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CULTURE

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong

A new book that aims to explain why cat videos are so alluring

by Nara Shin
on 20 August 2014
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The ancient Egyptians proclaimed their adoration for cats in hieroglyphics, statues and mummification. Today, many preserve the feline species forever in videos, print publications and even with dedicated television channels. When Coffee House Press' marketing director Caroline Casey and publisher Chris Fischbach attended the first Internet Cat Festival two years ago at Minneapolis' Walker Art Center, they were stunned by the turnout and the crowd's joyous reactions. "We were all doing this private thing (watching cat videos) together," Casey tells CH. "When we left, Chris and I immediately thought there had to be a book in there. What had happened? Why are people drawn to cat videos anyway? Why is it important that this happened on a museum's lawn?" Thus, the idea of a "Catstarter" was developed to commission smart and interesting writers to pen thought-provoking commentary on this near ubiquitous obsession with cat videos.

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You could say that cat videos are mindless and disposable and a distraction, but they're also powerfully compelling in a way other animal videos, for instance, aren't.

"Carl Wilson's 'Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste' is one of my favorite books and the way he approached Celine Dion, and being Canadian and badness, and how much people love her, became the early model for how we were thinking about this book," says Casey. "Because you could say that cat videos are mindless and disposable and a distraction, but they're also powerfully compelling in a way other animal videos, for instance, aren't. And Chris and I love really smart laypersons writing about art, so we thought about who we'd want to read on the subject. We asked Carl, who said yes, and then we asked a whole list of our favorite people. Some said no, but a lot of them said yes. It's a really strange, funny, arty curious mix and it is completely un-ironic." The list of writers thus far includes The Atlantic's deputy editor Alexis Madrigal, Hyperallergic's senior editor Jillian Steinhauer, cat video professional Will Braden of Henri, le Chat Noir (the world's first feline philosopher), poet and Harvard professor Stephen Burt and others.

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In partnership with Minneapolis neighbor and regular collaborator, Walker Art Center, Coffee House Press' upcoming book, titled "Cat is Art Spelled Wrong," takes the opportunity to examine a seemingly irrelevant subject from new perspectives—from "the line is between reality/self on the internet" to "how cat videos demonstrate either that nothing matters, or that any art matters if anyone thinks it does." Thus, it's an earnest attempt to uncover more about human nature—especially in today's internet-driven world.

"Serendipity is a big part of what we believe in—embracing the weird, the ambitious and the unexpected is why we're a nonprofit. So this was a natural extension of it. How do we take a thing that we love, turn it over to people we admire, and make something to share? And that's Catstarter," finishes Casey.

While readers have to wait until September 2015 for the book to be released, ensure its production by donating to their Kickstarter campaign, where the ultimate prize is getting the book dedicated your very own cat.

Final image courtesy of Paul Schmelzer, all others courtesy of Stacy Ann Schwartz and Walker Art Center

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