Cute Aggression and Art vs. Decor

I don’t think it started when the mouse I rescued from our farm cat clamped on to the soft pad of my finger and didn’t let go – even as I shook my hand like it was a thermometer. But, true confession, sometimes I feel mildly violent toward cute animals. 

I don’t mean I’d harm them, or anything… I just want to give them a little squeeze. My daughter was over the other day (outside) and our puppy’s cuteness just overwhelmed her. She picked him up and started growling at him and jiggling him rather roughly, kind of gritting her teeth. I thought he might throw up! 

But, I know the feeling – do you? When something is so cute you can hardly stand it? Apparently almost half the population has experienced this. Have you ever been compelled to blow a zerbert on a baby’s stomach? I totally understand how Maurice Sendak came up with: “I’ll eat you up, I love you so.”

I was always a little ashamed and confused about this bizzarre simultaneous attraction and aggression; until I recently found out it’s a real thing: it’s called Cute or Playful Aggression.

The odd thing is that it happens with art too. Even good books or movies can get this response from me. A recent example for me: “My Octopus Teacher” – such a beautiful film! It’s as if I’m experiencing something so good that it’s overwhelming, beyond words. I’m also one who cries at a wedding, or when I taste something fabulous.

Don’t believe me? Read more here and here. The scientific explanation is that these mechanisms help us regulate our emotion.

I have vivid memories of tears building behind my eyes when I saw an original Joan Mitchell painting at the Women’s Museum in Washington, D.C. Or the first time I saw an original Winslow Homer, even before I was an artist, at the National Gallery. Do you do this too? Or is it just an artist thing?


The real shame


We don’t have enough transcendent art experiences. Sadly, many people are satisfied with metal wall-hangings from Walmart or poster prints from “Z-Gallerie.” For the uninitiated, Z Gallerie is really a home furnishing and ‘decor’ store, not a gallery. We sometimes confuse mass-marketed decor with Art. The real shame is that there’s even an art vs. decor contest. 

As your artist friend, I’m asking you to do me a favor and remember the difference between art & decor. Call me quirky, but I don’t like to hear my paintings described as ‘prints’ and I don’t like it when home decor shows talk about posters as ‘art.’


Art can create emotions so powerful it brings tears to your eyes; while decor simply fills a space

Ruth Armitage

 “Sand Bar” Oil & Cold Wax on panel 6”x12” – part of my new series called Tides – looking at the intersection of land and sea

P.S. If you want to experience your own cute aggressive moment, head on over to my Instagram page and look at my puppy! Click to see my feed @artistrutharmitage and while you’re there, give me a ‘follow’ so you can see new work like the painting above! (AND puppy pics) OR, subscribe to my newsletter! There’s a form right on my contact page.






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