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Animals in Art.

Eloise has been a part of our family for sixteen years. For a Maine Coon cat, she qualifies for senior citizen status, and the vet tells us she will probably live on into the next millennium.

The funny thing about our parallel co-existence with Eloise is our seemingly mutual understanding of otherness. We tolerate each other and respect each other's turf. Draped over the back of the sofa, she becomes an elegant, furry coverlet claiming an entire section. Curled up in a ball in the middle of the living room, she controls traffic patterns. Poised motionless in the window she becomes a graceful sculpture--the guardian of the estate, a classic work of art.

How do you describe a cat?

Aloof. Attentive. Haughty. Proud.

Throughout recorded history, cats have held a special place in human activity. The grace and beauty of cats have inspired artists since ancient times. Although cats, over time, have changed very little, our perceptions of them have changed a great deal.

Secretive. Curious. Playful. Tender.

Cats were adored in ancient Egypt. Loved in life and mourned in death, cats were often mummified. They were admired for their predatory prowess, used for hunting and fishing on family outings, and depended upon to protect harvested grain from rodents.

The Egyptians worshiped cats, especially Bastet, the powerful cat goddess. The Egyptians studied the behavior of cats and looked to them for signals or signs to guide their daily life. Most museum collections of Egyptian art have at least one realistic sculpture of a cat.

Beguiling. Wise. Affectionate. Trusting.

In ancient Rome, the cat was a symbol of liberty. Roman artists often showed Libertas, the goddess of liberty, with a cat lying at her feet.

Mysterious. Strong. Complex. Independent.

In the Middle Ages, the image of cats became a symbol for sorcery and witchcraft. Anti-cat hysteria was rampant. Cats were executed for sorcery, and old women who associated with cats, especially black ones, were considered to be witches.

Elegant. Sleek. Sophisticated. Slender.

Despite the superstitions and notions of bad luck surrounding cats that still persist today, cats are the most popular house pet, followed by dogs, and then ferrets.

Clever. Faithful. Agile. Patient.

Artists and writers alike have continued to be inspired by the quiet, graceful charm of cats. Petrarch, Keats, Tennyson, Hardy, Twain, Kipling, Colette, and Elliot all loved cats and wrote fondly of them. Andy Warhol was aware of the commercial value of images of cats, and Picasso saw the symbolic value of cats. Feminist artist Judy Chicago is a devoted cat-lover and rendered a very personal series of annotated diary-like drawings of her family of cats.

Throughout the history of art, art makers around the world have used images of animals for a variety of purposes, from complex magic to simple representation of form. This issue features learning experiences focused on the oldest of all subjects in art--animals.

Just like the earliest art makers, children appear confident in their ability to draw images of animals. Deep in the interiors of caves, early art makers recalled the carefully observed shapes and contours of the muscular forms of the animals that roamed the world outside. Deep inside today's classroom walls, young children draw animals from memory and recall of form. In Egypt, the drawing of birds and animals, while based on observation, followed certain rules and conventions. Even in today's classrooms, young children are sometimes taught to follow the rules and use formulas to construct animal forms. More importantly, we hope that the articles in this issue will serve as a reminder of the importance of close observation and, ultimately, deep appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
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Article Details
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Author:Katter, Eldon
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:611
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