The Art is Not the Artist: Louis Wain and his Cats

Today on my quest to change my algorithm, I discovered Louis Wain and his cats. His incredible cats that can be realistic, or anthropomorphic, cartoons or kaleidoscope designs. As uplifting as his cat art can be, Louis Wain’s story is not. It’s sad.

And I found an old peeve, that needed to come out and be petted for a bit. Louis Wain was an artist. So how come all we see is Louis Wain the insane artist?

Once upon a time I wrote a poem. Many people asked me afterward if the poem is about me or my mother or about my family. Some people expressed SHOCK! and horror at the poem.  Could it be about me or my mother or my family?

They said they never realized that I could feel this way.  I told them “I DON’T feel this way!  This isn’t about me or my mother or my family and in fact, it is not about anybody that I know!  EVER!  Past,  present or future. It’s a poem!”

In reality the poem was about a number of different things.  The poem reflected:  several different things that I had read;  several different people that I knew; a few different friends’ mothers that I had known; and some situations that I had viewed from the outside; my own interpretations and emotions and ideas.

If you put all those things together and bake them into a sort of poem-cake, then this is the poem that came out of all those ingredients.  It didn’t represent me or my life.  Far from it.  It was a presentation of a culmination of my views on 20 different topics!

It’s called imagination people!

Now I understand that many people have a distinct lack of imagination and that others have too much imagination so that they’re  living with their head in the clouds.

Then there are some who have a lot of imagination and they can take things that they’ve seen or heard and turn it into something else.  For me, that person is the artist.

The artist takes an everyday thing and makes it beautiful somehow  … whether with paint or with words or with notes and music or song or stone.  The artist is not just representing himself and his own little life on the page.  We are all living little lives.  If every artist only depicted their own little world, there would be nothing to look at!

Why would I want to look at my little world represented in a page and why would you?  But if I could take bits of my little world and make it beautiful and make it into something else and make it into something bigger AND MAKE IT INTO SOMETHING OR MYSTERIOUS OR SOMETHING WORTHWHILE TO LOOK AT – now THAT would be something, wouldn’t it?

That’s what artists do.  They take pieces of themselves, of their thoughts,  of what they’ve heard other people say,  of interpretations of things they’ve seen and make something else out of it.  So I’ve always found it offensive when people  can’t or won’t separate the artist from the art.

I’ve sat in rooms where people discuss a poem at length and talk about how the author’s mother and father and sister and brother were all in the poem and depicted this way how the entire poem was autobiographical and how it proved something about the author.

I wanted to scream.  “It proves nothing except what you think about the poem and the author!  The writer isn’t here to ask!  You are just making stuff up!”

Since I’m on the whole peeve thing, you might as well know the rest of it!  I have been to an art museum.   I have stood in front of an abstract painting and heard people who would not know which end of a paint brush to use, declare: “I could do better than that.”

I have stood staring at a still life of a bowl of fruit and heard people who have never painted a bowl of fruit discuss that the artist was using the fruit as a metaphor and how you can discern his broken heart in the black spots on the bananas juxtaposed to the pure, ripe red of the apple.

And I have been glad that God gave me patience and not great strength, that I did not lift the onlookers and toss them out onto the street!

“Look,”  I wanted to scream.  “Look at what he was doing.  He was using color to make two dimensional paint on canvas, a flat canvas and make that banana appear three dimensional.  He was playing with color to see how to make something look like it was real,  like it could stand out,  like you could go touch that banana!  It’s visual art.  LOOK!”

Oh … but they insist on the biographical apples and oranges and bananas and giving me peeves to pet.

So what does all this rant have to do with my new discovery of Louis Wain?Art Gallery

I was astounded to find that this poor man Louis Wain had been declared insane and locked up in an insane asylum for a good part of his life.  He died in an institution, in fact.  Who knows if he really was schizophrenic as it was said.   Back in 1924, you could be declared insane and locked away for all kinds of reasons.  Epilespsy, depression, alcoholism, severe poverty, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, any symptoms  along the Autism spectrum – could all land someone in an insane asylum.

Louis Wain was declared  schizophrenic, they said.  Maybe he was although experts, looking at it now think he was probably autistic and still others say he was suffering from dementia.  It’s not likely that we will ever know!

One of the doctors of the time, took a selection of Wain’s cat art and put it together and used it to illustrate the disintegration of a mind into madness.  Excuse me?!

That doctor’s depiction of madness was used as an example and taught to people for years!  Now it turns out, the art work wasn’t even dated!  Maybe it wasn’t a disintetratjion into madness at all.  Maybe the pictures the doctor had as insane were actually the earlier sane pictures!

How is abstract art insane?

It pained me that all these years later, they are discussing his artwork because the he was insane.

Somehow, his art was a visual representation of a mind going insane.

The man loved cats and he drew and painted  all kinds of cats:  realistic drawings of cats,  anthropomorphic cats,  cats dressed in human clothes and top hats and smoking cigars, and even cats playing golf.  People seemed to think that was o.k!

But when he decided to make cats that are colorful and designed and abstract … those … well those must depict insanity.


Could he not just love color and detail and design?  Are they not beautiful?

Maybe he was sick of doing realistic cats?  He could do it so well, in his sleep probably.  Maybe he wanted to do something different?

That’s what artists do.  That’s what we all should do!

Eat something different for lunch tomorrow.  Use your imagination!

I’m glad that people are discovering Louis Wain.  It appears  he has a new popularity with collectors.

I hope that people will look at his art for art sake and appreciate the beauty in it and not put it down by his mental illness.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that people who are suffering from a mental illness are shameful or that it should be denied.  But the illness is NOT the person.  There is more, so much more to them than the illness from which they may be suffering.

We hear so often about artists being insane as though people are unable to create beauty without being mad!  It gets so  that people judge any creative person as being half mad or privately mad!  It makes people afraid to admit their creativity because if they are creative, they must be mad!

I think there are artists who are perfectly sane and some that just happened to be insane.  There are unimaginative boring drips who are sane and some who are insane.

The artist would have been an artist anyway.  The drip probably would have been a drip anyway.

Louis Wain would have been an artist anyway.  Go take a look at some of his work.  And just for today, color outside the lines, take a different route to work, eat something different for breakfast and for kicks mix up all the silverware in the drawer!

The Psychedelic Madness Of Louis Wain’s Cats

Before Cat Memes There Were Louis Wain’s Controversial Cat Illustrations


[EDITOR’S NOTE:  This post was originally published on February 29, 2016 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy as a part of moving my blogs.]

Patt Timlin is a marketing expert set on sharing her expertise with other online marketers to help them achieve the dream of working online. She is secretly pleased with the surge in content marketing as revenge of the English majors! Entrepreneur, blogger, guide, helper – Patt loves the online world and loves to share it!

Patt is the author of:


Spot4connectionsblog [focus beginners online]

Work At Home Product Guide 

Patt Timlin Online 

BloggerPatt! [just for the fun of it!]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s