More on cats and dogs

I’ve been frustrated with myself lately. I’ve been looking over my body of work, both writing and visual, and when I try to see it with someone else’s eyes — as if I were examining a stranger’s art, and not mine — it seems tremendous; I think, “This person is so talented and has such an interesting perspective.” But then, from my self-knowledge, it seems that every good thing I’ve ever made came from a burst of inspiration, whether that was a 20-minute figure drawing or a 1-month (or 1-semester) project. And meanwhile there are half-finished projects littered all over the place, things I had no interest in completing once that initial excitement was gone.

Ink sketches of cars and train passengers

Ink sketches of train commuters

There is a saying, told sternly to novice artists, that you can’t only work when inspiration strikes, or you’ll never get anything done. I have always nodded solemnly, to show I am not one of those haphazard artists who will never accomplish anything, but I’ve had strong internal misgivings. I do tend to work only when inspiration strikes… and, as you know, I get a LOT done, but is it somehow not enough? When I make something, it is because, in that moment, I want to (and “moment” can mean a literal moment or a short span of time). It calls to me. But after that? I’m through with it. I don’t revise, I don’t seek publication, I don’t expand it; to me its purpose has already been served. This is great as far as making lots of art, but when it comes to getting things seen by a larger audience, it’s an obstacle.

Ink sketches of The Creak (a band)

Ink sketches of rainy day passersby

Over Thanksgiving I was talking with my cousin, who co-founded a successful startup, and he spoke of his fascination with people: their motives, their choices, their work styles. He said (I’m paraphrasing of course), “I think of it as like cats and dogs. Cats are highly independent and original. Dogs work well in teams and what they do is scalable. When the cats are working on something, you always want a couple of dogs watching. Then, when the cats get bored — and they will get bored — the dogs can teach the other dogs, and then you have a product. Meanwhile the cats have moved onto something new.” In this sense (but not necessarily others), I am 100% a cat.

I wish I could see this as something other than a moral failing. I mean, I do; I feel fiercely that my way is completely valid, important, and powerful. And yet there are the internal voices: “You’re just lazy.” “You’re spoiled.” “You don’t want to work hard.” “Real artists care about craft.” “Real writers plug away for decades.” “It’s because you never went to art school.” “You’re just a dilettante.” “You have no discipline.” “As soon as things aren’t fun anymore, you just run away.” I decided months ago that I wasn’t going to truck with these kinds of fears, anymore, but here they are cropping up yet again in this moment of self-awareness, when I’m looking at my working style and realizing its scope and its limitations (as usual, we fight our demons again and again). Moral failing or not, what do I do? Am I shortchanging myself by not working differently? Is it true what they say — if I just forced myself to return to something I’m no longer interested in, would it get better? Or would it lose whatever was good about it in the first place, the way my longer sketches are sometimes overworked?

How do you train a cat?