Advice, Aesthetics, Art, Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Communication, Conversation, Human Nature, Ideas, Muses, Parihkit Dutta, Relationships

Good Muse, Bad Muse! The Use and Abuse of Muses

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his opinion on the key importance and function of muses.  Bonus: Five tips on picking a good muse or avoiding a bad one.


THE CRITICS GO NOVA! “Paul Sunstone’s definition of ‘art’ is far too broad to be useful.  It makes any effort at communication an art, including Parikhit Dutta’s habit while a young man of getting drunk on Friday nights at the Tarry-All Tip and Pour Bar, then signing his name in the snow outside in his own pee.  On the few nights up in the Tarry-All Mountains when there wasn’t any snow, Parikhit would simply stand swaying drunk for up to 45 minutes looking as pathetically lonely and lost as that moose that wandered into Downtown Colorado Springs back in the summer of ’01. Paul Sunstone’s ‘Good Muse, Bad Muse’ resembles nothing so much more than Parikhit Dutta’s very worse autographs  on his most drunken Friday nights.”  — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

(About a 6 minute read)

I. Why Muses are Crucial to Artists

There are more ways to properly define “art” than there are ways to properly wank.  Yet, it might be possible that it is impossible to define art much better than something along the lines of “The use of some medium to express and/or communicate something, especially beauty”.

Whether or not that’s a good definition is perhaps best left up to each of us to individually decide.  I would only suggest that it might be rather difficult to honestly object to the notion that art is at least now and then intended by someone to communicate something. Not always, of course, but at least now and then.

In my opinion, the essence, the distillate, of what what it means to be a muse is to be someone who inspires someone else to attempt to communicate with them.

To me, that is the very foundation of being a muse.  Everything further that can be said about muses is superstructure.

Obviously, if the above is true, then muses are key and crucial to any artist (or anyone else) who sets out to communicate something in any medium of expression.  Muses come in a thousand varieties, but whosoever decides upon communicating something has already thereby chosen his or her muses.  That is, they have been inspired by someone to attempt to communicate to them.

I will now proceed to reveal why I believe it can be truly said that an artist’s choice of muses all but fates to one degree or another the content and style of his or her creations.

II. Precisely How Muses Work: The Mechanics Revealed

If you will be so kind, I would like to begin with leading you through an easy thought experiment.  Please start by recalling any memories you might have of seeing and/or meeting an attractive stranger.

I think it preferable that it be someone you saw or met offline, but if that won’t do, then someone you met online might.  Take a moment to recollect the details of the event.  What made you notice them?  What about them were you attracted to?  What kind of interaction, if any at all, did you have with them?  Try to recall as much as you can in just a minute or two.

Please summon all the honesty you can muster.  Now pretend you are speaking face to face with your mother.  In two to four sentences, describe your encounter with the stranger, especially what attracted you to him or her.  Write your sentences down somewhere.

When you have finished with that task, go on to do the same thing again — but this time, pretend you are speaking face to face with the most salacious, lewd, and indelicate person you personally know.

If your two paragraphs are remarkably similar or the same, then congratulations!  You are a good American.  Even if you are from Nairobi, Paris, or Tokyo, you are a good American.  American culture highly values what it calls by many names, including, “Consistency of Character”, “Personal Integrity”, “Strength of Character”, and even “Honesty”.

All of those ideas rest on — depend on — the notion that we humans have only one true self — sometimes it’s a true soul — and that a man of high personal integrity speaks to everyone in the same words and tone of voice.

But if your two paragraphs are remarkably dissimilar, then again congratulations!  You are a good Japanese.   There are several different ideas about the self in Japan, but a common element to them all is that not much value is placed on consistency. That is, an American might interpret Japanese notions of the self as lacking any proper respect for personal integrity.

An Japanese proverb translates something along these lines, “A man turns into a different man each time he moves from one room of his house into another room of his own home.”

To most Americans, the idea that a person is a different person from one set of circumstances to the next is counter-intuitive at the very least.  Yet, I believe there is much that Americans in general — and American artists in particular — could learn of great use and value to them were they to make an effort to understand the Japanese take on the self — the “soul” as we sometimes call it.

Of course, a few folks in the West have always gotten it.  Witness Walt Whitman in Song of Myself:

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The classic Japanese “retort” to the American’s perplexity when confronted with the inscrutable Eastern notions of the human self is,  “But do you not in the West speak differently to your mothers in their living rooms than to your best drinking buddies in a bar?”

The muse or muses the artist picks to inspire his or her work go far towards determining both the style and the content of what the artist expresses.

Pick for your muse a genius and you are more likely to say brilliant things brilliantly than if you pick for your muse a moron.

Strictly speaking, an artist does not need a muse for an artist can choose to create without attempting to communicate.  But in practice, most artists are trying to communicate something to someone — quite often, “Look how beautiful this is!”  When attempting to communicate something, there is no escaping the fact that communication always has a muse.  At least, one muse.

All communicative art begins with the fateful conscious or subconscious choice of a muse.

III.  Good Muse, Bad Muse! (Four Quickly Put Opinions About Picking Muses)

i. Pick someone hostile to you only if you wish to create negative art.  Art that tears down rather than builds up.  Art that targets weaknesses rather than targets strengths.  Art that is reactionary rather than activist.  Art that negates and destroys rather than affirms and creates.  Art that speaks “no”, rather than speaks “yes”.

ii. Pick someone you love who loves you if you seek authenticity.  If you seek to be true to yourself in your art, pick at least someone you love, and best pick someone who also loves you.  To find your own truest voice, your own truest style, chose a muse you love, preferably a muse who loves you too.

iii. The wisest of fools are those folks who have as many good, best friends as they can manage, but who are, like all of us, lucky to have just one good, best friend.  The wisest of artists are those artists who have as many good, strong muses as they can manage, but who are, like all artists, lucky to have just one good, strong muse.

iv. The worse muse an artist can pick for any creation is — seldom the most critical muse — but the muse who fails to “get” the message, fails to understand what is being communicated.

v. If you are experiencing creative block, try switching muses.

2 thoughts on “Good Muse, Bad Muse! The Use and Abuse of Muses”

    1. Usually insinuate, I believe. It seems the choice needs to be affirmed as much by the subconscious mind as the conscious mind. But I suspect we can nevertheless consciously chose a muse if we go about it in a certain sustained way. To wit, we might be able to do so if we focus hard enough, long enough, on someone. List out everything about them that inspires us, or might inspire us to communicate with them. Imagine ourselves saying something to them, and their responses to us. Go over and over it all until — perhaps — they become muse to us. I’ve never tried that — but it makes sense to me it would have a shot at working.


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