The Sanity of Non-Human Animals

Some kind of strange reversal is happening in my art life. As the country we live in becomes, more overtly, the worst of itself (though poor, exploited, and marginalized people of all stripes would, rightly, debate that it has ever been otherwise), and push-back is required, is urgent…I find myself unable to do much more than read, research, and pass on information via Facebook. Real information. Not hyperbole, from either the right or the left—I take that bit seriously—but thoughtful examinations of why what is happening is happening. And most importantly, what we need to know, and what we can or must do in response.

But I just can’t seem to bring my protest, my anger, my despair, my hope, my activism…my voice…into my art. I’m sketching, I’m writing, I’m dabbling…but something tangible has yet to emerge.

Instead, I’ve had a number of different reasons to create animal portraits. And they seem to be the best possible thing to spend my time on, when I am not doing the stuff of building a new life in Seattle.

Rugen & Colby

The bonds of love and devotion between these people and their familiars is so strong, so certain, so simple…it creates a place that I want to be in. It comforts me, at the same time that meeting the challenge of capturing that spirit—and placing it in a niche, a dwelling, a setting that will shine a little in their home, that reflects some portion of their magic—is very satisfying as an artist. Connecting with love and the insight of another species—that is really not a bad job, in a moment of chaos.

I was talking with a dear artist friend yesterday, each of us contemplating what life in art looks like at 61 and 69, respectively, as women. In a new place for me, an old one for her. Living and making work within profound financial constraints. Would it be ok to just lay it down? Just read great books from the library, and listen to thoughtful podcasts, and talk with thoughtful friends, and produce nothing more? Or produce nothing more than pet portraits?

Would it even be possible to do that?

Or is the crazy, artist drive too strong? Is the urge to talk back to the world, to speak for/with voices that don’t have a platform, too great, even if no one sees it? Even if it breaks the bank and the body, to make it, to get it out into the world, each rare and precious and exhausting and costly time we can manage to do it?

Can we adapt our art urges to smaller expressions, ones that fit with older women energy? Or does repeated trauma take a toll that, eventually, with a bit of rest and calm, even for we older ones, passes and leaves us with rekindled energy? For art other than simple expressions of love, like pet portraits?

I don’t know. For now, I continue to show up for the opportunities that are here. I am loving the access to learning that both the artists and the institutions of Seattle really do make possible in ways I have never experienced before. I feel bottomless gratitude for that quality of the place and people. It’s exciting. And fun!

Meanwhile, art gives me a reason to follow these human connections to non-humans, and vice versa. It is a beautiful, revelatory, life-enriching dance they do with one another, and it delights me to step into it for a brief round with each of these partners; the animals themselves, and the people who tell me about them, and what they are to each other. Each turn is a genuine joy, and it really does feel a lot like when you leave the dance floor after a perfect partnering to an especially good song. You retain the happy glow, even as the artworks go on with their real partners to the rest of their lives.


That’s so corny, isn’t it? But I’ll own it. In a world gone mad, we take our joys, and our sanity, where we can find them. So it is, in Seattle, this September of 2019.