Sunday, October 6, 2013

Are You the Artist or Are You the Muse?

This ad was in a magazine that landed in my mailbox. If you can't read the typeface, it says,

Modern Muse
Be an Inspiration".

I blocked out the name of the company because  I'll never forgive the company for creating Youth Dew. If somebody gets on an elevator I'm riding in with Youth Dew applied as her perfume, I have to get off at the next floor or I'm sick to my stomach. It's like an airborne ipecac syrup.  I think Youth Dew is an ingredient in chemical weapons.

I think that the intent of this ad is to imply to women that if they use Modern Muse perfume, they will appeal to an artist (maybe not visual artists, but some kind of creative person) and be remembered as the mesmerizing woman who inspired great art, music, a riveting reality TV series or maybe a new designer handbag.

I love to paint women and I love people who smell nice - and I'd like to smell nice, too -  but I think the women who are tempted by this ad into buying this perfume don't want to attract artists like me, they want to attract and inspire the male artist. Don't you think this ad implies that a beautiful, fragrant woman might inspire a male artist?

Let's look at this another way. Imagine another magazine ad, with a sexy man anointing himself with, oh, I don't know, say, Modern Macho Muse.  The copy says "Introducing Modern Macho Muse, Be an Inspiration". It's not going to fly. I'm a figurative painter, so is there a man out there trying to inspire women artists like me? Okay, let's not talk about me, let's say, women artists who are around 20 years old and look like supermodels? Maybe, but I think men are encouraged by society to be the creator, the mover and the shaker, the money-maker, not the muse.

Muses often don't end well, historically speaking. I think there are a few books about that subject out there. Of course, artists often don't end well, historically, either. Shhh! tell no one.

Of course, a woman can always just inspire herself. When I look around at the representational art world, more and more I'm seeing women artists using themselves as their own models and muses in their paintings. This saves a lot of money on model fees, for one thing. I also think it intrigues collectors, especially if the artist is attractive and intelligent. I think it is a terrific idea to do this, a talented woman artist should take control of her own image and explore the range of expression that she possesses.

It gets a little more complicated as the artist ages. Then you have something like this going on, in this self-portrait by Alice Neel:

"Self Portrait". Alice Neel, image from here.

I have some complicated feelings about the portrait above. It's a powerful painting, but as I said, I have complicated feelings about it.  I'll go into this and the subject of placing yourself in paintings in a later blogpost, I think.

Back to the perfume ad! What bothers me about this ad is that women in their fantasies are still being encouraged to be the passive thing that sits there looking pretty instead of the active, creative thing that paints her. Even worse, the marketing people at  The-Company-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named thinks this is "Modern". Surely we can do better than that.


Chris Saper said...


Linda Tracey Brandon said...

I just spotted this! thanks so much, Chris :)