A few months after starting my new life as an artist I remembered, out of the blue, an old children story about the goat of Mr. Seguin. That goat, tired of eating bland grass and living with a rope around her neck, escapes her little enclosure and goes to the mountain. There she has a grand old time for a day then, tragically, gets eaten by a hungry wolf.
That ending didn’t bother me as a kid, that I recall, but reading it again as an adult I felt kind of conflicted. Especially that I had just left the security of a job to have my own creative business, in other words live in the mountain. And I didn’t want to accept that ending for myself, or the goat.
So I made a drawing of the story with the intention of getting to the bottom of this conflict. And what the image put in focus wasn’t so much the goat’s run for freedom as the moment where she meets the wolf and has to make a decision. That’s the turning point of the story, and where change can happens.
How the goat ended up at this turning point has a lot to do with her character. She’s independent, willing to take risks and venture beyond limits, in search of some ideal (like discovering new pastures). There’s nothing wrong with that. These are all attributes of creative people, necessary for the process of creation. And sometimes that comes with making mistakes.
Mistakes are not always bad, they lead to experience, but perhaps the goat’s tragedy is a result of her all-or-nothing attitude. She’s either in the farm- completely safe (but not free), or in the mountain- (free but) completely vulnerable, with no option in between.
In my drawing however, the goat has left the farm but she isn’t actually in front of the wolf, it’s only a matter of perspective. If the mountain is a symbol for artistic venture then the wolf could represent whatever hinders it: creative blocks, fear of failure, an unresponsive audience, impracticability, a lack of resources, etc.
In other words, the wolf can mean an obstacle to overcome, a sign to change direction, or maybe a warning against going too far. It’s not that putting oneself on the line is wrong – with creative pursuit a certain vulnerability is inevitable and necessary, but maybe there’s a way to do that without losing one’s self.
My goal is not really to change the goat or her story – symbols don’t change – but to understand the character as an archetype with positive and negative attributes. When I sense a conflict my approach has been to examine the other side of the story by creating an opposite drawing, based on a similar kind of story but with symbols that are opposite.
Since the beginning I felt that a donkey should be in the other drawing because donkeys have a strong sense of self-preservation. And one similar type of children’s story with a donkey is that of the Musicians of Bremen. The animals in that story also leave their farm, but contrary to the goat they’re running from danger, not toward it. Another major difference is that they don’t venture alone, they form a group to help each other. And rather than follow an idea no matter what, they adapt to situations as they come.
In my version I substituted the cat and dog for a well-dressed fox inspired by the tales of Reynard and to symbolize the capacity to adapt. I also changed the rooster for a wise owl and a witty crow. The mountain has become a hill, roses have grown on the tree, and the thistles turned into irises.
In contrast with the goat, the fox’s attitude is practical. He’s focused on making things work, and also has to benefit in some way. He’s not the type to sacrifice for ideals or work by himself. He brings people into his ventures and plays a part in his story, in others words pulls strings rather than leave things to chance.
One might say the goat is the idealistic visionary side of a creative person while the fox is the business side. And as I’m learning, to succeed both sides are needed. Well I guess I knew that, but knowing and doing are different stories! Being able to picture what it looks and sounds like maybe is a first step in that direction.