Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Big-Name Artists, No-Name Cats

I always enjoyed reading William Safire’s “On Language” column in the New York Times, especially when he regaled readers with tales from the “Gotcha! Gang.” Editors often have a field day catching inconsistencies and pointing out glaring omissions. As an editor for art books, I focus on the language used to describe artistic creation, and a point of entry is often the title of a work of art. Perhaps something is in the water (or the meow mix) because I keep finding images of artworks whose titles leave a lot to be desired by this Cat Lady.

Pablo Picasso did not seem to have any difficulty keeping his mistresses straight, yet in this painting he apparently chose not to cite the name of the cat held by one of his mistress-muses, Dora Maar. Alice Neel’s granddaughter, Victoria, surely had named the cat she held somewhat awkwardly. We know that a calico is always female, and I wonder if the notoriously argumentative Ms. Neel disapproved of the cat’s name? Could the name have been too conventional for the nonconformist artist? And then there is the quiet image by Otsuji Kiyoji of Ishimoto Yasuhiro on the streets of Kyoto. As Mr. Ishimoto approaches the lens of his tripod camera, a nameless white cat (though wearing a collar, hence presumably belonging to someone) gazes up at the photographer studiously at work.

What’s with these big-name artists and no-name cats? Although it is impossible to rewrite history, editors and Cat Ladies can make the case for equal naming opportunities for artists and felines. Won’t you join me?

By the way, if you are interested in reading more about Alice Neel and Ishimoto Yasuhiro, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has recently published two major books that break new ground in presenting the respective careers of these artists. Visit and buy your copies today! Just close your eyes when you read the captions accompanying the artworks illustrated here.

Query of the Day: Can you help me find the names of these cats?

1 comment:

  1. "Shadow" for the cat by Picasso (it took me awhile to find him!). "Kikki" for the Neel cat, and "Spot" for the cat in the photo (he's so tiny).