Sick (of being) Muses

The artist-muse relationship is a well-known topic that has been around for centuries. Its origin lies in the myth of »The Nine Muses«, inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts in Greek mythology. In current English usage, »muse« can refer in general to a person who inspires an artist, musician, or writer. In most cases this person is female. Many male artists through all art periods, but also today, consider women as their source of inspiration. Women have immense influence on their work, but they are always just given a secondary and passive role in arts. The art world doesn’t seem interested in the fact that inspirational women often were and still are great artists themselves. Even today there is a huge gender disparity.

The work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe.* And less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, (but 76% of the nudes are female.)**

What is it that makes us demote creative women to just muses? Why must the creator of an artwork always be of male gender to get society’s attention? The women who appear in or inspired some of art history’s most-famous works of art also contributed substantial bodies of work of their own. But they usually never got the respect and recognition they deserved (with very rare exceptions). Many of the women died young or tormented. They were forced to give up what they loved most and lost their own way of expression… Do we still want this to happen in our metamodern times?

*Judy Chicago, »We women artists refuse to be written out of history«, The Guardian, 2012.
**Guerrilla Girls, »Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?«, 2012.


Lucia Anna Joyce (1907– 1982) was a professional dancer. Joyce studied dancing from 1925 to 1929. In 1928, she joined »Les Six de rythme et couleur«, a commune of six female dancers that were soon performing at venues in France, Austria, and Germany. After a performance the Paris Times wrote of her (of course comparing her with her father), »Lucia Joyce is her father’s daughter. She has James Joyce’s enthusiasm, energy, and a not-yet-determined amount of his genius. When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father.« At the age of 22, Joyce, after years of rigorous dedication and long hours of practice, decided »she was not physically strong enough to be a dancer of any kind«. It can be assumed that it was her father who finally put an end to her dancing career. Lucia started to show signs of mental illness in 1930. Once treated by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic in the mid 1930s and institutionalized at the Burghölzli psychiatric clinic in Zurich. In 1951, Lucia Joyce was transferred to St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton, where she remained until her death in 1982.

Anita Berber (1899–1928) was a German dancer, actress and writer during the German Weimar period. Her performances broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity. Her public appearances really challenged taboos as well. Berber’s overt drug addiction and bisexuality were matters of public chatter. She died in 1928, at the age of 29, in Berlin. Today she is mostly known for a male artists painting and not for her own work: »Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber« by Otto Dix.

All the so called »muses« who were, in fact, artists themselves: Zelda Fitzgerald, Camille Claudel, Elizabeth Siddal, Berthe Morisot, Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller, Dora Maar and so many others…

»Artify« your mind!