Yoko Ono was it for John Lennon, Gala was it for the surrealist painter Salvador Dali and museum and music owe their name to it: the muse. After the original Greek definition, a muse was a goddess, a mediator to touch the divine, who inspired the artists. But nowadays it seems that the muse is not only something different than it used to be, there also seem to be fewer than before. Who are the modern muses? Are there still muses like Lou Andreas-Salomé who inspired great minds, like the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the founder of psychology Sigmund Freud?
Most likely, the most eminent temporary muse is Baptiste Giabiconi, the former mechanic, who was the top male model of the world until recently, according to models.com. The beneficiary of his beauty, designer Karl Lagerfeld, who frequently initiates the apotheosis of models, commented in a German newspaper on the feeling that Baptiste arouses in him: “It is abstract, an aesthetical feeling. Almost the same as when you look at a painting in a museum. Baptiste has something unique, freely based on Jean Cocteau, a supernatural sex of beauty.”
You might get the impression that the modern muse conveys her divines through direct “supernatural sex” with the artist, as soon as you see the licentious nude pictures of Baptiste taken by Mr. Lagerfeld. But Karl Lagerfeld insists that a muse has never physically kissed him, neither does he care whether they are female or male. Although the Indian designer Rohit Bal is known to have handsome, young boys as boyfriends, he says: “None of them were my muses. The relation between the artist and the muse is mostly platonic. My muse has always been Arjun Rampal. He is my muse since I have seen him become, like a piece of art itself.”
It is quite common that beautiful people like models and actors are muses to fashion designers, musicians and painters. So, is maybe the model the new muse? Recently the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the exhibition “The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion”. Yet, at least in the ancient definition, the muse did not inspire emulation but creation. Therefore the model is predominantly a muse for a designer and not for every woman, taking her as an example for how to carry of garments.
Designer Narendra Kumar, who named John Abraham and models Aquin and Asif as his muses, was quoted saying: “They are my muses because of the way they carry clothes. They each have an individual style that works for me. They are the kind of men we design for.” But are they real muses to him, or rather the ideal wearer for his cloths? According to this context they are at least far away from the divine.
On the other hand, many Indian fashion designers claim actors to be their muses and send them frequently down the ramp as showstoppers. “Many designers just take any actor they are acquainted with and call them their muses – only to get attention. Then they change them like underwear. They have nothing to do with real muses,” says Rohit Bal who stayed loyal to his muse Arjun Rampal for decades. Indeed, it is dubitable whether the relations between most muses and artist are really that intense.
Perhaps this is not the only reason for the recession of the antique muse. Maybe it is the female emancipated view against objectification, the decline in originality or the individualistic society, where people do not want to be reduced to someone else’s implement? “The new sources of inspiration are often drugs and alcohol”, muses Rohit Bal.
Maybe the modern definition of a muse should be adjusted: a physical beauty, not necessarily mentally beauteous; mostly platonic, but, if convenient, slightly more (never officially though); predominantly human, but possible chemical or liquid; inspiring, and, if that does not work out, just copyable; profoundly connected to the artists, or at least acquainted. “O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!”, wrote Dante, but maybe it is the antique muse who exclaims it today.