Women, and How They Can Really Mess With Your Art

In preparation for class this week, we read four poems that all seemed to focus on specifics of art and the feelings that could sway how that art is depicted. It is of no great surprise, that women, sexual attraction, lust, love, etc. would be prevalent in artwork generated by men who had any sort of love for women or the womanly form. Within the society of today, we still see a great many artistic creations aimed at expressing appreciation for women, mainly in today’s music. 

Many of our poems this week had a woman or lover as the focal point to the narrative, and showed how this could influence art. One particular poem, however, took the idea of women being a muse of sorts, and combined that with the need for artistic freedom and the depiction of more than just the bare bones of life, Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning. The way that Browning has Lippo speak about art, and his paintings, as a gift that allows humanity to experience “… things we have passed/ Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see; / And so they are better, painted — better to us,” (301 – 303). We are sometimes blind to those things that are right in front of our faces until an outside opinion comes to open our eyes, and this can be well done through art or any sort of artistic expression. Browning mentions something of a similar sort in another poem of his, Andrea del Sarto. The character Andrea is lamenting over how his wife has affected his art and the lack of work he has due to her wishing him back from Rome, but he still feels that art is an expression of humanity and that within it that the an artist as “Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see, / Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, / Above and through his art — for it gives way,” (108 – 110). 

Many artists will attribute a muse to being their reason for crafting certain pieces of artwork, writing poems, or composing music. Oftentimes that muse is seen as a woman to whom they have fallen in love with, or a person who happens to strike a particular chord in a person’s creativity. In the poem A Musical Instrument by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, we see the god Pan creating his iconic flute from the reeds. “He tore out a reed, the great god Pan, / From the deep cool bed of the river,” (7 – 8) may seem to only mean that Pan is procuring reeds to construct his flute, but he really is taking this particular reed in so that he could have the woman who tried to flee him, Syrinx. Syrinx is said to have been turned into a reed upon that river, thus the reason that Pan constructed a flute and named it after his apparent love. We can also look at Christina G. Rossetti’s poem, In An Artist’s Studio, to see a woman’s influence on art in our poetic selection. “One face looks out from all his canvasses, / One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans,” (1 – 2) shows the readers that this man has used the same woman in the majority of his portraits, to the point of obsession. She has become his muse, despite their relationship ending in a very negative way. 

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2 responses to “Women, and How They Can Really Mess With Your Art

  1. Yes, the theme of the woman as a muse and the cost is really key in this week’s poems. It’s almost impossible to get away from the theme of gender in Victorian poetry. Excellent start, Jessi!

  2. I think the connection you made with each of these poems is very interesting, especially considering that this theme of using an idealization of a woman as motivation is still something that is prevalent in art. Even though the artists used these women as their muse, I almost felt as though the artists were taking advantage of them in some way; either by some form of destruction or by only creating an idealized version of the women.

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