The Artist's Muse
By Toni Gardner
Pets help people they bond with become calmer and more creative just by
The presence of a pet has consoled and inspired the creative mind of countless
generations of writers, musicians, painters, and poets. Pets have probably
befriended artists since crude images first appeared as smudges on the dark
walls of caves. Henry James conjured the twists and turns of his novels'
scheming inheritance hunters with a cat draped across his shoulders. Jackson
Pollock and Lee Krasner mulled the concepts of abstract painting while walking
their dogs across open fields. The notoriously finicky founder of New York City
Ballet, George Balanchine, reportedly declared of a friend's cat, "At last,
a body worth choreographing for."
Pets perform a vital role as company for people, and often they do their
jobs extremely well. They can induce a level of comfort that reaches deep
inside, stirring artists' abilities to express and articulate their innermost
emotions. Pets are both models and facilitators for liberating thought. Their
emotions exist without artifice — at once elemental and pure, elegant and
clear. The gentle presence of a pet's steady breathing and the relaxed
acceptance they exhibit while curling up at our feet encourage us to let go of
our inhibitions and pretenses and lead the creative spirit to fresh spheres of
conceptualization. At the artistic core lies an expression that wants out, but
one that can be exceedingly difficult to reach. Pets can ease artists into
That is the ideal scenario for pets as muses. But they can also become
maddening distractions. Cats, for example, seem to embody the need to sprawl
across the most important papers on the desk because they know this is where we
place our closest focus. Charles Dickens is said to have had a cat that would
swat its paw at his candle, snuffing it out as he attempted to write at night.
Dogs may read the clock better than humans can: When meal or walk time arrives,
they insist on punctual delivery. But a recalcitrant pet may spur a critical
artistic decision. Photographer William Wegman was already a working when he
acquired his first Weimaraner, Man Ray. It was only because the squirming puppy
was constantly underfoot that Wegman began using him as a subject for his
photography, thereby initiating Wegman's major body of work.