Monday, January 27, 2014

On the existence of the Muses.

“Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people's religion. And religion may, in a sense, be understood as popular misunderstanding of mythology.”

                                        Divine Inspiration by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Ever since I started painting over 20 years ago, I have wondered about the existence and nature of the Muses. Do these ancient goddesses of creativity and inspiration from Greek mythology play any active role in the creation of art? The question may seem odd and a waste of time by modern rational thinking standards but this is because our own skepticism is filled with many preconceptions and prejudices about religion and mythology. In an age of scientific progress and information technology, the terms "myth" or "mythology" often equates to the opposite of “facts”, lies and superstition. But there is much wisdom to be learned from these "myths" and their stories are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.

 The Night by Auguste Raynaud (1854-1937)

As a matter of a fact, much of mythology has become the basis of our modern day religions as well as means to understanding the cosmos and nature from a creative perspective. Reason and logic alone are not enough; you need creativity and imagination as well. Real life stories can be engaging and meaningful by themselves but when these are told by someone with a vivid imagination and who creatively endows the story with a deeper meaning and spiritual significance the story becomes in a sense "mythical". At the end of Yann Martel's "Life of Pi", the protagonist, Pi Patel after telling his personal odyssey, asks Mr. Okamoto "'So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals”? Sometimes the cold facts are too boring or even depressing to assimilate by the human soul. Stories and works of art that go beyond “facts” and embrace the wild side of our subconscious awaken our curiosity, our inner child and they allow us to dream and believe. That is why stories involving animals are so appealing. They transport us to a distant time when we were in much closer contact with nature and the spirit world. 

 Life of Pi (2012) directed by Ang Lee

Some of my friends don’t believe in the existence of the Muses and I can understand their point of view. These elusive entities are equated with inspiration that comes and goes like the wind, cannot be harnessed and often becomes an excuse for a lazy artist that relies solely on being inspired in order to get to work. There is some truth to this but what if the muses are universal energies that can be invoked by the artist, just like in the ancient myths. Having an empty canvas in my studio and visualizing what will be painted on it requires something beyond rational scientific studies or hard work. It requires a unique vision, an open imagination and a spark of creativity to rekindle the artistic mind. Whenever I start a painting I am getting ready to pour my heart and soul into my work. In a sense this is an act of love and an act of faith brought together into one.

 Pleiades by Elihu Vedder

If faith is a necessary component of creating art that doesn't exist but in your mind, believing in invisible universal forces that are in charge and behind creativity and inspiration shouldn't be hard to do. Beauty after all is an ever elusive and subjective quality philosophers and artists have been striving to define and embody in their works but beauty just like a god or goddess, is above and beyond human reason. Just think of how difficult the term "beautiful" is to define with words. It simply IS and requires no justification, just like flowers. Muses are no different. They work behind the scenes and don't mind their existence being ignored or denied, they simply act and reward those who accept their gifts and put them in use.   

Four Muses by Andrea Mantegna

As an artist I can give testimony that I have been visited not only by the muses but by spirits, ghosts and other invisible entities. Instead of calling them muses, call them archetypal energies if you will. It does not much imagination, just knowing you are not alone and that you are not the sole author responsible for creating art, you are medium, a vessel transmitting a message beautifully and making the invisible, visible. It just requires the same faith you already have when creating something that is not experienced by the human eye yet. These archetypal energies, influence, direct and show us the way to better express and fulfill our art.

 Apollo and the Nine Muses from the Tarocchi of Mantegna

It has been my personal experience as an artist working 8 to 10 hours a day in my studio, that work is as important than inspiration and even though keeping a strong work habit is crucial,  I also notice that much work without that spark of intuitive and fiery inspiration, is simply dead cold. For years I have struggled to keep a balance between the two and a few tricks and practices have been quite useful. In order to bring a conducive environment appropriate for creation I work with music, light up incense, rearrange things or simply open up every window in my studio or as I like to call it "invoke the Muse".

 Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet

Truth is I seldom think of a Muse when I do these things but after much research on archetypal astrology I'm beginning to realize the significance of being fully aware of hidden energies. By being consciously aware of these invisible influences in one's life, one can manage and channel them in an advantageous and favorable direction. Just like the animals in the story of the Life of Pi, they accompany, inspire and teach us in our art. Like the weather or Sun sign astrological forecast they are difficult to predict, but once you know them, you know what they like and learn how to attract them, it becomes a matter of creating the right environment and rituals in order to bring the best out of your mutual creations. There is more to be said about the Muses and this is just the beginning. Stay tuned as I shall explore each one of them in more detail and how I work with them as an artist.

Mass Media Viate Et Mortem by Patrick McGrath Muñiz