Alison Nastasi is the author of Artists and their Cats (Chronicle Books, 2015), a book that is exactly what it says on the cover: snapshots of artists and their cats. Nastasi, the weekend editor of Flavorwire, is also contributing author in the upcoming book Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Panic in the 1980s, due out from Spectacular Optical in summer 2015, and a contributor to an “influential filmmaker’s book” at Fiddleblack this fall. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her work and her writing. And, of course, artists and cats.
The obvious question: what tempted you to write an entire book about artists and their cats?
The book started life as a photo listicle on Flavorwire, where I’m the weekend editor. I was inspired to create it after I read an article about Tracey Emin and her beloved cat Docket, who has been the subject of several of her artworks. (She even designed a bone china cat bowl with a drawing of him on the inside.) Chronicle spotted it, and we decided to expand it into a book. I’m an artist as well and a cat fancier, so the concept felt familiar and fun.
A great deal of your writing, both on Flavorwire and in your most recent book, focuses on photography and visual media as much as they do on writing. Do you think there’s a connection between visual art and the written word?
Absolutely. It makes me think of what Burroughs said about the “third mind,” which he referred to in regards to his cut-up collaborations with artist Brion Gysin. Burroughs called the third mind an “unseen collaborator,” an intangible force that is awakened when two minds come together. What was invisible in each becomes visible at its confluence with the other.
Your work on Flavorwire deals with everything from sitcoms to porn magazines to pastry shops to comparing Poe to goth-rock lyrics. Do you get your ideas from anywhere, or do they just fall into your lap?
I’ve always been a voracious reader of arts and culture literature and media. I attend a lot of different arts events. And I grew up in a family of artists and writers who supported my interests and encouraged me to continue expanding them. I think it’s essential to maintain a connection with the things you love or your work can really suffer. With my Flavorwire pieces, I’m often inspired by what’s current or what people are talking about. From there, I explore whatever aspects I’m personally interested in. Otherwise, it doesn’t feel genuine to me. There’s no formula. I find inspiration everywhere. Thankfully, people seem to like what I’m doing.
I’m finally getting around to Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star. I was hooked after I saw the book trailer using the NASA samples and the line in the synopsis that said, “The language of the stars is the language of the body.” I’m finishing Roger Vadim’s autobiography, Memoirs of the Devil. I don’t buy books for the covers, but this one is a doozy. A large part of my writing centers on film, and his style has always interested me. And I’m reading a collection of works by Serbian poet Novica Tadić. There really needs to be a harsh noise or death metal band devoted to this guy.
Can you think of any authors or poets who have inspired you or influenced your current writing style?
Many, I’m sure. I find more influence in immersive experiences. It’s the Sophie Calle approach, perhaps.
Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to aspiring writers and cat-lovers everywhere?
I read a great letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to a young family friend after she sent him a manuscript she was working on. He told her, “You’ve got to sell your heart,” and explained that simply having talent is the same thing as being a soldier who meets the requirements to enter the army. Sometimes all you have are your emotions, he said.
Please adopt, spay, and neuter your pets. I’m always shocked at the number of smart people who do dumb things when it comes to animals.
Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or a horse-sized duck?
I feel like they’re the same in a way, but I would go with the horse-sized duck. It’s like the Trojan Duck, but without the crucial component: the army hidden inside.
—interview by Zachary Williams