Why Cats Paint

why cats paint

Why Cats Paint: a theory of feline aesthetics
Busch and Silver

Submitter: I found this while looking though my local library’s book sale. I picked it up out of interest and I started laughing.

Holly: Who knew cats could paint?  This is hilarious!!  Is it just me, or do some of the cats in these pictures look a little fake?  I’m sure they’re creative geniuses, though.  Fluff, in the last picture, doesn’t just play with wool.  He “constructs creative installations.”  Of course he does.  The book sale is a good place for it, but there are quite a few libraries out there with this book in the collection.

Mary: I suppose we wouldn’t be librarians without a couple of cat references.  I personally am owned by two lovely cats named Roberta and Fred.  Any cat book intrigues me: who in their right mind would be patient enough to photograph cats doing art?  Who has that kind of time?

cat painting

cats and paint

cat sitting up with paint on paws

cat painting outdoors

paint on the floor






  1. My initial reaction to this book is probably not printable; however, if I put paint on my cat’s paws and asked him to paint something, he’d scratch off my arm and beat me with the soggy end… How demeaning for any kitteh to have to go through this! And, not only that, how do you get the paint off the cat afterwards?! The mind boggles, it really does…

  2. I was a bookseller when this came out. It was always intended to be shelved as a humor book. Still, a lot of people took it seriously.

  3. I have this book! I could never figure out if it was serious or not, but if it’s in good condition I see no reason for it not to be in humor.

  4. My mum gave me a book called “Dancing with Cats” which is by the same people. Creepy and hilarious. I donated it to the local university library, but I don’t think they kept it, unless it is still in their backlog (and I’ve seen their backlog, you could hide an elephant in it). They gave me a tax receipt for it, though 🙂

  5. What? This book is purrfection, a true classic. I bet all of those pieces of work are up in mewseums right now. Gotta be kitten me. Thiss is serious business. Furreal.

  6. Artistic chimps and now artistic kitties? My parent’s ancient grey tabby hates anyone touching his paws, and Heaven help anyone who would try painting them. Still, a neat little book.

  7. I watched Disney’s “The Aristocats” the other day, which has a scene of little Berlioz painting in a similar way, and remembered this book from the time it came out. It was actually a big hit in Germany, back then. But I’m not quite sure if people took it seriously, then. I can’t.

  8. Jennifer, your comments are the best I’ve seen for a long time! And, “furreal,” you’re right; they’re “kitten” us. Cats are color-blind.

  9. I think this should generally be kept. Not only does it catalogue some weird animal behavior (and yes some cats do like to express themselves this way, though they’re certainly a minority) it’s also generally in good humor and not out of date. People interested in animal intelligence and expression often ask for this kind of thing where I work (academic library). Just my two cents.

  10. This book is not to be taken seriously, of course. However, I have painted with a horse (!) so perhaps some cats have painted! My own cats are more into performance art; Timothy just finished an installation of “Cat with Rubber Ducky” and Jasper is a genius with empty boxes (“Cat in a Cardboard Orange Crate” is one of his recent works).

  11. Actually, this book is a pretty scathing parody of modern art. Doesn’t have anything to do specifically with cats so much as critics who over-analyze what look like a bunch of splatters or some junk glued together.

  12. How sad. My comment was taken down. Was it because I am a dog? That would be discrimination. Mommy and I saw that Why Cats Paint book when it first came out, but we preferred Why Paint Cats. Oh well, maybe cats paint and maybe they don’t, but I know dogs do because I am a painting dog and I also do photography.

  13. This was always intended as a leg pull – a satire on art criticism and a chance for funny photos of cats! Also I suspect in those days – the early/mid 90s – people were more naive about the wonders of photoshop. I have all three of these books and adore them. Burton Silver was a well known (in New Zealand) cartoonist. He did a great little cartoon strip called Bogor – about a forestry employee and some very cute hedgehogs. Some images at http://www.tonystrading.co.uk/galleries/comicstrips/bogor.htm

  14. I remember when this book came out.. it was a pretty big deal, I remember seeing stuff about it on TV and such.

  15. I’m disappointed that you didn’t include the cat’s tail in the shape of a question mark with the anus as the point.

  16. That orange cat, Bootsie, I believe, looks like the kind of cat that would do anything it liked. And you wouldn’t be wise to attempt to stop it.

  17. Actually, cats can see some colors, they are colorblind, but not completely.

    I did see a segment on an Animal Planet show about a feline ‘fiber artist’ whose person turned his clawed-up carpet pieces into art, but never painting. It definately makes more sense as a humor book. (and no, my cat would never allow it either.)

  18. I’ve read all three of their cat books (Why Cats Paint, Why Paint Cats, and Dancing With Cats), and as others have noted, the books are actually really clever satires of art criticism. They’re slim volumes, and they seem to circulate well enough. I’d definitely keep them on the shelf.

  19. A local no-kill cat shelter actually has paintings done by the cats. They sell them to raise funds for the shelter, and they display them on the walls of the shelter with a photo and background info of the artist.

  20. There is an article on Snopes.com (and a smaller mention on urbanlegends.about.com) about this book and the companion book Why Paint Cats. They’re both funny, but I love the mock-artsy tone of Why Cats Paint.

  21. Definitely a humor book. I have a poster of the cover up in my school library. It gets more comments than any other poster (I have about 20 up–no budget means using posters snarfed up at conferences for decor). At home somewhere we own “Dancing with Cats”, also a humor book, though I think the person who gave it to me thought it was serious.

  22. Lauren is right. This book skewers contemporary art critics. From the “my first-grader could have painted that” camp, it was obviously written by someone who favors representational art. It was probably created for coffee table browsing, and I can see how it would have been popular. As for “who has time to take pictures of cats making art”? Hey, who has time to write novels and poetry? This book probably made more money than most serious “works.” That said, I don’t think a library is the best place for it. (and I am an abstract artist–I can laugh without agreeing with this point of view.)

  23. Awful? Are you kidding me? This is a wonderful book — hilarious! I bought a copy for my sister when it came out. If it’s not circulating at that particular library, that’s another story.

  24. I love this book. When it first came out, my brother and I stumbled across a gallery in Berkeley that was hosting an opening for the book (Ten Speed Press, a local imprint, had published it). There was an historical display of “cat art,” from ancient Egypt to a “work in progress” – a scratched-up armchair. The people running it stayed totally deadpan, and they even had two very mellow cats as “artists-in-residence.” Some of the other visitors thought it was for real! We got an autographed (paw-print rubber-stamped) copy of the book for our parents; they keep it with their fine art books, and guests still occasionally get fooled. Delightful spoof of the self-serious modern art world.

  25. I actually have TWO of the posters which I’m trying to decide what to do with. Is anyone out there interested in them? They are from the mid 1990s and in great condition. Contact me via my website if you are interested in them.

  26. This book, and its companion /Why Paint Cats?/, were both written as humor. Many people aren’t sure whether to take them seriously, but the authors have acknowledged that the “art” is fake and the “painted” cats in the companion book are photoshopped.

  27. I just ordered this from my library. There are four copies through the Allegheny County library system.

  28. I don’t understand why some people have to try and tear things apart. Nothing better to do with their time or no life outside blogs I suppose. What a great book and I am the proud owner of 5 cats. They all have talents and far better personality traits than most people. Yes I have observed some that paint. Perhaps they may lend one of their 9 lives to the bloggers that apparently need them.

  29. I like how the title addresses cat painting behavior as a common mystery we all have to contend with. And the picture is amazing. Great find.

  30. I was painting walls in one of my room one day. I left coulors and went for a lunch, leaving my cat at home alone. After 30 minutes when I return, my walls had dirty magnolia spots and scribbles on middle-down level, and my cat had dirty magnolia paws, head and sides. Yes, cats can paint.

  31. I found and purchased the book not long after it was published.
    Alas, most of you missed the point.
    It is an amazingly well crafted parody of art analysis and criticism. Anyone who survived a few semesters of Art History will recognize the overwrought and hyperbolic descriptions of the methodology, the artists’ inspirations and the various “Schools” of art and find it hysterically funny… Psychometric Impressionist… Spontaneous Reductionist…indeed.
    Any parody that is worth its salt is able to draw in most people and make them question whether the subject is ‘real’ or not. The book apparently did an admirable job.
    20 years later, I can still open it up and get a chuckle.
    By the way, the same authors wrote “Dancing with Cats” in a similar vein.

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