Kakutani, Man Booker, a City of Notions & more! Your Weekly Lit News Roundup by Laurel Dowswell

Source: Kakutani, Man Booker, a City of Notions & more! Your Weekly Lit News Roundup by Laurel Dowswell


The Value of the Muse

How can you calculate the value of a muse? Creatives of numerous disciplines benefit infinitely from this intimate and complex relationship.  From visual artists to performance artists, and beyond, the muse is a powerful force in the creation of indelible portraiture, dance productions, literature, and much more.


Tamara de Lempicka’s La Belle Rafaela


Ellis Avery explores a visceral and passionate relationship between the art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka and her model Rafaela in her beautifully executed novel, The Last Nude. Avery’s story begins with their chance meeting in the 1920s, in a Paris park, and moves the story briskly forward through a lens of desire, treachery, and tragedy.

But what if the meeting wasn’t by chance?

What would happen if a muse seeks out a particular artist for a deeply personal reason? What would happen to the art, and the artist-muse relationship, when that secret is revealed?

This is the basic premise of the novel I’m working on right now. (In the eternal editing phase as I’m taking steps to prepare for querying )

It could be a space for destruction  — or for transformation. Connection. Whether the relationship between a muse and an artist is sexual or not, the connection has to be there to nourish and propel the creative process. Consider this excerpt from an essay that Greek dancer Vassos Kanellos wrote about his inspiration, and teacher, Isadora Duncan, whom he met after she rode by him in a golden chariot on a spring day in Ialysos, Greece.


Isadora Duncan (1904) by photographer Hof-Atelier Elvira



“I shall never forget the highest moments of true aesthetic enjoyment which I had near her on the eternal rock where for hours I stood beside herself with joy and she was embracing the Parthenon and the Apteros Nike.

Several times she climbed the Acropolis with the full moon, musing and seeking new inspiration from the ancient Gods. Isadora at that time was very young and since then was always wearing the ancient chiton and Peplo with unique grace, like an ancient woman. Also her tender feet never felt the rude bonds of shoes.”


This dedication portrays that connection so beautifully, so intimately.

The energy produced here = momentum. Kanellos went on to have a long career in dance, choreographing events across the United States and Europe with his wife Tanagra, inspired by Ancient Greece and the style of Isadora Duncan.

Again, I come back to the idea of the value of the muse. Not only for the creation of the art but also in reference to the impact on the artist as a person. Personally, I’ve had several muses throughout my life — from the exquisitely effervescent (and temporary as champagne bubbles), to a few that have been as potent and life-shaping as a rushing river, where all  I want to do is drink case after case, celebrating the connection like a well-deserved trophy.

At times throughout my life, I’ve wanted desperately to be a visual artist. Though my ‘talents’ in that aspect have a real sense of humor — stumbling up to my doorstep like a drunken and probably-not-smelling-so-good Bill the Cat from Bloom County. The passion of that medium lives in me though, and it led me to write a novel centered on art, the muse, and the impact of the relationship on the self, amidst the inevitable complications of life.

While I was writing the first draft of my novel, one night I sat down and sketched the main characters. I wanted to see them. And I wanted them to see me. I originally had them in my traveling notebook,  but not too long ago, I framed them and set them on my desk. I look at them every day and they look at me, driving me forward. They are ‘living’, in some potent regard, a double life — character/muse.

This is Anna. The model/muse in my book.


Anna by Laurel (aka not an artist) Dowswell


I cannot explain appropriately the impact she has made on me during the journey of this novel. Funny, how much someone who is not even real can affect you. But I think that puts an underline underneath the point of this post. The power of the muse is complex, real, and…transcendent.