My theory (which is mine) about artists, actors, cats, and dogs

February 11, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This is both a speculative theory and a speculative explanation, but it came to me when I was preparing today’s “Caturday felid” post.  Whenever I see a photo of an artist with a pet, it’s almost always a cat (very often a Siamese cat as well). In contrast, whenever I see an actor with a pet, it’s very likely to be a d*g.  I can think of tons of artists (I mean those who paint, photograph, or draw) who had cats, artists like Klimt, Matisse, Warhol, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Warhol, and so on.

And my feeling is that actors have dogs more often than do artists.  I can’t name many, but here are a few. I don’t think this is due to confirmation bias. Cat photos do tend to stick in my mind, but it’s irrelevant whether the cat is with an actor or artist.

Yes, there are artists who had dog and actors who have cats, but I’m making a statistical argument here. You could do a 2 X 2 table with the cells labeled “cats” and “dogs” at the top and “artists” and “actors” on the side.  To do this right, you’d have to get several people to make a big list of actors and artists, not knowing about their pets, and then look up whether they had cats, dogs, or both. My guess is that artists would be significantly more cat-heavy than are actors, and you could test this association with a Fisher’s Exact test. (I suppose some people have both, so you’d have to add another cell and do a 2 X 3 chi-squared test.)

I have predicted this in the absence of known data, but here is my theory for such an association if it exists.

Here it comes: I am about to expound my theory.

My theory, which is mine, is that artists have cats because they admire their grace and beauty, which art is largely about. Cats are, in a way, living sculptures.

Actors, on the other hand, live for approbation and immediate and constant love.  You can get that kind of affection from dogs, but not from cats, who are more aloof.  If you want someone to tell you how great you are all the time, you’ll want a dog. If you want to simply admire the beautify of an animal, then a cat is where you should go.

This immediately suggests that politicians, who want obsequious followers, would in general have dogs more often than cats. I don’t know if Trump has a pet, but if he does, you know it would be a dog. Wikipedia’s list of “Presidential Pets”, which you should look at, suggests that, in general, I am correct. (Some presidents had pretty weird pets that were neither cats nor dogs.)

And that is my theory, which is mine. You may attack it if you will, and you’re welcome to do so in the comments. But you can’t refute it merely with anecdotes: by citing actors whom you know have cats and artists who have dogs. We are looking for a large-scale statistical association to test my theory, which happens to be mine.

I have no theory about musicians, except that I know Taylor Swift has several cats—the only thing I like about her. Oh, and Freddy Mercury had cats, too. If musicians tended to have cats more than dogs, though, that would refute the psychological underpinnings of my theory, for musicians, even more than actors, need immediate love. Actors often do their work onscreen where the love comes later, at the box office, but performing artists crave immediate gratification in the form of cheers and applause.

I was brought up imbued with science, so I’ll be glad to be tested, and will freely admit it if the data show I’m wrong.

97 thoughts on “My theory (which is mine) about artists, actors, cats, and dogs

      1. My theory – which is mine – is that Ceiling Cat saw you typing, and showed her presence by moving the keys under your fingers.

  1. Trump had a pet, a bald eagle, but they did not appear to get along very well.
    If Trump had a pet it would be one that would not be demanding much attention (so dogs are excluded), but could be useful on occasion, and one in his image, I’m thinking python or rattle snake.

    1. While in general agreement with your opinion of tRump, I do think that pythons and rattlesnakes have much greater value in the effects they have on certain numbers of their prey (small vermin). As for tRump posessing snakes as pets, of course he’d have help with any matters handling them. Perhaps he should have a tapeworm as a fitting symbol of his parasitic business strategies.

      1. Bald eagles are hunters too, mainly of fish (IIRC). The real heroes in this narrative are the vultures, they clean up the carrion more systematically.

      1. Yes, I knew that it just was a photo-op, I was just being facetious. It went so deliciously wrong*: the symbol of the USA doesn’t like Trump.

        *wrong for Trump and his acolytes that is, not for us ordinary mortals.

      1. But you’re a physicist/ chemist, and you have TWO cats.

        Quantum indeterminacy – practical demonstration thereof.

          1. But even two: both of them may end up dead, you never know beforehand.
            However, reckoning cats have nine lives (oh, how I wish that were true) the probability is you’ll end up with two slave masters.

            1. Two COMPETING slave masters.
              The computing scientists have a word for that – it’s a “race condition”. From the outside it just looks like a complete crash, but from the inside it’s … not fun.

      2. The reason there could be that scientists realize that d*gs are impractical, in that they neeed a lot of attention, while cats don’t seem to mind so much if you spend 14 hour days in the lab.

      3. Interesting theory about artists, actors, cats and dogs. Something I now feel the need to contemplate about cats/dogs and my colleagues (physics/engineering). I do not have cats or dogs, however, I am definitely more of a cat person. From time to time we have local cats wandering in our warehouse when the doors are left open. I had to put up a sign asking colleagues to make sure they do not accidentally lock any cats in the building.

      4. This explains why Shrodinger did his thought experiment with a cat. Had it been a d*g, the animal would always be dead, and humanity would never have been able to make the quantum jump. Thanks Mr. Coyne for your brilliant analysis and remarkable theory. Also, to muddy the Waters or clear the air, I happen to know that Roger, bastard, has a dog.

  2. There is a potential confounding factor: time away from home. If someone is away from home a lot, they may have a cat rather than a dog, even if they prefer dogs. Marital status, having kids, and income also might matter.

    Instead of the 2×2 table, I’d do a regression and include 1) time away from home, 2) marital status, 3) kids, and 4) income as covariates in a model with vocation (actor vs artist) as the independent variable and animal choice (cat vs dog) as the dependent variable.

    1. Well, kids are even more demanding pets than dogs, obviously. And they demand doggies and cats, so there is that to consider.

      I’ll never forget my then nine year old son a few days after he got a young Jack Russell for his birthday: “Oh daddy, this is like a dream come true”. There is nothing that can make a dad happier than that, I’d think. Now 12 years later, they really still are a happy couple. But I must say that in several ways his “Gypsy” is cat-like, which is kinda weird for a Jack Russell terrier.

      1. Thanks for the interesting hypothesis.

        Also, something more up my alley: We need a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of pet choice. I’m surprised none of the big cohorts (like UK Biobank or Million Veterans) have bothered to ask people about their pet choices. What I’d do if I had the funds would be send a questionnaire about pets out to UK Biobank participants (n~500,000), many with genotypes already measured. We could assess cat vs dog preference via a GWAS in the same way we GWAS IQ, heart disease, height or any other trait. With the results, we could perform Mendelian randomization, which would allow us to ascertain whether psychological factors (such as the Big Five or even IQ) influence pet choice or whether the genetic predisposition towards cat or dog preference (which is a surrogate for something broader, as Jerry mentioned, maybe need for adoration?) impacts other aspects of personality, IQ, or other traits that have been measured. With existing questionnaire data, we wouldn’t be able to get at the artist vs actor trait. But we could run a GWAS on that, for instance, by recruiting a large sample of actors and artists from Hollywood…

        Give me another hour and I’ll have a grant proposal :). It’s too bad the NIH doesn’t usually fund research in humans that isn’t framed as “health-based.” This is more about human nature. Maybe Department of Defense (DOD)…

    2. That time away from home thing is big. But then – dogs are fairly amenable to travel, and staying “on location.” Same cannot be said for cats. In my experience.

  3. This seems about right to me: “Actors, on the other hand, live for approbation and immediate and constant love. You can get that kind of affection from dogs, but not from cats, who are more aloof.”

    1. I just tweeted this piece to Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Banks, and Bradley Whitford. I’ll let you know if any of them respond!

  4. I don’t know if Trump has a pet, but if he does, you know it would be a dog.

    To my knowledge, the Donald has never had a pet of any kind, either as a child or as an adult. I suspect his narcissism is too extreme for him to care for a sentient animal.

  5. I think I learned the following True counterintuitive Fact here – written in the scientific vernacular* :

    Girls prefer dogs as pets

    … I’m not sure of the other cases. But this True Fact struck me as counterintuitive and relevant to your theory which is yours.

    *word play – a pair o’ dogs.

    1. Cannot edit :

      Feel free to change the “girls” (slightly cringe inducing) to “female Homo sapiens” – it seemed no vernacular term worked here, and the scientific was overdoing it.

      1. Womb bearers?
        I have no womb, but I love both cats and dogs (and they do a good job in respectively killing rats and deter burglaries), as I suspect our host secretly does. Where has the sad black dog gone?
        It is just a different kind of relationship.

    2. Getting around to finding something to read about this dubious claim:

      “Women are more likely to keep pets. The odds that a woman owned a dog were 8 percent higher than the odds a man owned a dog, and they were 16 percent higher for owning a cat.”

      Or this :

      Cat owners Dog owners
      Women 35% 62%
      Men 48% 71%

      … I coulda swore a female reader here was saying women like dogs more than cats, but ah well, I can’t find it.

  6. I doubt tRump knows how to care for anything breathing. I bet he doesn’t care about his children. He cares about Ivanka because she looks like a million bucks and is good advertising

    1. I think Trump legitimately cares about Ivanka (perhaps alone among everyone else in the world, including his other children). But there’s something creepy about the photographs he took with her when she was an adolescent, such as the one below. (Keep in mind, too, that Trump has bragged that the main perk of his having owned the Miss Teen USA contest was that he alone got to roam around backstage ogling the minor contestants en déshabillé.)

  7. Why does everything have to be about Trump? Politicians aren’t even in the theory, which is Jerry’s.

    About the study hypothesis, which is attractive and testable, how indeed should the actors and artists who have both species as pets be handled? I would enumerate them but exclude them from the statistical comparison. The hypothesis is, I think, that there is some personality trait that expresses a preference of one pet over another but it operates only in those who express a preference. Including those who express no preference, by having both, would dilute the effect you are trying to detect, if it is present. The validity of that decision could be challenged if the vast majority of either artists or actors had both, because then you would be looking only at the outliers who expressed the preference, but I think you could address that in your grant application.

    The important thing is to decide what you are going to compare before you run the comparison, else you will be accused of data dredging.

    I’m not particularly fond of pet animals anyway, and have no preference myself. So as an impartial observer, I think it’s a brilliant hypothesis to test.

    1. “Why does everything have to be about Trump?”

      He’s technically an actor – in a massive hit movie.

      Anyone know the movie?

        1. My general rule is that no opportunity should ever be missed to mock Donald Trump — though I will concede, Leslie, that perhaps our fellow commenters and I have provided the exception that proves the rule here. 🙂

          1. He haunts you still.

            He’s like the alien in one of those 1950s sci-fi movies (where the aliens stand in for Soviet communists): this one had discovered the “other half of the nuclear secret”, as one of the scientist characters put it. It could convert energy into mass (just as the Replicators on Star Trek TNG do to make Picard’s tea.) Every bullet, every bomb, every subpoena the Americans threw at it, just made the thing bigger. Fortunately the scientists figured this out just in time to call back an air force bomber that had been dispatched to drop an A-bomb on it. But the alien had a tractor beam that pulled the bomber down onto it and the bomb went off anyway. Emerging from the mushroom cloud was one Yuuuge orange-haired alien, a dire threat to Our Way Of Life.

            I forget what happened next.

      1. He also portrayed a highly fictionalized version of himself for 14 seasons on The Apprentice, a gig that qualified him for a SAG card.

    2. Thank you for your first question, have been wondering the same for a while.

      For the study, I suspect personality types may be a confounding factor. More actors are extroverted and artists introverted. So if extroverts prefer d*gs and introverts prefer cats, without adjustment, all a study of pet ownership would do is (potentially) confirm which job these two personality types prefer.

  8. Let me get this right, ol’orange ex prez is a narcissist, cats seem only interested in themselves and what their staff provide… therefore ol’orange ex prez you’re fired could have a cat.

  9. I feel this needs testing. I have a dog as an assistance dog a cat would be a terrible assistance animal, mine for example is trained to operate the pedestrian buttons on traffic lights. I have only ever had dogs I write, i play music. So with n=1 it sort of fits even though my need for a dog is more directed by medical necessity

  10. Another factor that would make artists prefer cats is a practical one: they’re quiet, don’t tend to move around much, and don’t knock things over. They can safely and easily be ignored for hours at a time while you concentrate intensely on your work.

      1. Yes, my labrador’s wagging tail alone sends more things flying than my cat ever does! Of course I love them both.

        1. The wagging tail of your beloved Labrador is accidental, just a stupid wagging tail. Cats generally knock things over the brink on purpose, often after a period of obvious deliberation. Big difference. The knock over generally wins.

          1. Cats generally knock things over the brink on purpose, often after a period of obvious deliberation.

            Specifically “why has Hoomin set up this obviously tempting trap for me?” Followed by working out the consequences of both reactions to the Hoomin’s attempted manipulation.
            I think we’re in agreement that the dolphins are the third most intelligent species on the planet, not the second.

        2. Last dog I had, a brindle mastiff, wielded a tailwag powerful enough to sweep coffee tables clear and perhaps cause mild bruising. I seem to recall wiping slingers off the ceiling as well.

      2. Wasn’t it Noël Coward who said “the job of an actor is to know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture”? 🙂

  11. As a writer and musician who lives in a van I have just the one datum point: on the whole I prefer cats even if they are basically useless, because they tend to be rather self-sufficient (for the same reason, of the many types of livestock I’ve run, honeybees were by far my favorite). I’ve only ever had one dog and she was great, a real sweetheart, albeit a needy bitch; but have had no pets of any kind for 15 years. Here’s a brief video of me from ’08, and sorry about the embedment or whatever it is; I’m an unrepentant incorrigible luddite and just recently learned the nifty copy/paste trick.

  12. I suspect that behind all this tends to be that the more creative and forward-thinking a person is, the more likely they prefer cats to dogs. This also would account for why many musicians like cats, even though musicians tend to enjoy approval as well.

    It would also be interesting to extend this theory to, yes, political beliefs. My hunch here is that liberals prefer cats, and conservatives prefer dogs (by and large), for much the same reasons as given above.

    1. Other categories to include: sexual orientation. There are stereotypes of lesbians having many kittehs and/or d*gs. Freddie Mercury was a gay man with lots of kittehs. Maybe he’s an exception? AFAIK, however, Taylor Swift is straight. I honestly don’t care; I just mention this for the purpose of your study.

      I would also include comedians. Like actors, they have a stage persona that may differ from their real selves, plus they receive immediate audience feedback.. At present I can’t think of any comedians with pets.

      Like actors, musicians perform live on stage so they too receive immediate audience feedback, and from much larger crowds. So they may require constant adulation as well.

      1. I don’t know how valid that generalisation is – when I was single and had a cat, I was surprised at the number of men I dated who either didn’t like cats or had a dog. The reason we have a dog now is mainly because of my husband (although I love the dog to bits). I’d love to get a cat as well but it’s clear that the dog wouldn’t put up with it.

  13. Don’t ask what you are or can do for your pets, ask what they can do for YOU, (Thanks JFK).
    I have two dogs, both township mongrels (well boerbul cross and pitbull cross sounds better). They defend the house, no more burglaries since I have had them. It is the little black pitbull cross that is the most aggressive one, but of course the boerbul-cross will have the worst bite. To my great pleasure, they never ever attack children, even those they have never seen or that are afraid. I wonder what evolutionary mechanism plays there.

    And then I have a cat since a few months. I vowed to never have a cat again when the Huskies next door murdered the most idiosyncratic and lascivious little cat I ever had, but my house was infested with rats, caught a few with traps, but the problem persisted. I loitered an old fat fluffy cat from the township, and the rats are all dead or gone. She’s very affectionate, sometimes oppressively so, and demolishes furniture, but no more rats is a great plus.
    Don’t get me wrong, I had rats as pets when younger, but their life span is 3 years at max. Lots of tears. These ‘wild’ rats though gnaw about anything to shreds. My ‘Mitzy (van der Merwe)’ made short shrift.

    1. I love rats. My last rat died almost 13 years ago, and I am still so heartbroken I haven’t been able to adopt another (which makes me feel guilty for being selfish when I might be able to provide others with a home and well-being).

      For me, the question of “cats or dogs?” is always “Neither. Give me rodents.”

      I have a chinchilla (odd creatures they are, sometimes almost cat-like in their disapproval of their human staff), and 7 unreleasable deer mice I care for. My house is a predator-free zone for this reason. I am thankful for the long lifespan of chinchillas, and even the captive deer mice live a lot longer than rats, though they aren’t bonded to me the same way a pet rat would be, with the exception of one of them.

  14. Hmmm……

    “Regardless of how ownership groups are configured, there is consistent evidence that differentiates cat owners (lower empathy) from dog owners (higher empathy).”

    Personally, I would differentiate the two groups by willing/unwilling to trail behind to pick up poop. That it may align with the degree of empathy would require further research.

  15. Interesting to note that DT had (has?) no pets. It is difficult for me to picture him with a dog or a cat, or just about anything you could name. A psychopath by definition is incapable of forming the types of emotional bonds that most people would consider love. My theory is that going petless is indicative of a psychopath and since DT exhibits many traits of a psychopath, this may be just one more.

    1. I’m not so sure, Uncle Adolf (clearly a psycho) was very fond of dogs, Alsatians in particular: he had an Alsatian, Blondi, given to him by Martin Bormann as a puppy, of whom he appeared very fond. Hitler considered Alsatians Germanic ‘Urhunde’. She died at a young age, when Hitler wanted to test the efficacy of the cyanide pills (end of April 1945) he was offered by the SS.
      There are more stories about him being fond of dogs, such as a fox terrier, Fuchsi, from the WWI front, or another Alsatian named ‘Prinz’.
      It is Muslim fundamentalists that are fond of cats, so there is that.

  16. Well I love cats and dogs. The problem where I live, Danville VA it is against a local ordinance for a cat to roam outside.

    1. I agree with that ordinance. A domesticated animal that acts as an invasive species should not be allowed to roam unsupervised. It’s a danger to native animals, and a danger to the cat (vehicles, coyotes/other large animals, spreading of pathogens, cruel humans, etc). Worse if the cat is not spayed or neutered and suddenly you have a feral cat problem. Even on a petty level, others who do not have a relationship with the cat do not want them on their property, and legally, they are right and the cat owner has failed in their responsibility.

      These ordinances are pretty common, but even more common is for people to ignore them, based on their own personal and cultural desires and beliefs about cats.

  17. Yes, cats are beautiful to look at and graceful in every movement and in rest. I’m a visual designer and while I love animals in general, cats it is. I do have to lock them out sometimes when I’m working because they want to be in the middle of whatever is going on. They don’t lay picturesquely on my shoulder; they want to walk through and sprawl across what I am focusing on and chew on my tools. You can add to their aesthetic qualities their smell: I love to bury my face in their fur. The nicest thing you could say about a d*g in that regard is that they don’t stink.

  18. I have a thought about this (of course!). Artists are sedentary, actors are not. Sedentary people can enjoy cats and still be sedentary—cats are perfectly happy indoors. Actors are mobile. Being mobile, we often see actors out and about; consequently, we’re more likely to see them with dogs. Dogs must be taken out and about to p**p. Cats can p**p inside.

    Actors + mobile = d*gs. Artists + sedentary = cats.

    One of your many correspondents has already scooped me (pun intended). I’ll now start reading to see if that is so.

    1. Sorry to reply to myself, but I’m just re-“tweeting” something my wife conjectured after hearing my reply. Her simple but interesting thought is that cats and artists bond because both tend to be introverts. Actors and dogs bond because both tend to be extroverts. Her conjecture is quite consistent with many of the others, but it’s interesting that she connected cats and dogs with introversion and extroversion, respectively.

      Incidentally, my wife is a University of Chicago alumna (A.B. 1977), which gives her idea considerable gravitas

    2. I have a thought about this (of course!). Artists are sedentary, actors are not.

      So, within the classification of “artist”, how do you predict … landscape garden designers versus life-size (people) sculptors?

  19. I like the theory (of yours)! Trying to flesh it out a bit… Artists understand life at a remove, whereas actors understand it by immersing themselves in it. Artists are disconnected from others, and hence are uninfluenced by them and are true to themselves, whereas actors are maximally connected to others. Dogs are connected, and cats are solitary.

  20. Well, look…I’m an actor. Did it for a living. Couldn’t do the “persistent self-motivation in the face of perpetual rejection” thing terribly well. I teach acting now. And direct. 30 yrs of it altogether.

    Point is, I know a lot of actors. And when you say, “Actors, on the other hand, live for approbation and immediate and constant love.” I think you mean “stand-up comedians.” Most of the actors I know are shy and retreating and contemplative. There are the attention hounds (see what I did there?), but they are the minority. I know I have had cats for most of my adult life and prefer them to dogs. You may be right, statistically – I dunno. Never counted. But if you are, it’s not for any reason connected to your thesis. Sorry.

    Also, don’t stand in a room with Viola Davis or Kate Blanchett and make a distinction between artists and actors, out loud. You may not escape with your life.

  21. I’d also suppose that once a habit has settled, new actors and artists to be photographed, if they own both a cat and a dog, may choose for the photo op the pet that is traditional for their peers.

  22. Assuming that actors prefer dogs and artists prefer cats, another explanation could be that dogs are pack animals and acting is an ensemble effort whereas cats are more solitary and the creation of art may also be more solitary (in general).

    1. If the hypothesis I just laid out is true, athletes might make a good test; those who play team sports would be likely to prefer dogs and those who engage in solo competitions would be more likely to prefer cats.

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