A friend of mine made a film recently and it’s a good film, I certainly liked it, and when you read the credits it says a number of personal things besides who played what role and the usual information you expect to see as a film viewer. There are also comments about his wife, who’s in the film, it’s that kind of film – his dad plays his dad and his mum plays his mum – being his muse and inspiration, which is kind of an expected thing, as there’s often a With Thanks To part of film credits, but it gets personal, this film, or the credits do, and it was a first film and a fine achievement and it’s really heart-warming to know that the film maker needed so many favours and to know that he needed the inspiration and love of his better half, amongst others, too.

What I’m doing here, in a round about way, is addressing the issue of muses. Is that how you refer to them in plural? I think so. Wikipedia told me. In Greek mythology these were goddesses of inspiration in literature, science and the arts. There were nine muses, governing the following areas: epic poetry, history, love poetry, song and elegiac poetry, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy, and astronomy. There are references in Homer and Virgil to muses, the author invoking or seeking inspiration from the guiding force relevant to the work they were embarked upon. And the word museum is associated with this word, the museum originally being a shrine to the muses.

But my problem is in the form of a question. Are they necessary? Do you need them? And why is it such a male-centric concept? For the very essence of these goddesses is feminine, and they represent and embody creativity, and are said to aid the male artist or philosopher or scientist working within that discipline. That was the original idea. And the way the idea is represented now – some might say the way it has been twisted – is to be a short hand for a male artist’s female companion, usually younger, often much younger, who allows him to create by giving him an outlet (shall we say) for his energies, and allowing the process of making art to flow. When two people are sharing their lives and one of them is devoted to pursuing the artistic and expressive side of their nature and the other one allows that to happen by being emotionally supportive, possibly financially assisting, and offering encouragement, that’s fine. It seems exactly what should happen in most relationships: you support each other. But when we mean that an aging man needs a young woman as some kind of no strings bedroom companion, and that woman can presumably be replaced with another when the inspiration is drained, then this seems to me perverse and wrong.

It makes sense that artists need space – both physically and emotionally – to create. It makes sense that some artists need a special room with no interruptions and people around them who will accede to their demands when making art. It also makes sense that some artists don’t really need anything. They can do what they need to do with the minimum of fuss and no special arrangements. But the idea that artists need to behave so selfishly and recklessly and wantonly seems unconvincing. Yes, artists need to be selfish, in a way. They need to be strict about what they do and how they do it and their standards, and they will often need to be similarly strict about how other people’s behaviour might affect their work, but that is not the same thing. Not at all.

And, again, where do women fit in here? Women writers and painters and musicians. They need to be selfish too, if they are to be good, and if they are to get better. But we seem to lack the concept of the aging female artist and her young male companion who she needs around in order to do what she does. But this lack works for me. The way it is for women is best. And it’s the way it mostly is for men, let’s face it, except for some men who maybe dream of life with a succession if nubile “assistants” walking through the door of their studio. That may even be the key: it’s a dream; a particular kind of dream, and no more realistic than many of the silly dreams men have, but being an artist is so hard and individual and unrewarding that it is a comfort to think that some consolation may be available one day; whereas women, perhaps, just accept what it is – a hard grind, maybe for years – and get on with it, without needing the dream part. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that was always it, all the way back to Virgil and Homer.

Published in: on February 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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