Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Stand Idol or Be Moved to Create

Burne-Jones and favorite photo

I've wanted to start this post for a while but never knew quite how to begin it.  See...I want to explain to you a particular and personal reason why I am passionate about Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.  Of course it is obvious that I might find them fascinating for the incredible art that they created both together and separately.  And of course it is also obvious that I could love them for their romantic natures and love of imagination and wonder.  But I want to talk about another, less obvious and very dear reason why they are so important to me.

They were fans.

When Morris and Burne-Jones met, they were both rapidly smitten with the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  This fact is often mentioned in biographies of William Morris (Topsy) and Edward Burne-Jones (Ned), but let's take a moment to really let this sink in.  With the distance of time, it's easy to simply call Ned and Topsy the 'second generation' of the Brotherhood.  But in their youth, they idolized the original members of the Brotherhood and practically worshiped them as mentors of beauty and imagination and art.  Edward Burne-Jones is described as having gone to lectures and waited for hours in crowded halls just to catch a glimpse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  And when he was later invited to tour Rossetti's studio, he awkwardly outwore his welcome, staying and watching Rossetti paint for a long time and only later finding out that Gabriel absolutely hated it when people did that.  But despite an awkward beginning, Ned and Topsy soon began hanging out with Gabriel more often.  They were invited to assist in the painting of the Oxford Union library murals.  And Gabriel convinced them both to not only admire the Brotherhood, but to create their own art, abandoning their previous ecclesiastical career goals.

Portrait of Rossetti in youth by Hunt
 So why does this story make me love them so very much?  Because I too have a circle of artists and creative minds that I adore.  In this modern day there is also a group of magic makers that both intimidate and inspire me.  In my mind, these artists and authors and crafters and merrymakers are direct creative descendents from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  They call their work Mythic or Interstitial arts, and it carries on the tradition of Burne-Jones and Arthur Rackham, of Walter Crane and Alphonse Mucha, of William Morris and J.R.R. Tolkien.

And their names are Terri Windling.  Rima Staines.  Brian and Wendy and Toby Froud.  Charles de Lint.  Theodora Goss.  Alan Lee and Virginia Lee.  These names are only a few of many more who awe and inspire me daily with the immense artistic and imaginative font from which they draw and share with the world.

Art by Brian Froud

Art by Virginia Lee, draft version of the cover of a new edition of Theodora Goss' short story collection.

Art by Terri Windling

Art by Alan Lee
Art by Rima Staines
And like Burne-Jones, I find myself eager to stand around for hours to listen to them talk in crowded lecture halls (or convention panels, as the modern case may be).  I also, like he did, have a tendency to put them on pedestals of hero worship.  These are the names of the people who molded and shaped my inner landscape in the salad days of my pre-teen and teen years.  Their art infused my dreamscape, and their stories influenced the birth of my beliefs in magic and wonder.

Ned and Topsy got their chance to meet their hero, Rossetti.  And as is sometimes the case, they discovered their god had feet of clay.  This lesson was especially harsh for William Morris, who fell utterly in love with Jane Burden (Morris), and later would have Rossetti and his wife engage in a torrid affair.  Ned and Topsy had to discover the reality that the chivalrous and knightly romantic hero they imagined Rossetti to be was only partially a reality.  The man could create miraculous works of art, seeming to be directly inspired by the muse of aesthetic beauty.  But ultimately he was a man, with flaws and personality quirks (and a love for blue and white china and claret).  My own artistic heroes have become more real as of late to me as well.  Through the miracle of the internet, their lives are revealed to me through blogs, Tweets, and Facebook conversations.  And I'm happy to say that I've become friends with a few of them, and amicable acquaintances with others.  Slowly, I am discovering and realizing that these people, although the work they create may be deeply infused with the power of magic, are people too, with good days and bad days, dirty dishes and laundry to do.

An unflattering Burne-Jones cartoon of Rossetti carrying pillows for Jane Morris

 And not only does this realization make me feel like it's possible to relate to them, but it also makes me see that my dream to become one of the new generation of Interstitial artists is not an unreachable goal.  William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, as I mentioned, were swayed by Rossetti from their career goals in the clergy to become artists instead.  Edward Burne-Jones chose to pursue art, while William Morris was to pursue architecture.  Topsy, however, soon discovered that he had not the patience for blueprints and building plans.  Slowly over time, he discovered where his massive and formidable talents and achievements would lie, in the decorative arts, in writing, and in a myriad of other areas.  Burne-Jones never swayed from his new goal of becoming a fine artist, but over time his style became less and less a mirror of Rossetti's as he found his own voice and a way to display his own inner landscape.

An early Burne-Jones painting, The Blessed Damozel, at left, is very easy to mistake for a Rossetti painting.  The Beguiling of Merlin, completed seventeen years later, is unmistakeably Burne-Jones' own style.

And so all of us who have loved, admired, and been influenced by the creative minds in the Mythic Arts need to find our own voices, our own talents, and our own way to express the world we have inside our imaginations.  The choice is ultimately we allow our hero worship to intimidate us from creating, or do we allow them to motivate us to do our personal best?  Do we stand 'idol' or let these people move us to create?


Charlotte said...

What a lovely post, like you I adore William Morris. The Brotherhood were the subject of my dissertation at University. The more I read of Morris and his incredible achievements the more of a fan I became.

Then I reached your list of artists and had to smile, the role of honour being almost identical to my own choices.

I think that we can share in ideas with the artist, as we are now able to do, is a privilege and inspiration. Art improves and thinking processes are sharpened.
Thank you for your thoughtful sharing.

Stace said...

Having just met one of my own particular idols (Peter S. Beagle) I appreciate this post entirely!

Anonymous said...

i wandered in by way of Terri's blog and i'm so glad i did!

this is a wonderful, wonderful post -- it's too early in my morning for me to be terribly articulate regarding what it brings up for me -- but suffice it to say, the ideas you write of are near and dear to my heart.


janeyolen said...

Wonderful post, but think of things from the other side. It is difficult for the beloved object to breathe when you stand too close. You may be seen as the cat on the baby's chest. A succubi. An energy vampire. Gushing takes a toll.

I once said to friends that if I ever met Ursula Le Guin I would kiss the hem of her garment.

And then I did meet her and confessed that to her and she laughed and said, "Good God, don't" and invited me to sit down and have breakfast and we just talked like ordinary (well, in her case extraordinary) new friends.

Jane Yolen

Verity said...

Yes! All the good things are connected.

Wayward Harper said...

Goodness Grace what a great post! I feel just the way you do, about the same artists too so it's so lovely to know I'm not the only one :)
I hope I never become a gushing fan like Jane describes (who can most definitely be added to that list!) but it is a lovely but strange thing that we can now these days through blogs and such reach across the world and actually connect with these people whose work we admire. It's a great inspiration and I can only hope that one day my own work might inspire others as well :) fingers crossed! xx

Lynn said...

What a beautiful post! I also made my way here from Terri's blog.

It is quite amazing that so many incredible artists are generous enough to share their time and thoughts on the internet, allowing for discussion and inspiration and cross-polination, which is, I believe, in large part responsible for the swell and growth and vitality of the mythic arts movement / community today.

Love the images you've chosen as well!

Shveta Thakrar said...

Grace, what a post! I love this. Yes, we're all ultimately fans, and yes to finding our own voices and places in the bigger picture. Yes!

Leila said...

I also wandered here by way of Terri's blog! Beautiful post! It sings so true to my heart also. Your list of people are also on my own list! I have met many of my idols (some not on your list) and have only been truly disappointed once. And as I read Jane's post about the gushing fan I now realize why my disappointment was bound to occur!
Thank you for the wonderful post!

rich layers said...

Lovely, lovely thoughts, words, and paintings. I'm so glad you found your way into expressing this. It makes me feel creative, certainly!

Jenni_Nolan said...

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Mo Crow said...

clink! a toast to you and all this wonderful mythical magical circle of artists and poets, may we all make our dreams come alive in whatever way they want to be!

Grace said...

Hello everyone and thank you for the wonderful comments! First I wanted to make sure it was clear that my extremely partial list included in the blog was by no means meant to be exhaustive of all the phenomenal people who inspire me in the mythic arts. I mean, Jane Yolen, Ellen Datlow, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, Catherynne Valente, Charles Vess...the list could go on and on.

I used to be quite passionate about costuming (and still make my own sometimes), and I remember an experience similar to what you mentioned, Jane, where I got a chance, several years ago, to meet a costumer I considered to be iconic. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to meet her, but I was, as you put it, a gushing fan, and I could tell she was feeling smothered.

Thankfully, a year or so later, I was able to re-introduce myself to her online, and this time I avoided the effusiveness and approached her with respect and friendliness. We are good friends today and I look back on that first interaction and chuckle.

That was my first experience with realizing firsthand that the people I consider role models just want to be treated like human beings. There are better ways to express to them how huge an impact they've had on your life than running up to them and smothering them with adoration. For going on to express my OWN unique vision, molded in part by their creations, and making it clear through acknowledgement that they were a huge inspiration to me and what I might create.

Angela Bell said...

Great post,really enjoyed reading itand looking at the lovely images.I love William Morris .

Amy said...

I think one of the blessings of getting older is realizing that my idols are human. As a teen and young adult I would sometimes be so obsessed with a musician or artist (or more accurately the image of that person) that it was almost painful. Not to say I haven't had (and will have) my awkward fan moments, but being able to step back and gain perspective has really helped. I actually credit the poet Anne Waldman for this change. I went to a reading of hers in Philly and as I came up to get my book signed she exclaimed, "I love your boots!", to which I answered, "I love your scarf!" It was that ice breaker that made me change how I approach people I admire and respect. I'll add that the internet has made this a lot easier too, though I confess to squee-ing when Emma Bull replied to a comment I made on her LJ. My inner 16 year old made me do it.

Frances Bevan said...

Your post has struck a chord with me as with your other fans. Thank you.

Valerie Meachum said...

So, so immensely well said. Thank you. <3

Brittany said...

Oh Grace... I got tears in my eyes as I read this, I know precisely *precisely* what you mean. Meeting some of these people at conventions has been terrifying and wonderful at the same time - I'm a shy person generally and I think that both helps me (I relate to how they might be feeling) and hurts me (but I'm so nervous and overwhelmed with joy!) in these meetings. Therefore, the Internet has helped me a lot to make connections with these people I admire so much.

Thank you so much for sharing this. I too hope more than anything to be a part of the next generation of Mythic artists and for their work to inspire my own.

P.S. You know that some people, like me for example, consider *you* one of those people to aspire to be like, right? :).

Grace said...

You guys, all of these responses inspire and move me! Thank you so much.

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