Artist vs. Muse: A Brief Art History Lesson and Secret Wish
January 9, 2011
Muse ( n.)
1. Greek Mythology Any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science.
a. A guiding spirit.
b. A source of inspiration.
I have always found the most interesting stories about artists of the past to be the ones about their relationships with their muses. Of course, there are plenty… There was hardly an artist who wasnt inspired at some point in their career by love, a lover or an obsession. Maybe because the most enthralling work is always done by the artist whose muse is a major presence in their life.
I’m primarily a figure painter, so I’m most moved by work with the human element. Although I am the artist, I secretly desire to be someone’s muse. I want to inspire and provoke emotion to the point of some truly moving artwork. It sounds pretty absurd, but I guess it’s just the romantic in me. I want nothing more than to be someone’s go-to subject matter, whether for painting, music, poetry, photography… whatever. Lately this secret desire has come more into play because I have a creative beau, but I am learning that being a lover does not automatically make you a muse. Try as I might to be inspiring, I just don’t feel that I have reached muse status. Which I’m ok with, so long as no one else becomes his muse. 😉
I guess the question is whether or not I can be both Artist and Muse. Can I be both the inspired and the Inspirer? Is it asking too much? Maybe…
Heres a look at some of the great Muse/ Artist combos throughout the past….
Even more interesting than this artists surreal work, was the surreal obsession he had with his wife. She was used countless times in his work, and was said to have been a muse (and lover) for many others at that time including Max Ernst and Andre Breton.
She must have had some spirit to partake in his out-there antics. Theirs was truly a surreal love affair.
Edward Weston and Tina Modotti
Maybe Tina is one of my favorite muses because she lived such a bohemian and romanticized life, but also because she crossed the boundary from Muse to Artist. She was the lover of the Photographer Edward Weston, and furthered his affinity with form and light by posing for him often.
But their story is not a flawless tale of two artists, two muses. They immigrated to Mexico together in the 20’s after the Mexican Revolution and the start of the Mexican Art Renaissance. Tina developed her own eye for photography but also for Politics, particularly the communist party. She became the inspired and gained Mexico as her muse, So Edward returned to the U.S. without his.
Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner
Sometimes the artist’s muse is more like the rock in his life, cleaning up his messes and focusing him entirely on his work. This was true for Lee Krasner. She and Pollock were both struggling abstract artists when they met, but after their marriage Lee’s work went on the back-burner. Her energy almost completely went into being Mrs. Pollock, and guiding Jackson to his stardom in the 50’s by taking him out of the city and focusing him completely on his paintings.
It didn’t stop Jackson from having a major booze problem, and wandering eye though. He met his end when Lee got tired of his cheating and left for Europe. He got into a car accident while driving drunk with his then lover and her friend. He was later posthumously diagnosed as a bipolar, which had a lot to do with his issues her fought throughout his life. After his death, Lee Krasner put more focus into her own work, and enjoyed some success as an abstract painter after a patient beginning to her life.
John and Yoko
I think its safe to say you either like Yoko, or you hate her. She was blamed for breaking up the Beatles, but also praised as the biggest inspiration in John Lennon’s life. Sure, their behavior got a bit into the strange side, but she is still one of the reining muses of all time.
Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger
Faithfull and Jagger’s highly public relationship was a typical Sex, drugs and Rock and Roll story. Faithfull was struggling for stardom as a singer, and has been quoted saying “My first move was to get a Rolling Stone as a boyfriend. I slept with three and decided the lead singer was the best bet.” She was credited as the muse and inspiration for a few Rolling Stone songs during the period that she and Jagger lived together, including “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” which is said to be about her.
Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar/ Marie-Therese Walter/ Olga Koklova/ Francoise Gilot
Picasso was a womanizer. Simply put, he found a new muse, obsessed over her, painted her many times, then left her to move on to someone else. Among his most famous Muses were Olga the ballerina, Dora the photographer, Marie-Therese the wreck, and my favorite Francoise Gilot the survivor. He drove some of these women to craziness, even to suicide. But the world has some amazing work for his womanizing….
I think if im meant to be someones muse, it will happen when it happens. I love to create, I put so much of my energy into it… So maybe it would be selfish to want to be both Artist and Muse. Anyway, I’m not very photogenic, and I’m too busy to pose for paintings anytime soon.
Maybe I should just take a cue from Frida Kahlo and be my own muse for a while…