Photo by Bill Armstrong
SHE’S NOT THERE: The Myth of the Muse
This group show of 21 photographers images of a single model, Marlene Tupy, photographed at my Vision Quest workshops in the Badlands of South Dakota and at the Trade River Retreat Center in Wisconsin are joined by several studio photographers from the Minneapolis Photo Center to provide an intriguing kaleidoscope of different vision, approaches and execution, all using the same subject.
What artist wouldn’t like a muse - something- or better yet someone - outside of them selves to provide creative inspiration. At best, it’s a romantic notion that we are not responsible for our own creativity and at worst it is giving power over your creativity to unseen or uncontrollable forces, again absolving ourselves of responsibility to our own creative forces.
The myth of the muse persists throughout the ages. Marlene embodies this classic notion of muse: beautiful, remote yet approachable, off-beat personality, fiercely intelligent, engaging yet emotionally unavailable. The perfect artist’s gift: totally present and at the same time inaccessible. Unlike most models, she does not use the gaze of others to reaffirm her self-worth, her ego remains healthily detached from our results. Marlene deeply cares to collaborate and inspire the art of others and unlike most objects of beauty, she knows that it’s not really about her but you.
As photographers we think we’re ‘capturing her essence’ (a phrase I think should be banished from our vocabulary) or at best feel we are conveying something about who Marlene is, but really we are revealing more about ourselves. We are using the external, her physical form, as a catalyst for our own internal artistic exploration.
At age 52 Marlene continues to captivate the attention of photographers, who are often criticized for only portraying youth. It is both a tribute to her and way of showing that art is not what you see but how you see.
• Muse (noun) goddess of art n Greek mythology, one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. The Muses inspired and presided over the creative arts. They were Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania, responsible for epic poetry, history, love poetry, lyric poetry, tragedy, sacred song, dance, comedy, and astronomy, respectively.
• (muse) a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.
"Muse: A person who awakens something in you that you didn’t know was there.”
–Musician Hk Christie
A Muse is A Muse is A Muse
She was born in the still swollen heat of the month of the Lion, stunned by her own ferocity, humbled by her gift of silence. A guiding visual voice creating sense & nonsense, a mirror reflecting harmony and contrast from which comes beauty & sorrow, balance & imbalance.
Her presence reveals the secret without involving herself in what is before her. Recording, in image, what the artist must remember. She reminds them of what they need before they find it or, before they lose it.
She is a thought, a look, a gesture arranging sensibility or, unleashing reckless abandon. The muse and the artist become one. They are one, they always have been one? She is a guiding genius, an illusion.
Her anonymity intensifies a sensual, sometimes erotic effect. Her body sculpts gradual deliberate unfolding of ideas. Alone in her strength and the ever shifting movement of the lines that form her, she engages the viewer. A concrete, yet abstract sculpture suggesting structure & limits, igniting spontaneity & experience. Each event is a unique detector of truth.
Is the muse, with her gift of meaning and fascination the seducer or, the seduced? She holds a secret. The secret is in her presence; the secret is in her eyes.
The concept of the Muse is a dangerous one. It is steeped in the notion of the chosen artist, that only those worthy of the Gift will have it breathed upon them. It carries with it certain advantages though. For when we cannot touch pen to paper, or brush to canvas, because the well we draw from feels dry as bone, we can blame her. We can channel our frustration at her, shaking our fists in anger at the sky, proclaiming, “if only!”
But for every artist who has professed to have tasted the sweet kiss bestowed upon them by the Muse, there are countless other, silent voices who wander in obscurity feeling abandoned, yet blameless. For like a young lover who feels they have been slighted by their partner, it is easier to contest that there is no spark, no chemistry, no magic. When what is really at the heart of it all is an unwillingness to put in the labor. While it may be that the most magical of artistic expressions come in the form of effortless bliss, these fleeting moments are, in fact, the sum of countless others filled with toil, sweat, tears and intense personal sacrifice.
So, while the obvious danger in waiting for the Muse to speak to you is never moving forward, there also lies the danger of losing awareness of the role that one’s self plays in the euphoric moments of success and release. So, perhaps, it is best if we discard the notion of waiting for a mythical spirit to fill us to the point of bursting, and instead infuse ourselves into our work, our labor, our love, our world.
SHE’S NOT THERE: The Myth of the Muse
A group show of 21 photographers images of a single model, Marlene Tupy, photographed at curator Douglas Beasley’s photo workshops in the Badlands of South Dakota and at the Trade River Retreat Center in Wisconsin. They are joined by several studio photographers from the Minneapolis Photo Center. This is an intriguing kaleidoscope of different vision, approaches and execution, all using the same subject. Photographers may think they are ‘capturing her essence’ or at best saying something about who Marlene is, but really they are telling us more about themselves.
At age 52 Marlene continues to captivate the attention of photographers, who are often criticized for only portraying youth. It is both a tribute to her and way of showing that art is not what you see but how you choose to see it.
Also included will be Marlene’s own photographic self-portraits, as well as some of her hand made paper sculpture self-portraits, showing that it is also possible to be one’s own muse.
Dinah and Barry McNew are a semi-retired couple who have attended many of my workshops over the years including "Zen and the Art of Photography"at Santa Fe Workshops, "Spirit of Place: Guatemala", "Dramatic Portrait: Figure in the Badlands" and most recently "Spirit in the Middle Kingdom, China" in March. I was so moved by the images they made and the experience they had in China and wanted to share some of them with you.
"We began our photographic adventure together just over ten years ago. In the early years we often found ourselves in the same place with our cameras pointed in opposite directions—Barry wanted the big picture and I chose the small details. While each of us still sees with a different perspective, our vision has grown closer over the years. Our love of landscape evolved into photography in which the human element was primary. This workshop was nothing short of amazing deepened by Doug’s encouragement to be present in the moment experiencing China visually, emotionally and spiritually."
-Dinah & Barry McNew
"I am searching for evidence of the divine when I photograph. Doug has taught me to try to photograph how something feels emotionally rather than just document how it looks. Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair said, “The photographer as artist tries to make visible the invisible.” These are scenes that some small internal voice said I should try to preserve--images of people, moments, or feelings that seem to me to contain a hint of divinity."
- Barry McNew
Brett Kosmider of Boreal Sky made this video of me at my Saint Paul home and while teaching a photo workshop at the Trade River Retreat Center (my cabin) in NW Wisconsin. I think he did a great job of both filming and editing but even more importantly in portraying the spirit of what my teaching is about. I hope you will take a look and let me know what you think...
Brett is also the editor and first camera operator of the Vinyasa Yoga video I directed for Amy Patee. See a preview here.
More of Brett's film work can be seen at borealsky.com
Sarah Rust Sampedro is this year's winner of the Vision Quest Photo Workshops one week Artist's Residency Grant at the Trade River Retreat Center in NW Wisconsin. Not only were her photos excellent but her artists statement and residency proposal were well written, concise and easy to understand. She was the unanimous choice of all three jurors. There is a selection of her images below. Congratulations Sarah!
Winner of a one week Trade River Retreat Center Artist's Residency:
Sarah Rust Sampedro
We are awarding Merit Awards towards a Mentorship or an Artist's Residency at the Trade River Retreat Center to:
Mary Ann Reilly
We are awarding Honorable Mention Awards towards a Mentorship or an Artist's Residency at the Trade River Retreat Center to:
Congratulations on all the excellent work! Thank you to all who applied.
We saw some excellent photographs but also noted some common problems. Many of the applications had good individual images but did not present a cohesive body of work. Others had convoluted or hard to decipher artist statements with a lot of 'art speak' that used art-world terms that made little or no sense or had any real meaning. Remember - jurors are reading multiple statements and the more succinct and easy to understand the better. We also had to disqualify a number of people for not following directions: some artist's statements were way too long and exceeded the 500 word limit, some forgot to send required documents. It is a good reminder of how important attention to detail is in our artistic life; not just in our imagery but in all that we do.
Here are some iPhone photos showing The Linden Center, our home in Xizhou, China for the "Spirit of the Middle Kingdom of China" workshop.
Yunnan Provence is truly one of the most incredible places I have ever been and I made more photos there in SW China than I have anywhere in a long time. Plans are already underway to repeat this workshop next April but it will probably fill fast as several people have already requested space, so let me know if you want me to hold a spot for you. Please consider joining us then for an unforgettable adventure.
To see any of the photos larger click on image but please go to their website to see much better photos than my iPhone snapshots! I will try and post some of my B&W photos made on medium format film as they are available in the coming months...
|Sign at street entrance|
|Detail over entry door|
|One of five courtyards inside Linden Center|
|One of many sculptures and wall paintings|
|Entry to dining hall|
|Preparing dinner in kitchen|
|Garden inside back courtyard|
|View from rooftop terrace|
|The Linden Center from village of Xizhou|
Here are a few iPhone photos from my workshop in SW China. I also shot almost 40 rolls of 120mm TriX but you (and I) will have to wait to see those until after the film is processed!
It was an amazing trip and The Linden Center in Xizhou was an incredible place for our workshop to land after several days of traveling thru the dramatic mountains.
If you want to see any of the photos larger just click on the image.