Friday, November 17, 2006

The subtle art of Witty Kitty Photoshop Captioning in the context of modernist painting

Okay, so this is going to be a journey into one of my darker secrets, but I can't help but post on it. But before that, I want to say sorry I haven't been posting much... school and work are converging in an unholy aggregate to swallow my life till about Christmas. It's okay, I like it that way, but still... doesn't leave much time for free thinking.

So through a site I must confess I visit a lot... CuteOverload... I came upon another site. I won't be visiting it as much, but I've sent it to a LOT of people, and I find myself thinking about it perhaps more than it warrants. It's at, and it has a lot of well-captioned photos of kitties (some with obvious Photoshopping). First, I just liked the funny references and the amazing photos of cats, and I liked picking out my favorites (among them: Superman, Invisible Bike, Hugs Tiem, and I made you a cookie). But after a while, I started making connections.

It was the Aggressive Cat versus Defensive Cat shot that did it. It felt disturbingly familiar, and after a while I started remembering a paper I did in college about an American Realist painting. This painting is by George Bellows. The picture shown here compares the Bellows painting to the cat photo. Marvel at the similarities.

It's not just because it's two cats fighting. On one side, you have the dark kitty, clearly dominating, and on the other side you have the light kitty, looking like it's about to collapse under the pressure. Both images have a lot of movement from aggressive to defensive, and in both cases the aggressive party seems to be overwhelming the defensive one, folding over it from above. They're too similar to ignore.

So after I found that little gem, I went looking for another couple fine-art/cat-art juxtapositions. I only found one more, and I made a juxtaposition of this one, too. It's a comparison of the "Rape is Imminent" photo (which has since been removed, for obvious reasons) with a painting attributed to Goya. This painting isn't universally accepted as genuine, but it's still associated with Goya's body of work. Besides his disturbing images of Saturn and The Colossus, Goya was commissioned to do a lot of portraits of women from court, and this painting is a little bit of a riff on this project.

Okay, so the connection here isn't so remarkable. Still, in both the cat and the Goya, the subdued figure in the background is the decisive feature, reversing the mood of the image. Goya's portrait of two court ladies is initially pleasant and distinguished; the image of the cat is initially cute. In both cases, the repose of the foreground is disrupted by the sinister figure lurking in the background. Why are they there? What are they planning? Why aren't they letting me enjoy the pretty ladies and/or cute kitty?

What does it mean that such remarkable parallels exist between fine art and sugar-coated amusement? Maybe it means the appeal of images is universal, whether they're exalted as fine art or dismissed as tongue-in-cheek irony. Maybe the shape and structure of an effective visual is the same in every case, from masterworks of portraiture to advertising photography to cute kitty snapshots.

Or maybe it doesn't mean anything. Maybe I just like pictures.


Kelly said...

Wow, that's incredible. Really.

Kelly said...

By which I mean to say that the first set of images is uncanny. I think the universality of themes in art/literature/philosophy is always worth commenting upon. I'd think of examples but it's Friday, so I will leave you with this: me doing burlesque tonight is like a pea emerging from a pod.

Anonymous said...

Jesse, what's up. It's Lev.

Shoot me an email @ logic.dsign at gmail dot com..

I wanna ask your opinion on some stuff.

Thanks, dude.

Anonymous said...
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