Portrait of a Cat Lady: Author Diane Lovejoy chronicles a life of art and furryfelines
Cat Lady Chronicles
Worshiped in ancient societies and now the demigods of the Internet, cats have always fascinated us. Yet being a woman who owns multiple cats can sometimes invite the occasional joke or insult that she has become a "cat lady." In the new book Cat Lady Chronicles, Houston writer Diane Lovejoy sets out to paint a new portrait of who a cat lady really is.
Lovejoy, the director of publications at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has been part of the art world longer than the cat world. In the book, she combines those worlds, just as she has in life.
In the new book Cat Lady Chronicles, Houston writer Diane Lovejoy sets out to paint a new portrait of who a cat lady really is.
It is a memoir of how Lovejoy and her husband Michael rescued one cat and after several years of these stray "little creatures" pressing their faces to the glass of their back door, found themselves the happy cat lady and cat gentleman who head a 10-cat household.
It is illustrated with images of cats rendered by artists from Renoir to Kahlo to Chagall. Seventeen of the works in the book are from the MFAH’s own collection and are seldom on view.
CultureMap recently sat down with Lovejoy to talk cats, art, and the art of being a cat lady.
CultureMap: Throughout the book you use the term cat lady almost as if it were a calling or title. Is it?
Diane Lovejoy: I think that it’s both. I call myself "cat lady" and that’s a nickname I gave myself when we started on this process of rescuing all these cats. But I think it is a calling to serve others whether they be cats, or whether it’s my case, at work, the museum curators, or whether it’s volunteering. The people who feel there’s a need to serve others, in whatever capacity that might be, see it as a calling.
It’s a term that has typically had a bad rap, but what is so bad about being passionate about animals and being committed to caring for them?
It’s a term that has typically had a bad rap, but what is so bad about being passionate about animals and being committed to caring for them? Typically people think of cat lady as someone who may be hoarding and with all those reality shows about hoarding what is that line of demarcation between acquiring cats and hoarding them? But I am proud to wear the badge and if it’s a title, I’m OK with that.
CM: What are the responsibilities and rewards of being a cat lady or cat gentleman?
DL: I think the responsibilities are to make sure the cat is healthy. You’ve got to be very attentive to their care. Scooping the litter boxes is one of the fatiguing responsibilities. Spending time and caring for them.
In terms of the rewards, it sounds like a cliche but they really are infinite. The cats give unconditional love. I love getting home especially if I’ve had a tough day and there they are with no judgments, just waiting for me to come home.
CM: People sometimes say that it’s dogs that provide unconditional love with no judgment, and cats are more aloof, but you think that’s true about cats as well?
DL: I think that it is. Cats have more of that silent, looking you up and down, way about them. I think when you are interactive with them it becomes a completely different story. With ours we socialize them to the extent that they really are our fur kids.
CM: What was your objective in writing the book? Did you want to change perceptions of what a cat lady is?
DL: If I had to define the publishing rational, I wouldn’t say I was out to champion the brand of the cat lady, but I hope I do do that so people might think: "I, too, am a cat lady," and it’s not an embarrassment anymore. It was really to tell a feel-good story about unconditional love.
I thought that my perspective on being a cat lady might be a little bit different in terms of trying to bring in my working life in the art world. Herding cats is easy; herding museum curators maybe not so much. But the two worlds began to compliment each other.
CM: Why was it important to weave art into your story?
DL: I thought really this explosion of cats in my life could be paralleled by opening the book and all of a sudden there are these colored plates of images of cats. I had so much fun doing the photo research for the cats because it was like bringing together cats again from different streets in the Montrose area, cats from all over the art world from different collections coming to life together.
CM: Why have some artists been so fascinated by cats?
DL: Cats are who they are, sort of like artists are. They’re soulful creatures. They’re beautiful. It’s true since ancient times artists have always depicted cats. They were way ahead of the Internet in championing their cause.
CM: There are times in the book where you make the comparison between being a collector of art and being a collector of cats. Is the desire to collect art similar to the need to help, and perhaps even collect, cats?
DL: I try to be careful and explain that I do understand the distinction that the world in which I work is about collecting inanimate objects. Of course the artist’s hand is evident, and the works are informed by the artist’s spirit and so forth, but ultimately these are objects that can be picked up and hung, but with a cat it’s sustained care.
I had begun to wonder by collecting—so to speak—cats, was it because I’m surrounded by this acquisitive environment, and could I justify this process by thinking I’m a collector? But really, I know that collecting art and collecting cats are two different things. I’m collecting living creatures and bringing them into an environment where they not hung on walls; they’re a part of our life and they’ve become vital to our existence.