Women as the Art not the Artist

Advertisement for Burger King

Thanks for joining me in the third part of this series which dives a bit deeper into the references and themes explored in my poem Muse. You can read the full version in Part 1 of the series or listen to the soundcloud link above. This week I’m pulling apart the second stanza which firmly establishes the idea of the muse versus the artist. The muse exists to inspire action but not direct it. The muse is there to help someone else find their voice whilst remaining silent. The image of the mouth was an obvious one for me. It is often women’s lips that are sexualised, not men’s. Images of ready and willing open mouths or red full lips are used to drive consumerism. Yet, the majority of CEOs in the advertising industry are still men. They are the ones telling the stories, it is their voices that we are hearing, it is their slogans that we are reading.

Photographs of Dali and Gala

In this section of Muse, I refer to Salvador Dali’s wife, Gala. Gala, real name Lena Ivanovna Diakonova, often featured in the surreal artist’s paintings, sometimes representing other women, such as the Virgin Mary. At times she would be at the forefront, and at other times placed in the background or with her back to the audience. Gala was considered such an inspiration to Dali that he even began to sign his paintings from both of them stating “it is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures”. Dali was not the first creative to have been inspired by Gala, she was previously married to poet Paul Éluard and is said to have been a muse to other artists and writers. Gala’s role in Dali’s professional life also included negotiating with buyers and gallery owners.

“My wife nude contemplating her own flesh becoming stairs, three vertebrae of a column, sky and architecture” by Salvador Dali, 1987

Dali not only put up with Gala having extramarital affairs, but actually encouraged it. He was a practitioner of Candaulism. This consists of a man practising, or fantasising about, the act of sharing his female partner or their image with others for their voyeuristic pleasure. This sexual practice places the woman in the role of the object, which is shared by the man (the artist), to be experienced by others. So in this respect, Gala was not only the muse but the piece of art itself. A theme I explore extensively in my poem Muse.

“One Second Before Awakening From a Dream Provoked by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate” by Salvador Dalí, 1944

I mention Shakespeare and Obama because they are both men renowned for their words, known for their literary or oratory skills. People argue that Shakespeare birthed, or at least made popular, many phrases and terms that we use in the English language today. Some of my favourites include “wear my heart upon my sleeve”, “wild-goose chase” and “more fool you”(which I can’t help but hear in a Northern Irish accent). Interestingly, Shakespeare refers to a number of possible muses when it comes to his sonnets such as the “Dark Lady” and the “Fair Youth”, neither of whose identities were ever revealed. He refers to the idea of the muse in a number of his works. “O, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention”- Henry V

Obama’s mere appearance called into doubt not only his suitability for the presidency, but his actual citizenship, forcing him to go as far as publishing his long form birth certificate on the the White House website. Therefore, Obama, more than his white predecessors, had to utilise language to win the hearts and minds of those around him. Despite having a rich and technical vocabulary at his disposal, Obama understood the power behind explaining big concepts using accessible language. His speech, being a reflection of himself, also had to show him to be measured and in control. As someone having to battle with the poisonous, engrained racist stereotype of the dangerous black man, there was no room for impulsive emotional outbursts. You could also say there was more pressure to master the art of being comfortable so that he could never be accused of being out of his depth.

In one of his speeches Obama makes direct reference to the importance of words.

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter. I have a dream — just words words. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal — just words. We have nothing to fear but fear itself — just words, just speeches. It’s true that speeches don’t solve all problems, but what is also true is that if we can’t inspire our country to believe again, then it doesn’t matter how many policies and plans we have, and that is why I’m running for president of the United States of America, and that’s why we just won 8 elections straight because the American people want to believe in change again. Don’t tell me words don’t matter!”

What are the dangers of falling into a muse role like Gala? Of being the vessel or the conduit but not the voice? What is the evolution of this muse role within more modern media contexts such as film. When do women accidentally become “muses” in their own lives, and more specifically in their relationships with men. Check out Part 4 of “The Muse” series out next Wednesday as I try to dive into some of these questions.

And if you’d like some more craic follow me on instagram @aislinggrovesmckeown for pictures, poetry and music.

Irish actress, singer-songwriter, eejit and poet. Often found turning films into musicals with my girl gang Notflix:The Improvised Musical.