Apr 072016


Mike Little

At my first session (New Year’s Day) with Mike Little’s dotty artist wife, Trish, she draws me on her iPad, all the while chattering incomprehensibly about Saussure’s signs and referents and abstraction. Then she projects the drawings onto my body, and Mike photographs me. Meanwhile Bel, in fly-on-the-wall mode, is getting material for a movie about Trish’s work. Creative collaboration, or what?

1st January. Bel is let off lessons. The new year begins with us slobbing in bed, drinking Columbian coffee, reading.
    ‘He’s definitely after you.’ Bel tosses aside a note.
    ‘Oh – is that my note from Cyril?’
    ‘You left it in this book he gave you. Do you like being considered his “muse”?’
    ‘God, no. I hate how he puts me in that role, being so over-complimentary and acquiescent and submissive with me.’
    ‘Told you he’s into submission.’
    ‘Yes, I know.’
    ‘Proper BDSM scene. Collars and chains.’ She is looking at me a bit sternly. ‘Does that give you “writing ideas”? That why you want to do more shoots with him?’
    Sigh. ‘He pays me, Bel. That’s the main reason. And secondly, I have free rein to mess about with his mundane photos and turn them into fantastic images. I love that.’
    But Bel has stuck her head back into ‘Chinese Whispers’, the book her brother sent. Is she sulking?
    I grab back Cyril’s ‘The lives of the muses’ and open it at random:

Charis knew that Weston had a horror of female competition, therefore never touched a camera herself. …a swooning acolyte who fell at Weston’s feet… united with him in a common purpose – his life’s work as a photographer…’

I try to re-engage with Bel. ‘You know – Lee Miller is in here as Man Ray’s so-called muse, but she just isn’t one. Not like Charis Weston was. Lee Miller used Man Ray to learn and perfect her own photographic skills.’
    ‘Charis who?’
    ‘The model and second wife of that obnoxious photographer Edward Weston. He picked her up when he was 48 and she was only 19.’
    ‘Oh. I quite like Edward Weston, though.’
    ‘…humourless and egotistic, it says here.
    ‘His photos.’
    Success! I’ve got Bel talking about photography. ‘Shall I make us more coffee?’

The kitchen stinks of drains. The superficial semblance of a decent fitted kitchen doesn’t bear close inspection. Blackened cracks vein the worktops. Door hinges are broken. We put up with the mess of mysterious leaks and dirt traps. It’s a mere temporary residence, after all.
    Waiting for the coffee to percolate, I receive a call.
    A chirpy voice: ‘Hello Suki and happy new year to you! Mike Little here. We met at the Shanghai Art Nude Photographers’ group about three months ago. Listen – might you be interested in a series of shoots led by my wife Trish who’s an artist?’
    ‘Hey – brilliant! New Year, new opportunities! Totally interested!’
    ‘Lovely jubbly. It’s her Masters project. Something to do with the Swiss semiotician Saussure. I’m just along for the ride. Well: if you can drop by this afternoon for a first ‘go’, we could make a New Year’s Day party of it? Bring Bel along! Long time no see – she hasn’t been to the group for months.’
    ‘Wonderful. Don’t worry, I’ll drag her out.’
    ‘Champion! That’ll be grand.’
    ‘Just thinking on my feet now, Mike: could Bel be a fly-on-the-wall for this project and make a film recording its progression? Would Trish be up for that? Bel’s made some great movies; we can show you some.’
    ‘Sounds magic! Happy days – let’s discuss it anon.’

When I return to the bedroom with tea, Bel looks up from her book. ‘I’m like Somerset Maugham.’
    ‘Good grief,’ I set down her cup, ‘why?’
    ‘He felt alienated from the Chinese. Way back in 1900. Just like I do now. Listen to this: ‘You cannot tell what are the lives of those thousands who surge about you. Upon your own people sympathy and knowledge give you a hold: you can enter into their lives, at least imaginatively… But these [Chinese] are as strange to you as you are to them. You have no clue to their mystery. For their likeness to yourself in so much does not help you; it serves rather to emphasize their difference.’ Bel’s face is desolate. ‘That’s like me. I have no connection with my students. They don’t want to know me. They’d be more interested in me if I had a Gucci handbag. If I were a Gucci handbag.’
    I sigh. ‘Never mind – we’ve just been invited to a party.’
    ‘But don’t you identify with him, Suki?’
    ‘Look Bel – it’s New Year’s Day. Think of positives. Plans for this year.’
    ‘Right. So’ – Bel snaps shut her book, tosses it aside – ‘when are you going to write your novel, Suki?’
    ‘When are you finally going to start your Art Nude project with me, Bel?’
    ‘Dunno. It’s the teaching. Takes up my headspace.’
    ‘That’s not the real issue.’ I take Bel by the shoulders and ask, dangerously, ‘Why are you really here?’
    ‘What are you really doing here, Suki?’
    Holding each other (at arm’s length), we laugh. Raucously, theatrically: what is this life? – ha ha ha… (furiously, desperately) – ha ha ha why have we run away to China ? Why?…



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  33 Responses to “Page 19”

  1. (A life-model’s comment)
    I don’t like the term ‘muse’ either – suggests the model is there for amusement value.

  2. (An artist’s comment)
    Muse: a guiding spirit / an inspiration.

  3. One is not a-mused, Suki?

  4. A classic muse, as per Charis Weston, is a woman whose life’s task is to stroke the ego of the male for whom she works.

  5. The term is sexist (I’m responding to Paul Ashton) because the entire history of the “muse” concept is that a female muse “inspires” a male artist to create great works, but the female herself is not creative or artistic. Yes, it is possible to pretend that the concepts are sexless but in order to do so you need to deny everything that has gone before. Even if you don’t assume the Guardian article’s definition [follow above link from ‘how he puts me into that role’], cited as a “model that the artist fancies”, the concept of a “muse” is inherently sexist.

    • I draw gay men. I’m straight… So where’s this term “fancies”? Please explain it more than the model getting egotistical. ffs

      • I’m not getting egotistical, Paul. Just referring to history. And to another comment in this thread. Which you could read, if it’s not too much trouble.

  6. Just proves people can get offended by anything.

    • That type of dismissive lah lah comment always says more about the person making it than it does about the issue at hand. Someone asked my opinion. I expressed it. That does not amount to me getting “offended”. Except, possibly, by your dismissive attitude.

      • Answer the question Hilary. Or is it really all just a platform for you to tell us how inspiring you are? Mmm

        • The question, Paul, was “Do you get called a ‘muse’?” My answer began “Glad I’ve never been called a muse”. Is simple comprehension too much for you?

          • Load of twaddle.

            ‘Muse’ is a word that acknowledges the model’s importance to the artistic process. Only those who enjoy finding insult in innocent things would get offended.

  7. “The model’s importance”! Get over yourselves… You’d think you were making the work…

    • We were discussing if using the term ‘muse’ was offensive. I’m of the opinion it’s not, nor is it sexist. I’m not sure what your opinion is?

      • muse1/mjuːz/

        (in Greek and Roman mythology) Each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences.
        A woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

        It seems to be an old-fashioned word, used mainly by writers.

  8. Ok – on behalf of Suki, I am putting up a quote from the Jonathan Jones article (in The Guardian) to which there is a link on the above page, which expresses the kernel of his thesis on this word ‘muse’, and with which Suki heartily agrees:

    ‘I don’t think there is anything wrong with men making art about women they fancy. The pretentious word “muse”, however, should be banned. It has no place in 21st-century art talk. It’s time to lock this silly term away in the attic with the porcelain-faced Victorian dolls and the Swinburne poems.’

    The full article may be read HERE.

    • Thank you but I stand by my opinion that anything can be taken as offence if you are of a mind to. Even a complementary term used by men or women to describe inspiration.

      Here is my twopence worth:

      1/ A life model and a photographic model are not one and the same thing.

      2/ A muse does not have to be a real live flesh-and-blood woman, and the purpose of a muse is to inspire, not to shag.

      3/ Is it possible to be a paid muse? So if the artist is not inspired, can he have his money back?

  9. I have no problem with the word. Do muse and amuse have the same linguistic root, or is that mere coincidence?

    Whilst the traditional meaning suggests a female inspiring a male artist, I would have no problem with being described as a muse for any artist. Perhaps it’s time to reinterpret this word.

    • I’m pretty sure the words do not have the same root. Reinterpreting words is really difficult and cannot be achieved just by wanting. Why bother? I’d rather it just fell into disuse, which to be honest is what seems to be happening anyway.

      • As a noun – ‘muse’ – Late-Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin musa, from Greek mousa.

        ‘Muse’ as a verb – Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’

        ‘Amuse’ as verb/adverb – Late 15th century (in the sense ‘delude, deceive’): from Old French amuser ‘entertain, deceive’, from a- (expressing causal effect) + muser ‘stare stupidly’. Current senses date from the mid 17th century.

        Why let it fall into disuse? In true equality, as a noun it can be applied to any sexual orientation – that’s progress. Also as a verb, one can muse.

  10. While we are at it – I don’t like being referred to as a male.

    I often see signs for ‘ladies-only’ swimming sessions for which ‘males’ must vacate the pool. ‘Women’ and ‘ladies’ imply a human being; ‘male’ can be anything.

    • But surely the context makes the meaning clear, Stephen?

      • Fair enough Stephen, I’m not wildly keen on “females” used as a noun either – although the intended meaning is clear, I agree that “men and boys” would be more polite. Not that it has any relevance to life drawing or this thread.

  11. I’m a model and have been described as several people’s muses, male and female. I see no problem with it whatsoever. If you go back to its origins, it’s a great word; I love being seen as someone’s inspiration, why on earth would I take offence at that?

    It’s not my artwork, I’m the life model ( NOT photographic model – that’s different). The artist creates the physical artwork from the artwork I create with my own body.

  12. 4′ 33″