Cats: unconventional portraits stretch our brains

Photo of cat's forehead and eyes almost fill the frame, with a human in the background

Unconventional portrait: is it even a cat?

Ursula the chocolate tabby British short hair is a habitual poser. Over and over again she used to arrange her body into one of the 15 standard poses for “Beautiful Cat.” Yes, she did train at Barbizon Modeling and Acting School in New York, but even as a kitten, she knew what shapes were most pleasing to humans. And she milked that knowledge.

Like any normal cat admirer I have for years aimed to catch classic cat photographs, where Ursula assumes an archetypal pose that is instantaneously recognisable as “cat”.

We see with our brains. Our eyes send to the brain a bare-bones digest of what they see: a cat. The brain fills in the missing pixels and shows us — a cat.

Now, after years of posing as a catalogue cat, Ursula has gone all haute couture and post-modernist on me and I like it. She poses ugly, awkward, geeky, intellectual, challenging. She doesn’t want  you to instantly think “cat”. Of the top photo my daughter-in-law said, “Could be…an owl…an Ewok…Sasquatch.”

And how about this one? Could be a powder puff… a tumbleweed…morphing into a snail…what?

Cat's round furry head, no eyes showing

A globular cat: an unconventional portrait

Why do we want even our cats to be beautiful? Why are our ideas of cat-beauty so stereotyped? That’s what I’ve been wondering. Ursula is showing me an eccentric, creative kind of glamour.

I know our preconceived ideas of beauty are rooted in neurology. But luckily, we can think a new thought. We can see a new shape. We have neuroplasticity on our side when we look for unconventional portraits of cats.

7 thoughts on “Cats: unconventional portraits stretch our brains

  1. Nyla Carroll says:

    Love your posts Rachel! Always thought provoking and stimulating…keep up the great work….

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you Nyla! The discipline is its own reward, thank goodness.

  2. I would live to know more about our ideas of beauty being rooted in neurology.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Aha. I’m referring to the mysterious process of vision. Ask a friendly neuroscientist to explain:)

  3. It’s true – my hens looked vaguely sinister at first, and now they’re just adorable.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Interesting! You have trained your brain to see their true colours.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Whenever I look at a couple I realize that we really do have very diverse ideas about beauty. Same with cats for sure.

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