Ah, the artist and his Muse.
We have the Greeks to thank for the idea of the Muse. They were thought to be goddesses (there were apparently 9 of them) of inspiration to the various arts. The word “Muse” is the source word for “music”, and was associated with the arts to such a degree that the word actually meant “art”. You can check out Wikipedia for more information.
Inspiration is important to artists. It is as if each artist has a guiding star that leads him or her in a particular direction…that quietly coaches them to pay attention to some aspect of the world while ignoring others. In a very real sense, artists “see” the world through our Muse. It doesn’t seem to be a conscious choice on the artists part as to what they see in the world. There is a feeling of being led to it by some invisible hand. We only know we are there when we arrive…led by our silent Muse.
And she’s a bitch.
I say that because, while she will definitely lead, she will not ALWAYS lead. In many cases, she is completely absent from your perception…usually when you need her most. It’s like she gets you all excited to go on a road trip, you spend the night packing your things, the car is running…..and she doesn’t show up that morning. She’s not returning your texts.
Maybe this is because there are only 9 of the things and your particular Muse is in Hoboken at the time, teasing some other slob into waking up in the middle of the night to slap paint on canvas. I don’t know. I just know she’s gone.
Now, in the past, there have been many famous artists who would spend their time drunk or wacked out on drugs when the Muse was gone. They would waste away, pining for her like a fixated teenager, occasionally rushing to their easel to frantically work on some incredible masterpiece, finally collapsing as their life breath whispers away saying, “It’s…finished.”
Give me a break.
That kind of “suffering artist” idea has left a bad taste in the mouths of countless should-be artists over the decades….folks who could have had satisfying artistic careers except that they didn’t want to be “an artist” and die alone after drinking themselves blind on too much bad absinthe.
Well, you don’t have to.
Let’s say that you were inspired to create a really cool, new piece of work. You’ve gotten a promising start, but when you go back down and look at the thing, instead of feeling inspired passion, you’re like….”meh”. The Muse is gone! What do you do??
Well, you sit down and work anyway.
“But..I don’t even FEEL like….”
“But what if I mess it….”
“Maybe I should look for inspiration! Then I..”
DO IT! DO IT NOOOOOOOOW!! (Imagine Arnold Schwarzeneger saying it like that.)
I’m serious. I actually have my wife to thank for this, and I’ve wrote about it before: The 15-minute rule. What you’re doing when you sit down to do art anyway is making a nest. A nest for your Muse. Instead of wishing she was there, instead of trying to chase her down, make a spot for her by just sitting down and doing something. I can only think of ONE time when I sat down in a foul mood and the whole project went off the rails. Most often, I sit down, thinking I’m a lousy artist and not knowing what the heck I was doing…..and two hours fly by and I’m a happy artist again.
It happened last night, actually. See, I completed that watercolor of the “Stockwell Sycamore” and fell completely into depression….mostly because I tried to sell the piece (I TRIED ONCE) and failed. Immediately after that, I got sick and it knocked me out of a week of work. During that time, I was absolutely despondent. I was sure I wasn’t an artist. I was some kind of half-breed wannabe who was better off in a cubicle instead of doing art.
To put it bluntly, my Muse had checked out.
So, I forced myself to start a landscape painting and I still wasn’t feeling good about it. Last night, I came home, crabby from lack of sleep and depression. I looked at my wife over dinner and asked “What the heck am I going to do? I’m a horrible artist!” She didn’t even look up from her plate. “Just show up, dear. 15 minutes, and then you can quit.”
“Ok,” I grumbled. “15 minutes.” Maybe I could read more of that Jack Reacher book I was enjoying afterward.
And then, I was an artist for two hours. It wasn’t crap after all. Maybe I DID know what I was doing. My wife came over and said “Have you ever done this sort of stuff before? It’s pretty cool.”
Don’t wait for your Muse to show up. Just make sitting down to do art a habit…rain or shine. Not every piece will be a shining star, but more will be if you do something than if you don’t do art at all.
Make a nest.