Beatrice, Edie Sedgewick, the Dark Lady. Nine of them who flounced around Mount Helicon. Not to mention a great guitar band. Artists and writers frequently talk about their muses. The person - or, indeed, object, or place (Woody Allen's New York, for example) - who not only stirs something creative insode them, but makes that creativity come gushing out in golden form - transforms it as it touches the page into greatness.
But is there a darker side to the muse? In one sense, there very obvioulsy is, and it goes back to Platonism and the worship and objectifictaion of the spiritual. The muse is placed on a pedestal, worshipped, and, as a result, denied genuine reality - museishness is to blame for a lot of our less beneficial conceptions of women, for example.
But I mean another dark side - for the artist or writer or musician.
For me, the idea of a muse is rather terrifying. I imagine my muse, if I had one, staring at me - taunting or sneering - "You dare to call THAT worthy of me?" she harumphs, turning her back and leaving me staring at a blank page.
The point I want to make is this. there is a very fine line between inspiration and intimidation. Between the object of beauty who touches you and opens a creative spring and an ethereal form that's just "out of your league" - that you could never do justice, so you end up snivelling in self-pity, and struck down by block, like an opera composer waiting a lifetime till they're ready to produce a piece for the voice of their generation.
When you're a teenager you're desperate for a muse. A boy or girl in the class above, possibly a friend of your brother or sister - someone to bring out the Byronic in you. And when you find them, you aften will write a great torrent of, er, romantic twaddle, in your efforst to impress. Later you will look back ashamedly, and every time you write FOR someone or thing you will possibly be struck with fear of doing a similar hatchet job. Add in a mix of idealisation and you have a recipe for paralysis - we can, after all, never give a sacrifice worthy of the gods.
For me it's not people who act as intimidating muses - it's notebooks. I imagine if I have a beautiful hand-boundleather journal I will write something worthy of it. But I can never find a sentence good enough and so I sit and stare, and anything any good I DO write by hand is always in a skanky notebook I bought in bulk from a Polish supermarket.
Yet we feel instinctively that art is about eros, about love, about, in short, muses. So how do we avoid paralysis and create something decent as the result of having a muse?
The answer's simple: forget about doing justice TO your subject; forget about writing something FOR someone. Instead, this is a time when a writer/artist needs to be introspective. What is it your subject/muse inspires in YOU? Look within, and describe the fire, the turmoil and the raging passion you find there. Considerations of worthiness go out of the window - the muse will enter only as a marginal character, a penumbra for the piece, but unmistakably present in the form of those qualities that inspire those particular thoughts. This way you will ACTUALLY do justice to them - not as idealised object but as active subject stirring your passions. And you will connect with your audience, will enable them not just to admire but to feel as you feel.