led by that Austrian imbecile who always pops up on PBS, or did back when I used to watch TV even a little. Perhaps admiring this photo is a Bad Sign, which I seem to find more of as the days run on.
     C) It actually is a good photo, serene, nostalgic in a positive way, with a 1940s vibe, a sense of time, of years past, from the clock and the black and white photograph of the young girl, and I picked up on it, showing the kind of iconoclastic courage that I flatter is still my strong suit, despite my slide into dotage. A sophisticated critic like George Jean Nathan could praise Krazy Kat, which was shocking for its time, and I can praise cute kitties. The masses of hipsters assume that certain artistic forms are tot zur kunst as they say in German, "dead to art," but the truly savvy know otherwise. Why not a laudable cute kitty picture? Lawn gnomes are sentimental junk, but a really great sculptor could craft a lawn gnome that would make you cry. It's possible, is it not?

     Actually, I have no idea if they say tot zur kunst in Germany. I just made that up. It seemed to work better put that way. Which is my definition of art: art is what you can get away with. 
     Okay, caught me again. It's not my definition. Andy Warhol actually said "Art is what you can get away with." But I agree with him and thought, for a moment, it might be some kind of surreal twist at what I'm striving to make the end of my rumination on photographing cute kitties, to pretend I said it. Maybe the kittens have rendered me punchy. Maybe I am, independent of the kitties, and am just blaming it on them, which is sad. But anyone can take a picture of scary twins or an albino covered in bees make it seem artistic. But with all the cute kitties flooding online, it takes something special to snap a really good photograph of a cute kitty. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking with it.  I wanted an excuse to post the photo of Linus behind the clock, and now I have done so.


  1. That first photo -- with the clock, cute kitten and picture -- is really good, artistic and such. But the third photo really got to me. If that kittie's face doesn't melt your heart, you don't have a heart.

  2. I didn't even notice the cat until you pointed it out. I thought the focus of the photo was the little girl's picture and that you would be talking about the adult that little girl became.


  3. Sorry, but I would pick B.
    On the other hand, Out of the Wreck I Rise is a great name for a book. It made my day. Really.

    1. It's a line from Robert Browning's "Ixion." Browning has coined more memorable lines than any poet except Shakespeare. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for."

    2. Yet, I daresay very few read him or recognize his quotes. Though I suppose a greater percentage of your readers do than the general population.


  4. I'm partial to "My Last Duchess," a wonderfully subtle study of husbandy paranoia and its sinister consequences for the innocent lady involved. Domestic abuse in renaissance times.


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