The Artist’s Muse — Naked Beclothed

Noticing the lovely self-portraits by painters and the pained self-descriptions of authors reflected in the characters of their books, I began to wonder about the nature of the artist’s muse. The muse, as in the thing that sparks off a work of art, would normally be what is present in the environment of the artist and somehow came under closer scrutiny. The gaze, working like a kind of magnifying glass, zoomed in till the exact focus that turns everything else into a monochromatic blur, was achieved. Then working from that they seem to have drawn upon names and images of people and places, fitting the thing into other things and even making other things fit into the confines of this muse. That is the inexplicable quality of the muse, it is fluid and imperceptibly shifting. So we may feel as if the final form of the art-work is the reflection of the beauty of the muse. But it is mainly the mirroring of the twists and turns of the artist’s mind as he fools around with the muse and further tries to imbue in it the tints of his environs, through self-negation and laborious ponderings, or by changing her style, her shadows, even the objects clinging to her train, over and over again till he is satisfied or exhausted, whichever happens first.

The verb form of ‘muse’ reveals several interesting meanings which could also be applied to forward the understanding of the artistic relationship concerning the muse. It seems to be closely related with the word ‘muzzle’ and etymologically implies ‘an animal sniffing pointlessly for something in the air’. This mental image works well as the explanation of the first step of the ‘search for the muse’, which need not be a conscious process.

Only when “nothing seems to be going anywhere” does the artist in us come forth, pouring the warmth of self-engaging creation into our bleak heedless hours. So for many of us, the muse simply appears or is already there, unobtrusively sipping tea in the background, coloring all our creations with renditions of herself.

At other times, we may have to actively search for a muse, usually those who like to pre-plan a work of art or happen to have been assigned a task for which they might know what to look for beforehand. I like to think of these artists as travellers, they create things entirely new and compelling, just by virtue of a change in their immediate corporeal surroundings, or by dint of acquiring new information through extensive readings.

Shadowy muses and beautiful objects of nature, the waves and winds, pictures of people we have seen and smells of places we have been to, all make for fantastic muses but of late this feeling has grown deep roots into my head, that the only true muse worthy of expression is oneself. You can notice the differences in the styles of creative people as their perception of self changes over time. It is so crystal clear in the way they handle the elements, the compartments in their minds have moved and dissolved, then reformed into expressions of things we finally see as the outcomes. (All the outcomes though seem to be ostensibly integrated and that can be puzzling for a creator who endeavours to ‘chart new territories’ or ‘break out of the mould’.)

I have observed it for myself in the tiny bits of writing I make up just for the heck of it. This is an extremely scary notion and I feel like I am silting down into the shifting sands of my ever-transient muse. Maybe this is why I shy from self-evolution, I do not want her to change till what I am working on, is finished. And I am fully aware the day when it happens will also mean I’d have completely pinned down a part of me and left it there for all to see and judge, self-evolution will occur whether I want it to or not.

Self-portaits are less revealing than those put on paper, each word digging a nail deeper into the flesh of the muse, simultaneously clothing and undressing oneself. It terrifies me, it pricks at all my mortal nerves, touches all my living moments. I live in this feeling of continual dread. I keep looking for a muse, far removed from me, outside my own world, knowing it is a paradox,for if I am aware of something I will somehow counter-intuitively, try as I might not to, absorb it into my world. And then the loathing of this self-contamination will take over, leaving me stiff and heavy, incapable of moving, blind with disgust, poisoned with rage. I am terrified.

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