Inspiration and envy make interesting bed-fellows, whilst at odds with one another, they combine perfectly to energize the mind and lubricate the sticky pathway that is the creative process. Inspiration, by definition is a theological influence with the sole purpose of solving problems, while envy is a fundamental part of human nature that causes more problems than it solves, however when the two are combined into the major factor in the flux of an Artists mind; The Muse.
The concept of the muse is one that has been around for centuries; Greek Mythology states the existence of 9 Goddesses (or spirits) known as 'hai mousai' which is a literal translation to 'men – think'. These Goddesses are believed to be the original source of inspiration for all Literature and Arts – they were the first instances of 'muse'.
However, the advent and study of Psychological Science is something that has revealed that inspiration and the ability to fococally scrutinize people and objects (to muse) to be something much more human than ancient Greek spirits; 18th Century Psychologist and Philosopher John Locke concluded that inspiration is come to naturally, by a series of ideas that begin as separate entities and are later gelled together in resonance to form an answer or previously unseen conclusion. This theory is hardly as romantic as that of the Ancient Greeks, but in an age of constant psychological scrutiny and obsessive interest in conditioning theories it is certainly more valid.
Another heavily studied aspect of the human psyche is one that we have all deal with at some point; Envy. For many, it is a socially crippling curse that serves to damage self esteem, cause loathing of others and can extremely cause cause clinical depression.
From the same school of thought as the introduction John Locke, came Immanuel Kant. Widely regarded as the last influential Philosopher of the modern European classics, Kante defined envy as comparisons we set between ourselves and others, which we then use to measure our own sense of self worth.
I believe that the theories of Locke and Kant are inextricably linked to Art (iss) and the (their) muse (s); In order to gain inspiration from another person, an artist has to feel that a particular attribute of that person stirs some sort of emotion and therefore becomes a catalyst for inspiration. It is usually this attribute that the artist is envious of and therefore feels the need to portray, explore or sometimes destroy.
"I found him perfectly beautiful" was Lucien Freud's remark after his first meeting with Leigh Bowery at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery in 1988. Bowery had been 'performing' that day, modeling outfits that included several latex body suits.
Bowery's gargantuan body crammed into a skin tight suit is hardly what one would class as traditionally 'Beautiful', but Freud did. Was Freud referring to Bowery's physical appearance? Or was he describing something else, perhaps what Bowery's physical form and the envelopes he prepared for; confidence, freedom and individuality?
Despite being hideously overweight Bowery stood tall as a man unashamed of the fact his body was not stereotypically beautiful. He did not care that he lacked the figure of an Adonis and proudly displayed his curves in revealing clothes for all to see. It is this trait that I believe made Freud so fascinated with him. Where Bowery celebrated his form and flaunted it, Freud obsessed about its declination and documented it in his work, choosing to portray himself often in what could almost be described as a grotesque or unsightly fashion (see 'Reflection').
It is my theory that Freud became envious of Bowery with his open personality and confidence. He longed to rid himself of the insecurities and self doubt that had at some points in his life, led him to womanizing, which is well known to be a trait of those who crave attention and self gratification. At times these pursuits became so intense that it has led to rumors that he has ventured over 40 illegitimate children.
Freud's point of inspiration came from removing Bowery's most prominent 'defense'; his clothes. Without his fantastic Avant Garde ensembles Bowery was physically and figuratively naked. Out of his clothes his flamboyant personality would disappear, he would become shy and self conscious, or so Freud thought.
Bowery, to the contradiction remained as confident as ever, posing however Freud desired, even in the most unflattering of positions without so much as a murmur that begged for assurance or compliment. A Revelation that served only to fuel Freud's interest in the peculiar Bowery.
Posing for Freud was one of Bowery's favorite pleasures, until his New Years Eve death in 1994 Freud had not known that Bowery was HIV positive.
If Freud had known about this would it have changed his opinion of Bowery? Would it have altered his perception of Bowery to the extent that he would have been repulsed that he had once been in his naked company? I do not know. One thing I do know is that Bowery clearly did not feel as attracted to Freud as Freud did to him. Freud was a source of income to Bowery, not a close friend, after all Freud was not one of the close few who knew Bowery's middle name.
In comparison to my next example of Artist (s) and the Muse, Leigh Bowery and Lucian Freud's relationship seems like a simple walk in the park rather than the tug of war between friendship and business it was.
Jane Burden, William Morris and Dante Rossetti lived a story that any Hollywood hotshot would have been proud to have written. A tale of Love, adultery, passion and betrayal all set in the charming time of late 19th Century, England.
As a child William Morris lived a steady life, his parents were not particularly rich but they did enjoy a good income that Morris felt the benefit of whilst being educated. He was very quick learning to read and was fully literate at a young age. Compare this to his model, muse and later wife Jane Burden who, for most of her younger years lived a life of poverty. With no money or particular aspirations then differences become quite apparent. Jane Burden was completely illiterate; she also lacked social skills such as company etiquette and basic manners. Something Morris and his family held in high regard.
It was a night at the Theater that was to be a turning point in Burdens life. Sat in the 'Cheap seats' she was watching a production by the Drury Lane theater company when friend and mentor to Morris; Rossetti, spotted her. He made no hesitation and quickly approached her to request that she pose for his friend (Morris) who was actively trying his hand at painting the human form.
Her first sitting was meant to take place little under a week after the initial meeting between her and Rossetti but Burden did not show, shocked and possibly a little intrigued by this, both Morris and Rossetti bought after Burden and eventually persuaded her to pose.
Once Morris and Burden had earned proper acquaintance they soon became emotionally attached and entered into a relationship that saw both parties benefit.
In a very similar situation to the afore-discussed Bowery and Freud; Morris 'and Burdens' relationship seemed to thrive from what one could give the other. Burden gained education and respectable friends while Morris had a model that was perfect to the ideals of Pre-Raphaelite form. They married two years after they met.
Within two years of marriage Jane Burden had been taught to an exceptionally high literacy level and as for her etiquette and manners? Well, her contemporaries referred to her as "Queenly" I think that is all that needs to be said.
Morris was surprised and shocked to say the least at his new wife's rate of learning, she had become perfectly prim and proper within the space of two years, something Morris had striven to do his whole life.
At this point it would not be entirely out of the question to suggest that Morris may have actually become quite frustrated that his wife had not only re-created herself as a 'Lady' but also that she was actually becoming quite multi talented as she tackled other languages including French and Italian and not to mention a decent proficiency in Classical Piano.
Jane's new found hunger for knowledge and seemingly perfect ability to absorb it must have been tortuous to Morris, who had for years struggled with his abilities painting the female form, also at this time Rossetti was becoming very close to Jane and was in the artistic form of his life having completed several of his best works.
Being surrounded by people who could apparently turn their hands to pretty much anything and be successful must have caused envy if not catalysed the beginnings of an inferiority complex in Morris. But it is not just he who I am seeking to apply my theory of Envy causing inspiration, it is also Rossetti.
His talent, his wealth, his charm and his heritage was not Rossetti who took Jane Burdens fancy, it was his protégé William. This can not have been easy for Rossetti who would have been more accustomed to being the center of attention due to his many enviable characteristics. When this was not the case I think Rossetti would have been left feeling quite disconcerted.
From Rossetti's self portraits it would seem that he had something of a higher opinion of himself than others may have had. For example, the painting above (left) – a self portrait – portraits a handsome young man, full of Italian charm and beautiful curly hair reaching all the way down to a jaw-line that most men (myself included) would kill for, whereas the other painting – a portrait of Rossetti by William Hunt – shows not a beautiful man but a slightly gaunt, un-kept front profile with eyes that are slightly confrontational if not intimidating, quite a contrast to the confident, poised optical orbs of Rossetti's self portrait. Also his forehead in Hunts portrait is far more prominent than that of his own, this depreciates Rossetti's merit of beauty even further.
Rossetti's high opinion will have taken something of a knock at not being the first option of Jane Burdens primal desires; however that was all to change.
In 1874 Rossetti completed 'Proserpine' (pictured, previous page); a portrait of Jane Burden as Proserpina, a figure from Ancient Greek Mythology who was snatched from her life and made queen of the underworld for 6 months of the year, every year. When she goes to the underworld (Hades) the world withers and dies, and on her return life is reborn and flourishes, it is the story of the seasons. My thought on Rossetti using this particular myth to entitle a Portrait of a lady who had, according to many by this time, become his lover is quite a bold yet somehow enigmatic statement. If the story of Prosepina was to be a direct reflection of the situation between Rossetti and Burden then her adulterous interactions whilst in Rossetti's company there would be the dark, murky depths of Hades and her clean cut, prim and proper marriage would be the dawn of light and the flourish of spring.
Rossetti's inspiration for this (and other) paintings of Burden was not drawn from any trait of Burden; it was drawn from the envy that despite all his advances Jane Burden and William Morris simply refused to be officially parted. If only it was Rossetti what Cupid had spotted first.
Upon my near completion of this essay I stumbled across the work of a psychologist, whose reputation for the brilliant turned him into a household name and set the foundations for a dynasty of human beings whose achievement in academia are not just unrivaled they're unprepended. His work has shaped the study of the human mind for a century and does not look as if it will be stopping any time soon.
His theory of psychosexual development (The theory that all human activity is driven by sexual desires) applies very much to the Artists and their Muses discussed in this essay:
The interactions between Morris, Rossetti and Burden were so driven by sexual desire that they engaged in social sin and on two counts adultery, but extremely defined a whole period of art.
Lucian Freud and Leigh Bowery had opposed sexual orientations but still engaged in intimate contact and secluded situations; surely a bond bound together in sexual charge?
Interesting is the fact that not only did Freud create a few masterpieces whilst engaging in a relationship with Bowery, he also played a part in proving one of the most substantial Psychological theories ever. A theory constructed by no one other than his Grandfather; Sigmund.
I wonder where he gets his inspiration from?
Source by Alexander J Williams