I'm happy to report that there is no cause for anger or alarm. Though the cats are real, the paint jobs are not. Most if not all of the lovingly Photoshopped images came from a tongue-in-cheek volume entitled Why Paint Cats: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics (Ten Speed Press, 2002), written by New Zealanders Burton Silver and Heather Busch, the same pair responsible for the equally deadpan Why Cats Paint (1994) and Dancing with Cats (1999).
Silver, a well-known cartoonist, was also the co-author of What Bird Did That: A Driver's Guide to Some Common Birds of North America (1991) -- actually a compilation of photos of bird droppings presented as a "handy glove compartment guide enabl[ing] the motorist to identify quickly which species created which display on the windshield."
You get the idea. Excerpts from these works can be viewed at the so-called Museum of Non-Primate Art.
From cats painting to painted cats
In media statements the authors are careful not to admit that the images were doctored. "We never comment on the techniques used to create our art, because that's not the point of the work," Silver said in a 2002 newspaper interview. "We see our role as that of encouraging discussion amongst readers and provoking them to question their value systems." The author has spoken more candidly on other occasions, however. Of the earlier book, Why Cats Paint, which purports to be a critical examination of artworks created by cats, Silver said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, "It's a spoof. A cat is totally its own person, like an artist is totally his own person. You can't force a cat to paint."
Nor, as anyone familiar with feline ways knows, can you force a cat to be painted. And that is the essence of the joke.
• All About Cats - From cat care expert Franny Syufy
• Why Paint Cats Home Page - Reader comments, pro & con
• Museum of Non-Primate Art - More about painted cats