FROM THE INTRODUCTION
RIDING BAREBACK ON A FLYING HORSE
WITH NINE MUSES AND ONE MOOSE
The Muses are best left to speak, sing, play, dance, paint, laugh, cry, recite (the list goes on) for themselves, or rather, through those who become so inspired.
However, since a brief introduction is in order..
I invoke their blessings and guidance
so that this book may shine forth
with the fount of inspirations such as attributed to
ancient Greece at least as far back as 700 B.C.E.
Oftentimes, The Muses will choose someone to deliver a message, before that person has ever heard of a muse or even considered him/herself an ‘artist.’
Before a look at the traditional Muses, however, we must ask: what is a muse?
If you’re a careful reader, you will already have noticed that ‘a muse’ without the space would read ‘amuse’ That’s certainly one of the things a muse does, but by no means all!
While a child might accurately call it an invisible friend (though perhaps ‘visible’ in dreams and visions,) artists mostly refer to the muse as some sort of mysterious energy or spirit-presence that guides the creative process. Essentially, they are Guardian Angels of the Arts.
Even without knowing much about a muse or The Muses, one can still cultivate creative expression by paying attention to three basic areas:
1) The techniques and skills of a particular craft.
2) Observe and watch society, the universe, yourself... because by doing so you build up an innate store-house of images, ideas, feelings, facts, metaphors, insights, and so on, that will be ready to pour forth at the appropriate time: Memory (or Mnemosyne) on tap!
3) Learn about The Muses from ancient Greece, as well as nurture any connections you have with a personal muse.
Various cultures have their gods, goddesses, and divine creative inspirers to look to if you are drawn to a particular culture or time period. Ancient Egypt? India? China? Taoist poets living in the mountains? The Australian aborigines? They each have some sort of deity, dream-time or mythology that might help stir your creativity, envisioning, and heart-felt expressions. All this however, is a way of saying that: the Muses are not the ONLY link to the arts and sciences, though they are perhaps the most well-known and relatable.
In any case, nine names have been kept alive and continue to impart their various attributes. What has changed over the years is that the Arts have been categorized and separated, where once they were considered as One...
a band of nine sisters, dancing in a circle... and said to be
born in Pieria, a region of Macedon, near Mount Olympus,
daugthers of ZEUS father of the gods and
granddaughters of Uranus “Heaven” and Gaia “Earth”
and under the guidance of the three Elders:
MELETE meditation, or practice of an art
and another three, Nete, Mese, and Hypate, said to
represent 3 strings on the lyre.
Nowadays we call gatherings of more than one type of artist or art forms collaborations, craft fairs, multi-media,awards shows and other such nomenclatures. Much like astronomy whose parent is the oft belittled astrology, or chemistry whose parent is the oft fableized (though not forgotten) art of alchemy, the Arts have oft become bastard specializations. Of course, one may specialize and excel at poetry, or music, or painting, yet a closer look will show their connectedness.
After I heard Shinnecock artist and poet David Bunn Martine read the following lines from his poem “Shinnecock Whalers”
Into canoes of tulip and oak
Shinnecock men navigated the stroke.
Through wave and shoals, they pulled the trees
Finely carved vessels of wood and dreams.
...it dawned on me that what most westerners and 'educated folk' call metaphors or fanciful imagery, are actual realities for people who respect their craft, tools, and the visible and invisible forces that hold the earth, sky, and all else.. together. Truly, a boat well-made IS made of wood AND dreams!
Although the Muses naturally muse together (with as much energy as a teenage slumber party,) this book features artists who have what I consider an accentuated affinity for a particular Muse (or Muses).
To actually meet a Muse you might invoke one, pray to them, make offerings of milk, honey, or water (as is reported from ancient Greece,) become inexplicably inspired, or by various other ways.
Since many artists have been known to overindulge in alcohol or drugs for their creative sustenance, it need be said that, while such substances CAN have a positive effect, one is best to avoid reliance on an outside stimulant to provide what a Muse can for free! Writing, for example, is a natural high whenever one taps into the sheer force of creative energy.
So, while you’re preparing for their arrival, study the nuts and bolts of your craft AND observe the wonders of the spectacular society around you AND the wonderful universe within you.. because when Pegasus lifts you on his back, the faster you can perform your skills, the better. (There will be time for editing, touching up, and the more routine nature of art later on.)
The writing process is, for me, much like riding a horse... I hear a line in my head, get an image or phrase that won’t let go, and without thinking it all through, have instinctively disciplined myself to stop what I’m doing (whenever possible,) hop on the horse and go for a ride, ultimately discovering and learning on the journey.
Did I write that?, writers often say when describing the process of re-reading their words.
One teacher and friend of mine wrote that writing (among other parts of life) can be inspired and guided by a jinn or genie. Another friend called the Muse the Moose, and used to say: “When the Moose grabs you... you gotta go with him.”
So with that in mind.. grab your good-luck charm, give it a rub and.. are you ready for the ride?
THE ELEVENTH MUSE AND BEYOND
Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above.
-- Virginia Woolf
While the muses are clearly represented as female it is well to remember not only Woolf’s quote, but also that the gifts of the arts and sciences are, in many cultures, intertwined with male inspirers.
One of the patrons of arts and sciences in ancient Egypt was Thoth (also known as Tehuti) a male-bodied and ibis-headed god-guide said to have invented the alphabet, hieroglyphics, and all the arts and sciences! This proves that it is not only the feminine that inspires the Arts, although a certain attunement to the feminine nature, and the balance of feminine and masculine, is certainly a big help. Some level of inner union is perhaps a requirement for an artist of any lasting worth.
As to what motivates an artist (or anyone for that matter) to create something new, there is a well of answers.
For some it is a natural extension of their innate being, a gift that MUST come out to be truly given back. For others it is the simple joy of creation or re-creation. Yet others may seek fame or simply to earn a living, and to some the mere possibility of generating a piece of art that stands the tests of time -- like a Shakespeare play or a sculpture from ancient Egypt -- is simply irresistible.
While many a teacher leaves a transparent legacy through their students, and a grandparent or parent through their children.. an orphan, hermit (or anyone) may leave a serious message, form of merriment or thing of beauty through an artistic creation.
THE MUSE OF CIVILIZATIONS
One glimpse of a tropical island or a snow-capped mountain range can inspire. So too an entire civilization. One feels exalted upon seeing the timeless faces of ancient Egyptian sculptures; an ancient painting of a horse on a cave wall at Altamira; the spires of Russian architecture; brightly-colored clothing of African dress; American Indian beadwork.
As well, each of us carries the genetic makeup of civilizations within, and some adopt civilizations they feel drawn to. As artistic-creators we are free to experiment and hybridize. If you were to paint an American Indian turtle symbol and place it in the river of an Asian landscape alongside an Egyptian deity reading a modern magazine in a small boat... now what civilization would you call THAT?
In the alone space from which much artwork is born, there is a struggle that the individual artist must face: will I achieve a personal victory of culture and civilization that rises above the junkyard of my ego? (And yes, even a junkyard has useful parts.)
THE LIMITLESS MUSE
Since one can be telepathic with a bird, squirrel, or tree, for example, and so could write down what one was told, you can see how limiting it is to think that the Arts and Sciences are ONLY inspired by nine female muses, or even what is typically called a Muse.
Scientists and inventors have been known to dream the answer to a problem or have a vision of a complete diagram that then maps out their ‘waking’ work.
Perhaps these muses, and other related forces, are male, female and/or androgynous. Or they might be more like divine agents that assist the actual process of writing down or painting whatever it is that a muse or a bird told you!
One’s eleventh muse can be a friend, a lover, a teacher, a pet, a blade of grass, all of the above, or whatever the flying horse deems worthy.
- Anytime you want to focus on a particular theme, topic or
subject matter appropriate to one (or more) of The Muses:
talk to them; ask for guidance; build them a little shrine
(mouseion) with pictures, candles, etc., have a ritual drink/snack.
- Make lists of how each Muse assists your creations so you can
MEMORIZE the patterns and learn how their attributes help you
- When reading, watching movies, viewing paintings -- any art
form -- try to identify The Muses’ handiwork (or lack thereof).
- Make a list of AGREEMENTS you make with The Muses (or
general creativity guidelines that facilitate your process) so as to
cultivate their potentially automatic assistance. They are your
INNER EDITORIAL STAFF.
- Carry a notepad/sketchpad wherever you go; you never know
when or where you’ll get an idea for what you’re working on, or
a seed for a future project.
- Read up on, talk to other artists (or anyone) about:
* the process of creating, editing, finishing a project.
* current trends in your artistic field, locally and worldwide.
* specifics about your craft(s).
* proper rules (where applicable) so you can choose to break
them, wisely, if you see fit.
- Study, observe, learn from The Masters, ancient traditions...
understand your place in the evolution or lineage of your Art(s)
(you might ‘discover’ a new form, only to find out it was done
thousands of years ago, OR you might improve upon, modify
such an ancient technique. (If you’re into reincarnation, who
knows, you may have created the form in the first place!)
- Think of art as a trade, like bricklaying. While there is a place
for highly refined and profound art, simplicity goes a long way.
If you turn your nose up, I AM an artiste, you probably wonâ€t
speak to the common person. Ego-art has a short shelf life.
REVIEW by Linda Benninghof www.incwriters.com
Modern Muses, How Artists Become Inspired, introduced and edited by Mankh (Walter E. Harris III). Allbook Books,
Selden, NY, 2005. ISBN 0-9743603-2-5. 168 pages.
Mankh's book, "Modern Muses, How Artists Become Inspired" will be vital for artists of all kind who are interested in the nature and origins of inspiration and in comparing their own with that of others. It will also be useful for those who are blocked, and help them channel their energies back to the source of their creativity.
Gary Steven Corseri gives an example of Shodo, the Japanese "way of writing" which uses imagery to introduce and order narrative. This is a fascinating description of a way of writing that Corseri calls "the art of the particular moment." He begins his piece: "I'm surprised by the cold of my father in law's hand." Corseri, a Caucasian, goes on to talk about his Japanese father in law, in the meantime mentioning his own wife and his own father, reflecting in passing that a generation ago the two men would have wanted to kill each other on a battlefield. Reflections arise from the image of the cold hand, from the present, from tactile sensations; a story is told.
Other essays which are memorable include Maxwell Wheat's "Birds of Prey, Macbeth and a Poem." Wheat describes bird watching and observing raptors taking their prey. He quotes Emily Dickinson, who describes a robin swallowing a worm then uses language as a "comforter" a "compensation" for what would otherwise be "raw" and "turbulent."
J. e Franklin, who writes 10 minute plays, was first a painter at a very young age, then something almost inexplicably changed the nature of her inspiration. In her essay, "Following The Spirit" she explains her change, and what led her to leave art behind and become a playwright.
Some of the artists simply give examples of inspiration, preferring to attribute it to some symbolic figure like the muse. Others analyze it.
"Maybe for me, inspiration comes from a celebration of what is strange in this world, or at least estranged. That which is made to be shut out, disenfranchised, or silenced, but refuses to oblige; inspires me. Inspiration is the voice that won't quit in the middle of the night because it has to continue; there's no other choice. I celebrate and am inspired by those voices," writes Alan Semerdjian.
For Vivina Ciolli, a poet, facing a blank page is difficult. She describes her process of inspiration, and thinks that the inspiration helps her contact a world where poems may be like "prayers". "Something mysterious happens each time I write. It's as ifÂ my writing is created in two places: in my mind, and in a place which cannot be located. This second place is the home of my muse, a space I enter without being aware of the moment it happens, like trying to catch the exact point of falling asleep. Nothing is more difficult for me than to face a blank page. I need to drag myself to it. But each time I do, the writing seed splits and germinates. Then it rises into that wild place, and I follow. It's as if by my letting go, the poem, which already exists where I cannot see it, is able to reveal itself."
The commonality of this experience of inspiration as something inexplicable, which comes from somewhere else, has led the editor to explain it symbolically as the work of the muses, as did the Greeks. The book is nicely organized with the muses of comedy, tragedy and other art forms grouped together.
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