Friday, July 15, 2011

About the Elusive Muse

I’m going to meet with some artist friends next week to talk about a concern common to the trade: What to do when the muse departs? I’ve been rolling it around in my brain to come up with my own take on this oft experienced plight.    My first thought is that there is no muse. Art is work and workers get tired and depleted. “Burned out” we say now. We don’t get any more scorched than the office worker or the executive, but we all get tired. Body and brain tired.

If one thinks of oneself as an artist, there’s that sudden “uh oh, it’s gone”. Who am I now? What am I without that identity? My answer (funny how I have an answer for everything.) is that person is exactly who she has always been. Maybe a bit older. I do not mean to take this lightly. I have known and still do all the anxieties that come with the calling. But do we not take ourselves a bit too seriously? Do we not exalt our practice above and beyond the simple labor that producing art is? There, I’ve gotten on my soapbox; this issue is dear to me. What we do is honest work. We used to belong to guilds, the forerunners of labor unions. We took on apprentices. No aptitude tests required. It’s easier if we give up trying to be MichaelAngelo. If we have that light within ourselves, it will shine.

My friends are talented women, dedicated to their craft. No slouches they. Two are preparing for shows and feeling uninspired. Where is that muse that I said doesn’t exist? Well, if you ask me (I’ll ask myself, thank you), that muse resides within. She does not descend all misty and lovely and generous, bearing visions and zeal from above. She is who we are, artist or human of any line of work. And that part of ourselves that creates can no more go on undernourished and overworked than can we run a marathon with no training. (God help me if I were to run one under any circumstances.) No, the muse needs care. Give her a rest, feed her with whatever it takes to revive her (a new medium, a visit to a museum, a vacation, anything). Maybe one just needs to tire of not working.

There is another possible explanation for the lost muse syndrome. That is a kind of performance anxiety that can afflict artists of all genres, often even after having the experience many times over. It can cause a severe case of painters’ paralysis. I have dealt with that and needed help and got it. While the process has to be repeated in its entirety each time it appears, the artist usually survives intact and the show goes on.

Also mentioned as a topic for the scheduled meeting was “being invisible”. I’m not sure what that’s about. My guess is it’s about being an older female in this culture. It could also be about not getting the attention one wants for the art one produces. Or maybe it’s more like not getting it in any of life’s situations. These women are not shrinking violets. I doubt that they have any trouble making their presence known anywhere. But getting the response that would satisfy, whether as aging females or artists of any gender requires that we make some noise. As an artist, talent alone does not do it. It takes a lot of work to make even a small splash. There are a great many artists producing fine work; those that profit by it are few. I long ago decided that whatever benefits I reaped apart from the joy inherent in the task, was gravy. If I could support getting up and going to my studio every day, what more could I ask for? Well, as it happens, quite a lot. But I am also fine without it. I can pay the rent and buy the food and the paint. And as for dealing with being invisible as an aging female, as long as I can call attention to my presence, I’ll do just that.

Singer Tom Glazer: For hundreds of years people have talked about artists having inspiration, but often, some persons would say, write us a symphony or write us a song, on commission. The artists would come up with a masterpiece without waiting to have their muse inspire them.
My pre-2006 paintings, reduced by 50% for the moving sale, are available now online at Artful Home. The painting above, included in the sale, is Silence, ©1996, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 17” x 44”.

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