I came across a book several years ago called “Why Cats Paint” in which the author attempted to justify the torture of his pets, which he dipped in paint causing them to struggle to wipe their paws onto canvases to which they were confined, by suggesting that there was a latent vestige of artistic inspiration in their furry little minds that needed to be unleashed. He actually claimed he was freeing their “mews” by providing them with a creative outlet. Thinking it a compliment to anthropomorphize an animal who is blissfully unburdened by the psychological dysfunction that defines our species, the author goes so far as to compare the haphazard besmirchments of his victims to works of the great masters. He further tried to deceive his readers by including what few photos he managed to take in which the animals showed no noticeable signs of distress. But I knew. The work his unwilling quadrupedal “artists” produced under duress told of their pain, even with the limitations of their painting technique, not to mention lack of awareness of what they were doing. I came away with a feeling of great sympathy for the exploited animals and contempt for the author.
Years later I discovered the exciting world of aleatoric art. The concept of incorporating the element of chance into the process of creating art opened my eyes to new possibilities beyond my wildest imagination, and even beyond the boundaries of my interest whatsoever. I thought about that book and had an epiphany. What the author was really doing was, in retrospect even more reprehensible than at first I’d thought. He was catipalizing, er, capitalizing on helpless innocent felines for his own monetary gains, and in the process, giving aleatoric art a bad name.
I was at the Coney Island Boardwalk one afternoon when I came across a cart vendor who was making a modest living with a device that consisted of a spinning turntable upon which he attached paper plates. The customers could, for just a nickel, squeeze different colors of liquid tempera from plastic mustard bottles onto the spinning plate to produce original works of art that resembled random flower forms or starbursts due to the centrifugal force spreading the paint in all directions. They were quite beautiful and I had to try it for myself. After throwing an all out tantrum to get my mother to shell out the nickel I began squirting every color available onto the rotating canvas, ignoring the vendor’s warning that too many colors would not yield desirable effects, and, inexplicably, I ended up with a hideous brown soggy mess. And although my effort was an unmitigated failure it was my first experience as an aleatoric artist.
Around that same time in my life the first color TVs started appearing in the stores and I went with my father to pick one out. I remember seeing RGB static for the first time. I was astounded by those colors, colors that had never been seen before coming through a cathode ray tube in a random chaotic pattern. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and on some level inspired me immensely.
I went home and tried to draw what I’d seen on paper with crayons and immediately discovered that it was impossible to produce the same effect of light shining through the back of a black screen (additive process) with pigments on a white sheet of paper (subtractive process). In my childish stupidity for years I believed in the existence of new colors outside the known spectrum that were as yet undiscovered and I tried to imagine them.
Aleatoric art with its ability to show us things we might never have imagined in a million years as traditional artists, evokes that kind of childlike wonder and awe. That naive yet blissfull ignorance that we try to retain for our children as long as possible by reinforcing their belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. But why perpetuate a lie to our children only to have them discover the charade and become that much more jaded and disillusioned. Why not be Santa Claus, but a more believable version? Why not leave a basket at the foot of their beds every morning, make them hunt for their eggs at breakfast time, instead of scrambling the damn things for them.
Art is a metaphor for life and aleatoric art is a metaphor for a more holistic, green, or globally conscious lifestyle that cooperates with our planet and it’s chaotic, and thus indestructible, balance. Aleatoria is an analogous model for peaceful co-existence and for an understanding and belief in the perfect equilibrium that has been achieved by evolution. In alignment with Eastern philosophy in which disaster and opportunity are synonymous the movement of aleatoric modern artists knows why cats paint: Because some idiot forced them to! Note the similarity between the traditional Zen rock garden and the litter box and you will realize why cats don’t need to paint. They are masters of meditation and much can be learned by simply observing them. Dogs? Well that’s a different story.
by Ray Cabarga