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 (I have a poem on this aspect). 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. It’s as if only these full-time artists and musicians can have a muse.
“Creating” Your Muse
Might make you not want to have a muse then, if she’s so much trouble and so unreliable. But 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. Or think of it has “having” a genius instead of “being” one. Less pressure on you. 🙂
Origins of the Muse Thing
So, where did this muse idea 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 nine years old. 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 and over every rainbow), 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.
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).
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.
So, how about a name for your muse? Clio and Erato, as well as Urania, have visited me. Greek muses connect with my own European ancestry, although the Welsh troubadour Taliesin is likely closer kin. I know there are similar muse metaphors in all sorts of human cultures. Go find one that speaks to you or make up your own, and introduce me to your muse in the comments.
I’d love to know more!