August 24, 2009

The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose

BOOK #: 66
REASONS READ: 999 Challenge, New Authors Challenge
PUBLISHER: Perennial
GENRE: Nonfiction, Biography, Arts

Summary on the back of the book:
In a brilliant, wry, and provocatiive book, National Book Award finalist Francine Prose explores the complex relationship between the artist and his muse. In doing so, she illuminates with great sensitivity and intelligence the elusive emotional wellsprings of the creative process.

"The desire to explain the mystery of inspiration, to determine who or what is the 'moving cause' of art, resembles the impulse to find out a magician's secret. It's a childish, suspect desire, we fear the truth will spoil the fun. Doesn't the mystery add to our delight?"

This was an entertaining and interesting read. I learned quite a bit. Like that Gala Dali was abusive towards her husband, Salvador, and that Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice in Wonderland came from adventures that Alice Liddell had experienced as a child. And, of course, I enjoyed learning more about the impact Yoko Ono had on John Lennon as an artist. I am a Lennon fan. :)

Francine Prose writes beautifully and I was wrapped up in each different story as the relationship between the artist and the muse was explained. It never seemed like textbook reading nor did it read like a tabloid full of "the juicy details." I was impressed by the mixture of intelligence, wit, and class with which she revealed critical insights on the creative processes of the artists. It was classy without being dry. It was spicy without being risque. It was just very entertaining writing for the subject matter.

The artists that are included in the book are: Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Dante Rossetti, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Edward Weston, George Balanchine, and John Lennon.

Other Reviews:
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  1. I would love this!!! I've read about some of these before, but wouldn't mind reading another take. It's too bad the author didn't include Picasso but I guess he had too many muses! :--) How romantic to inspire someone's great work!

  2. Sigmund Freud an artist? How? I'd be interested in knowing who his muse was, though. The rest sound interesting. I'll add this to my list of books to look out for!

  3. Valerie: I was thinking exactly the same thing. Freud was an artist?!

    You could have done this book for the Art History challenge, Rebecca. :)

    How was Gala abusive to Dali? And who would abuse poor Dali? :( I would think if she was abusive to anyone, it would have been Paul Eluard.

  4. I've had this one of my shelf for a bit but have never gotten around to it. I'll have to move it up now -- thanks for the great review!

  5. rhapsody: It's really very interesting.

    Valerie& heidenkind: Lou Andreas-Salome was the muse for Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud. Basically she was inspiration for new ideas, which of course, at the time, was taboo. She was their lover and even inspired Nietzsche to greet her with "what must be the most dramatic pickup line in the history of the muses: 'from what star have we fallen together here?" Shivers, right?

    heidenkind: I thought of that but since I said I was going to do Asian art I decided to go ahead and finish the book and write up the review. :)

    Tammy: Thanks! It was interesting to read about how one muse inspired multiple people, too.


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