De Kooning called the subliminal quality of art passed down through generations "the smile without the cat." He believed one could be influenced by the essence of great artists without copying them directly, and, therefore, saw painting as eternally metamorphosing the influence of past masters.
"well! i've often seen a cat without a grin," thought alice; "but a grin without a cat! it's the most curious thing i ever saw in my life!"