Written by Angie Carrera
The debate about whether a woman can serve to be both artist and muse first emerged during the world wars, and consequently thrives today as a theory that is constantly being put to the test. Regina Marler wrote about the many women in the surrealist movement (including Leonora Carrington, pictured above) that were facing constant struggle between the worlds of muse and artistry. In her piece, she notes that while it is possible for women to be both muse and artist, the preferred of the two was a resounding “yes” to artistry as women began to develop their own views and voices as artists.
Women as muses in the early twentieth century came along with the implicit idea that as a muse, the woman immediately belonged to her male artist as an object for consumption. Not only did this add to the consequential belief system of overall hierarchical female oppression within the artistic community, it made it harder for these female artists who chose to work with art exclusively to display their art. In some areas of higher esteem and more open worldly views such as Paris, these women were allowed a slight chance in the world.
For many years, and for many artists, these schemes remained as women began to emerge into the artistic world. As many of these women began to become politically active and to voice their opinions on current events, namely World War II, they also began to experience inspiration from their own actions. More than anything, these former muses began to work for themselves on topics that mattered to them the most, rather than conforming to the objectification of the time.
What does this history mean for female artists and authors in this contemporary world? Has the canon for the modern muse changed for these women? Is there a new world where the audience feels compelled to question whether or not the artist became her own muse in the process? It is evident that women in the surrealist movement including Whitney Chadwick, Leonora Carrington, and countless others paved the way for modern women through the documentation of their experiences in numerous publications.
In such publications, the struggles and constant battles for female liberation were documented as a way to show others what their world was like. Today, women continue the efforts and the legacy these women have left behind to become their own muses. Authors and artists alike are beginning to take action now more than ever so as to reform the antiquated belief system surrounding the idea of what it means to be a muse.