I was out painting last week and happened to have my camera with me. While I worked to resolve a difficult passage in my foreground I heard a rustling of the branches and turned to confront something I rarely see. I was able to capture on film this rare appearance of the Muse. Actually two Muses.So I figure as a painter I'm doubly blessed and hereafter my paintings can only grow stronger. I wonder why they appeared in such a youthful form this time.
Many doubt the existence of the Muse, but I don't. The ancient Greeks thought of this goddess of art as female, highly insightful, sensitive and intuitive. But she was also elusive and apt to appear unexpectedly and then just as quicky disappear. That mirrors so well the creative process, sometimes flowing freely and effortlessly. Other times all but disappearing from our studios.
Of course we artists are about more than just inspiration from the Muse. We know a lot because we've spent thousands of hours practicing our art. We have learned to let our heads soar in the clouds while keeping our feet on the ground of practicality. Methodically employing our craftsmanship we let imagination take physical form so that we can show others what we've seen in our mind's eye. Still, there is something beyond the ordinary and everyday perceptions to the best of art. Sometimes every artist produces work that's better than they know how to do. Failing at a more rational explanation, artists often used to just say the Muses had smiled upon them that day.
Artists (especially male ones) have envisioned Muse-like female figures in many guises. Winged angels coming to earth to guide, protect, or inspire us humans. Even up into the mid twentieth century the American painter Rockwell Kent made marvelous use ot the muse-like winged female figure. I could use a goddess like this one below hovering over my studio all the time.
The late 19th century British artist John William Waterhouse made a career out of painting goddess like women. His female figures have a darker and more sensual feeling to them. Below is his painting of Circe, the minor goddess of magic and an enchantress, described in Homer's Odyssey as "the loveliest of all immortals." Looks to me like she's not someone you want be on the wrong side of.
I love the goddesses in Waterhouse's work. They hint at the power in imagination, of reflection, and of artful creativity. Very early humans as they were first coming to self awareness must have looked at pregnancy and birth as the most remarkable and magical event. To their eyes it must have seemed to bring life out of nothing. How could they not have made a indelible connection between feminine and creative? Isn't that "bringing something out of nothing" just what a masterful piece of art accomplishes.
P.S. OK, I lied about the photo of the young Muses. Last Sunday my son-in-law Mike took this great photo of his two daughters Nora and Maya. They'd just been given some great new dress up outfits by my niece Melissa. I saw his image and immediately sensed it tied in with one of the long threads that runs through art history. And after seeing these young girls scampering about the yard I felt my inner creative batteries recharged. That's what Muses, young or old, do for us.