Since the ancient Egyptians dedicated a religious sect to the cat goddess Bastet and made elaborate temples in her honor, artists around the world have paid worshipful homage to the feline form. Artists and Their Cats, just out from Chronicle Books, compiles photographs of the 21st century’s greatest creative minds and their feline muses. The photos shine a spotlight on more than 50 of these deep artist-cat bonds, including shots of the dozens of cats living in Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s studio; muppet master Jim Henson’s Siamese kitty George Washington; and Salvador Dalí’s pet ocelot, Babou.
The photos confirm suspicions that the cat is the ultimate spirit animal of artists. One of the animal kingdom’s most solitary creatures, the cat is an ideal companion for the introverted artist who spends long hours alone in a studio. As author Alison Nastasi writes in the book’s introduction, “Many artists buck notions of a stereotypical temperament, but researchers have long speculated that creative individuals share common attributes–which mirror those of cats.” One 2010 study examined the personalities of more than 4,000 volunteers who self-identified as “cat people” or “dog people,” and “concluded that the ‘cat people’ were more neurotic, less agreeable, and more introverted than their canine-fancying counterparts, but also displayed more openness,” Nastasi writes. “Sound like a feline you know?” That “cat person” temperament is also that of the stereotypical artist (and of metalheads–another group of cat fanatics).
Many artists gave shout-outs to cats in their work. Henri Matisse painted one of his many feline companions in Girl with a Black Cat. French painter Balthus’s 1935 self-portrait, King of Cats, shows him towering over a kitty. Edward Gorey, surrounded by cats in his personal life (one of whom “didn’t learn to purr until she was ten years old”), made pen-and-ink drawings of cats in ballet slippers. And Frida Kahlo turned her cats into protective symbols in her paintings. Bastet be appeased–the cult of the cat is still going strong.
Artists and Their Cats is available from Chronicle Books for $17 here.