If we are to answer the question, “Why do artists love cats?” we have to rely on our own thoughts and ideas. I don’t think you will find a definitive answer to the question on the Internet or in books. It must be stated at the outset that not all artists love cats. An obvious point to make, I know, but the title (a keyword) implies all artists are cat lovers.
Firstly, I present a list of 10 cat loving artists and composers: Borodin, Chopin, Debussy, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Ravel, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Wahol. There are many others and indeed there are many authors who loved cats such as Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, John Cocteau, Aldous Huxley, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Hemingway etc.
The domestic cat is “self-contained”. They are just there. They have a presence but they are not as needy as dogs. They provide a quiet presence and companionship. The add a soul to one’s home. When you need to interact with a cat you can do so and they will enjoy it. These traits of the domestic cat are very welcome to the artist. Great artists need to be focused and are, I will presume, often obsessive about their art. Their mind is directed to one thing. They don’t want to be distracted unless they want to be distracted. Artists are selfish creatures. They don’t want to have an obligation to spend too much time caring for their companion animal. That incidentally might not be a good thing with respect to the cat because in fact the domestic cat needs more care than some people think but the idea that cats are self-contained is an attractive quality which will appeal to an artist.
There is a picture at the top of this page of Henri Matisse in his bed. In front of a him is a table designed to be placed on the bed. On the table is a sketch pad and to the left and right are books and other items. Between his legs are two of his cats. It seems Henri Matisse did some of his thinking and sketching in bed while his cats kept him companion. He looks very comfortable. A nice ambience in which to create art.
The main reason why people look after a cat is for companionship. Artists are no different from anyone else in this regard. I think the bottom line is that often times the domestic cat is a better companion than a person especially if you are obsessive about your work which is likely if you are to be a great artist (see quotes below).
I don’t think the reason why artists like cats has much to do with the enigmatic nature of cats. I don’t even think that cats are enigmatic. People who describe cats as enigmatic are people who don’t understand cats. Cats are very straightforward in point of fact. They are very reliable and as mentioned they are always there when you want them. The don’t answer back and don’t distract.
Here are some quotes from Henri Matisse:
“From the moment I held the box of colours in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
There you sense the obsessive nature of the artist. Here’s a quote about companionship and his wife.
“I love you dearly, mademoiselle; but I shall always love painting more.”
You could say that to a cat and she won’t mind. If you say it to your wife she would have to be a very tolerant woman not to mind and in which case you have a distraction.
Sources: We Love Cats by Vernon Coleman (list of artists), myself, The Great Cat (photo). See: CATS IN ART.