Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Throwing muses

There's an interview with Patti Smith in Sunday's NYTimes and I found this passage especially interesting:
You’re referring to the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, another of your muses who died young. Do you ever feel lonely?

Sometimes the pain still — the loss of my brother, the loss of Robert, the loss of my husband, even the loss of my children being children — we can access a lot of things that cause pain. This might seem really funny, but when I feel like that, make myself smile.
You hardly ever read of someone referring to a female artist having a muse, so this was a nice change of pace. Although Patti Smith has always had a reputation for being androgynous, but as far as I can tell the reason for that is because she doesn't wear culturally-prescribe girly attire and focus 50% of her waking energies on her appearance.

You could say that Patti was as much a muse for Mapplethorpe as vice-versa. When they were both young and unknown he took lots of photos of her.

All my muses have been male, and they have inspired countless drawings, as well as short stories, plays and even sonnets.

There are various discussions online of the idea of the male muse. Mary Gordon, whose work I've admired, wrote a novel, reviewed by the NYTimes:
Where are the male Muses?" asks Monica Szabo at the end of the slide show of her paintings that begins Mary Gordon's new novel, "Spending: A Utopian Divertimento."

"Right here," answers the man in the audience whom Monica chooses to call simply B in her account of the unusual love affair they are about to begin.

B is a feminist's fantasy come to life. A highly successful trader of commodities futures, he has bought four of Monica's paintings and fallen in love with her from afar. He believes her to be "a very, very good painter" who one day "might be great" if only she had the advantages of the great male artists of history.

"What do you think you need that would give you the optimum conditions for work?" he asks her.

"Space and time," she answers.

So they undertake the experiment that B proposes: that he become her patron and muse in every possible sense of those words.
An article in Psychology Today says:
That (the movie) "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is set in the 17th century is no coincidence; the muse reflects an outdated idea of womanhood, when women were valued more for being than for doing. Prose comes up with one example of a "male muse"—Denys Finch Hatton inspired his lover, Isak Dinesan, to write Out of Africa, by listening raptly to her stories when he visited her in Kenya. Switching gender roles may allow the muse-artist relationship to flourish as women become more prominent in the arts and sciences. Or a more symbiotic version might develop, a la Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
Talk about great muses - Robert Redford played Finch-Hatton in the movie version of "Out of Africa" and John Lennon is the very first "coolest straight guy in the world." Although I can no longer find a reference for that declaration - I read it somewhere, years ago, where a minor female celebrity said that about Lennon. Now if you google that phrase, in quotatons, you'll get three hits, the first one being my Sonnet #9.

Interesting post from the blog Raw Light:
Tomorrow morning, Tuesday 10th July, from 11.30am - 12.00 noon, you can catch My Male Muse on Radio 4. In this potentially controversial programme, "poet Clare Pollard dispels the popular female image of a muse. She argues that men can also be a source of beauty and inspiration, and contradicts poet Robert Graves, who famously claimed that the male muse doesn't exist."
I'm disappointed that Graves, the author of "I Claudius" would say such a thing.

Adriana Palanca writes in her blog:
How does one go about the business of finding a male muse? The great male writers of the world have always managed to reel in babes – no matter how crusty they got around the edges – willing to take care of their every need while they concentrated on their art. These women sacrificed everything of themselves so that their men could make some contribution to the world of art.
And then, inevitably, it seems, the Brontes - here is a preview of a book on Google Holy Ghosts: The Male Muses of Emily and Charlotte Bronte.

I'm very sorry I missed this exhibition back in 2006: Grand Unveiling: The Male Muse - Paintings by Kristen Copham
NY Studio Gallery is proud to announce its inaugural exhibition featuring paintings of male nudes by Kristen Copham. Copham’s colorful, large-scale oils are a figurative exploration into the personalities of her subjects. Her work challenges traditional ideas about both the nude figure in art and the artist-model relationship, the subjects themselves male visual artists working in either Minnesota or New York City.
Interesting commentary in The Guardian
we would like to think that the role of muse is genderless and that either sex may apply. But it is still harder for a male to be married to a famous and productive female than the other way around. Not that it isn't hard on a woman to be ignored at cocktails and trained to subjugate her needs to the work habits of a forceful, successful man. It is. But we look on the marriage of famous man and non-famous wife as normal. We don't necessarily expect it to last but we don't find anything odd in it.

We are haunted not simply by the outdated attitudes of those of us who learned about gender roles in another time, but by the problem - and not just for writers - of who dominates and who submits. Was George Lewes (husband of George Eliot) an odd man or just the best husband in the world?
Throwing Muses is a female-led indie band from Rhode Island. One of my former muses was a big fan of theirs.