Do you associate the idea of a muse with professional artists who have fine arts degrees and make money exclusively from their artistic talent? These “artsy” folks may seem very far from who you think you are: unapproachable, sometimes weird and moody; creatives who are so “into” their art. They always complain about their muse leaving them with no inspiration just when they need it the most. Or they project and personify their muse as a real lover and get the inspiration thing all mixed in with romance. It’s as if only these full-time artists and musicians can have a muse.
Then there are the movie portrayals of the muse as a moody, demanding, and fickle female character that the artist has a sort of love/hate relationship with. The artist has to appease the muse and give her all sorts of attention in order to get her to do any inspirational work for him. Again, the muse is personified in a romantic sort of way as an Other whom the artist has no control over. Might make you not want to have a muse then, if she’s so much trouble and so unreliable.
Of course, in reality, the muse is you. It can be mentally and emotionally convenient, though, to pretend that your muse is someone you interact with. I think this “relationship” approach can take some of the internal pressure off of you mentally so you can relax and allow inspiration to “come” to you as if from outside. That way, you can have fun with it and not have to get stuck in the responsibility of coming up with something amazing all the time. Muses make great scapegoats for temporary artist’s blocks, for instance. It’s kind of like playing with your Inner Child.
So, where did this muse thing come from, anyway? At least, that’s always my question. I love history and mythology, so my introduction to muses was not through artists, but through Greek mythology when I was about ten years old. Nothing like the Greeks for a great origins story! My source is a children’s book called D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Must have read it at least ten times. Zeus, being the procreatively prolific fellow that he was (goddesses and girls in every village), had quite a lot of children all over the place. He obviously had a lovely time or nine with the Titaness Mnemosyne (she’s part of a god group that ran the world before Zeus took over—older woman thing?).
Mnemosyne means “memory” in Greek and is the source of our English word “mnemonic” (thank you, Wikipedia)—exercising your creativity, therefore, is all about remembering Who You Really Are. Here are a couple of nice pics of the couple, her by Rossetti, him from a classical sculpture from Smyrna:
Mnemosyne and Zeus conceived nine children over nine days (don’t ask how—it’s mythology), all girls, and they became the Muses. Hesiod, a famous writer in ancient Greece, popularized this version of the story of the Muses, but there are others. You can head over to Wikipedia and check out the alternative stories here.
Meanwhile, I’ll stick with my childhood version, taken from Hesiod’s Theogony. Each Muse is responsible for inspiration in one of the classical arts of ancient Greece:
- Erato—Lyric Poetry
- Terpsichore—Choral Dance and Song
- Polyhymnia—Sacred Poetry
- Calliope—Epic Poetry
As you can see, this doesn’t cover all the modern arts (no painting or sculpting) and includes one of our sciences (astronomy) and a field that isn’t associated with the arts at all (history). Here are a couple of artistic renditions of some of the Muses:
For me, the muse idea can be easily expanded to include personifying the inspiration for all kinds of creative activities, from professional sculpture to amateur knitting (or amateur painting to professional jewelry making). Since we all hold within us a spark of the divine (maybe not Zeus in particular, but something a bit more Universal), then we all have potential access to our very own muse. You could even come up with a Greek name for yours. I’ll lay claim to the original Erato for my lyrical poetry, but there are all sorts of possibilities. Metalworkers and jewelers could adopt the spirit of Hephaestus, the god of volcanoes and smithing, for instance. If you’re Catholic, there’s likely a patron saint of whatever creative art you’ve chosen.
Humans have been and continue to personify their inspiration—it’s like talking to my fish or having an inner dialogue. It gives us a chance to take a different perspective on our own creative ideas, and possibly move them forward into reality as a result.