I loved watching the current documentary on Leonard Cohen and Marianne for all the reasons it is easy to love a sun-drenched Greek island, blue Aegean Sea, artistic life of writing and drinking wine and making love, and imagine yourself in that setting. Marianne was blonde and tanned and oh so young; he was dark and bronzed and oh so handsome. He had a little trust fund, and a simple life on Hydra could be had cheaply.
There are the Leonard Cohen songs, of course. His songs, whether he sang them or they were covered by someone else, were the soundtrack to our teens, our twenties, our times of angst and young love, when the lyrics seemed meant intimately for you. That was his great secret; this dark, brooding artist sang directly to you.
Which, of course, was untrue.
It is hard work, being a Muse. It’s the role women were elevated to or relegated to. Women were seldom full-blown artists in their own right, but we could cook dinner, and pour the wine, and comfort the man after his frustrating day of broken attempts at the poem, the song’s lost arc, the hashed stroke of the brush. Muses warmed his bed and his coffee and were rewarded by deep gazes into their eyes, and poems about hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm. And muses were not for keeps. An inordinate number of anguished love songs are about saying good-by.
Muse-making is a seductive business. It feeds into some deep desire, to comfort, to nurture, to inspire – and I think it is a worthy occupation, if shared – if the Muse is also an Artist, whatever her art. If he brings her breakfast in bed.
It’s an undesirable role, unless on one’s own terms. The Muse might hold the overcoat, or the brief case, while fans and audience members cluster about him, after the event. The Muse’s role might be to field phone calls, or make excuses, or talk about Him – not yourself – as if you are merely the placeholder, the intermediary, invisible, really. The Muse may not be amused at all, but indignant. Whoops, does this being to sound personal?
I admire Georgia O’Keeffe. Alfred Stieglitz showed her early artwork in his influential New York gallery, but also exhibited—without her prior knowledge—some of his hundreds of photos of Georgia, luminescent nudes, the curves of her body, the elongated strength of her hands.
Clothed, O’Keeffe preferred black and white, clothing that covered instead of draped; her face without makeup and her hair pulled back. The lines on her face deepened with her character and reputation. She married Stieglitz, they lived apart; she painted her New York pictures, her southwest bleached bones and landscapes, her giant flowers with pistol and stamens.
Now, I think, we venerate Georgia O’Keeffe, her paintings over six decades, and remember only as side-bar her discoverer, her husband.
How delightful that this next generation, our children, finds joy in the artwork of partnership. Either one can carry or hold the briefcase. Both can sing the songs. And it’s so long, Marianne…