Woman as the Art not the Artist
Welcome to Part 4 of this series exploring the story behind my poem “Muse” which looks at the positioning of women as the art not the artist. You can read the full version in Part 1 of the series or listen to the soundcloud link above.
I kick off the third stanza with the line “ A strange girl full of light landed in from imaginary skies”. This line has flavours of that 21st century moniker: “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007. Some could say that this is the modern muse, featured in many a film. A quirky, often young, often slim, often white, care-free female there to liberate the male protagonist from his neuroses. There to be someone’s saviour. Examples of the MPDG include Zooey Deschanel’s underdeveloped, ukulele strumming (even her instrument is cute) shop assistant in Elf and Kirsten Dunst’s terminally cheerful character in Elizabethtown.
In these narratives, there is often no space made for this particular female to express any particular concerns, needs, wants or even personality , beyond their quirkiness. There to inspire, but not to bog you down with their own shit. In Elizabethtown, Kirsten Dunst plays an air steward and her bewildering dedication to saving Orlando Bloom is marked from the off set when she sits down beside Orlando on his flight home. Who needs to worry about keeping a job when the male protagonist is in need of some morale boosting flirtation?
“But if I’m full of light there is no space for anything else.” (quote from “Muse”)
In “Muse” the imagery of ice links to the ephemeral nature of youth and beauty. This can imply that there is a lifespan for the utility of the muse. Beyond the visual signs of ageing could it just be that the longer you are “possessed”, the less attractive you become? And is there a chance of losing your sense of self if you are living through someone else’s gaze?
As a continuation of the theme of light in “Muse”, I talk about refracting and reflecting. Refraction refers to the bending of light as it passes from one medium to another (due to different substances having different densities). This links to the idea of the malleable, bending woman, whose image is shaped by the artist. “Reflecting” also links to the woman, no longer being a person, but an image, a symbol to reflect certain aspects of society or even the artist himself. It also links to the idea of how a portrait can say as much, or often more, about the artist and their attitudes than about the model.
Stanza 4 of “Muse” begins to explore the idea of protection versus possession. Where is that line? What are the negative effects of protecting someone from the big bad world outside or even, their own inner world? When is it useful (or even necessary) to protect someone from their own negative feelings or thoughts and when is it dangerous to do so? Does encouraging this actually stunt their ability to be creative?
The definition of “hysteria” when it came to women in Victorian times encompassed behaviour as innocuous as arguing with your husband or father . And let’s not even get into the malady of “over action of the mind”, which could be diagnosed because the patient was an avid reader. With the threat of being institutionalised for pushing against social norms, psychiatry has been used throughout the centuries to police women’s behaviour.
We still see the remnants and effects of this stereotype of the “hysterical women” in society today. Has the need to avoid the title of “the hysterical woman”, caused woman not to explore, or present to the world, their more divergent thoughts and feelings? Has this stifling of expression lead to a stunted ability to be creative?
“Don’t worry your wee head” is a very common Irish/ Scottish turn of phrase, that is (in theory) used to encourage someone not to concern themselves with a particular issue or problem, to comfort them. However, it can be interpreted as patronising and also a way of stopping certain discussions progressing. By not entering into these discussions or following certain trains of thought, we prevent further investigation and possible discovery. Investigation and discovery obviously play a huge role in being creative.
Women who embrace their voices are often described using words such as bossy or shrill in place of other words like assertive or articulate. In the workplace and beyond women have trained themselves to present their ideas in a “non aggressive way”. This means they frame their ideas using language that apologises for having opinions in the first place. Have we been so indoctrinated not to rock the boat that we unintentionally, consistently undermine our own ideas? Do we dull our sharp edges out of a need to make other people feel more comfortable?
Check out Part 5 of “The Muse” series out next Wednesday when I explore some of the different female archetypes that women are often measured against.
And if you’d like some more craic follow me on instagram @aislinggrovesmckeown for pictures, poetry and music.