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.
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.
Great blog post, Ruth. When I go into someone’s house (at least when I USED to go into people’s houses before COVID), I immediately take mental note of what is on their walls. Since most of my friends are artists, that’s pretty easy—they’ve got framed paintings of their own original works, but many of them are also collectors (as I am) of OTHER artists’ original works. We artists *know* original paintings when we see them (and when in doubt, I often ask “is this an original?”). The saddest thing is when I’ve gone into someone’s house (perhaps someone in the technology/computer field–just sayin’) and there is NO ART on the walls. Or, some “faux” mass-produced art from a craft store. I can’t blame the person for what he/she doesn’t know, but I feel it’s a failing of the educational system that emphasizes STEM only and little or no discussion of the arts. As for that excited feeling—yep! I get it every time I look at original artwork (even though I have to do much of it online). A little leap in one’s heart at the marvel of creative people and the things they make!
Thanks Liz- having original art in the home really lets us know our friends better. I always feel uncomfortable when I go to someone’s home and they don’t have real art.
Ruth, this is true for me also. And I totally agree about the art vs prints. I had someone arguing with me about a matted piece. He almost yelled at me that it was a print. Who would argue with the artist? Catch phrases and buzz words makes them feel like they know what their talking about. So sad.
Aleta, I am sorry this happened to you. Mis-informed and adamant is a bad combo. Luckily we have those few wonderful patrons who appreciate and understand our work!
Several years ago while on an extended stay in Kauai I got to know the parrots at the neighboring resort and their caretaker. She was very leery of my interest in the birds so I asked her about it. She said the last person who showed such an interest in them became focused on one – a beautiful pink Moluccan. This woman eventually asked where she could get one. She wanted to have it stuffed and mounted because it matched her couch. This has stuck with me as the ultimate example of decor over art.
I live on the Long Beach peninsula and a renowned local artist offers small, inexpensive watercolors because he wants everyone to be able to afford original art.
Great examples, Karen! I meant to add that art need not be expensive to be impactful!