The muse, that fickle mistress

Although not specifically LA-focused, I know that any artists out there will understand this sentiment about a man and his muse… Taken from the amazing blog, “Letters of Note,” this letter is from Nick Cave to MTV, on being nominated for Best Male Artist”:


21 Oct 96

To all those at MTV,

I would like to start by thanking you all for the support you have given me over recent years and I am both grateful and flattered by the nominations that I have received for Best Male Artist. The air play given to both the Kylie Minogue and P. J. Harvey duets from my latest album Murder Ballads has not gone unnoticed and has been greatly appreciated. So again my sincere thanks.

Having said that, I feel that it’s necessary for me to request that my nomination for best male artist be withdrawn and furthermore any awards or nominations for such awards that may arise in later years be presented to those who feel more comfortable with the competitive nature of these award ceremonies. I myself, do not. I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no-one.

My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.

She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves — in this case this means not subjecting her to the indignities of judgement and competition. My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race and if indeed she was, still I would not harness her to this tumbrel — this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes. My muse may spook! May bolt! May abandon me completely!

So once again, to the people at MTV, I appreciate the zeal and energy that was put behind my last record, I truly do and say thank you and again I say thank you but no…no thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Cave

Maybe I think of Los Angeles art when I read this because of the undeniable pressure on artists here to enter into these kinds of popularity contests. The market here is strong, but even stronger is the social and media pressure, the need for an artist to be endowed with schtick beyond substance. It has always been my contention that the worst thing that can happen to an artists’ work is success. Once the image-maker becomes renown, they become some kind of entomology specimen, labeled and pinned like a butterfly in its case. The authenticity and impulse behind their works becomes murky in the storm of descriptive critical texts and economic figures. They are compared, contrasted, sized-up and justified, the work is signed, sealed, packaged, and delivered on demand. It CAN be avoided, but most artists lose their voice through the process, making the same pieces over and over to maintain the fickle eye of collectors who in the end lose interest anyway because their interests have not been anticipated. The muse is a difficult mistress, if you take her for granted she just may dismiss you as disciple, because, after all, the muse is YOU, your authentic voice. The more you listen to the words of the marketplace, the more you create for the viewer rather than following your own intentionality, the further away from that voice you step, the quieter and more obscure your muse becomes.

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