When Muse Becomes Maker

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Earlier this month, Diana and I saw Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new novel, City of Girls in Brooklyn.

One of the things I love most about Liz is the way she owns her creativity- her relationship to it and her journey with it. From her SuperSoul talks, to Big Magic, she discusses and owns being an artist with such deep conviction and prowess. It’s electrifying.

When I was in college, I remember doing a design project where we had to create the album art for a fake music group. My class partner, Jason Harris and I dove right into the assignment with flavor and gusto. The album art was all black and white photos with a drop of red- we were going for a kind of Gwen Stefani meets Jay-Z look. To present the project, Jason and I dressed in the themed colors of our assignment. I wore a black satin gown with a white button down shirt, my platinum blonde hair illuminated and I splashed on a burst of red lipstick. Jason wore a black suit with black Timberland boots, a gold chain, and a red tie.

Sitting in our design lab in Buffalo we looked more like we were on our way to the VMAs than to a class, but I’ve never been one to go small. The theme swept us away.

Photo image from our group project "The Felonz" by Jason Harris and I. Photo by my brother Tyler.

Photo image from our group project "The Felonz" by Jason Harris and I. Photo by my brother Tyler.

I remember this day, not because of our fashion choices but because my professor called me an artist in front of the class. He said it with clarity and certainly, and I felt naked when he used the word. In fact I felt worse than naked, I felt shame. Like I was given something I didn’t deserve.

Until last night I never really knew why this bothered me so much. Watching Liz Gilbert claim her artistry and her divine relationship to the creative wasn’t just engaging, it was downright powerful because we are taught culturally that women are muses, not artists. We are put in boxes, we don’t build them. We are supporting roles, not heros.

But Liz reminded me of the feminist power of owning your craft, and being a creative.

We aren’t just here to please, but we are here to pleasure ourselves. In fact her new novel City of Girls centers around just that. A gaggle of showgirls in the 1940’s explore sexuality, identity, and friendship in old New York. Liz read us a chapter about the main character losing her virginity and it was smart, funny, and downright delightful. I can’t wait to read more.

Although I’ll be devouring this book in between Ginny’s nap times, the example Liz sets for me and the rest of the audience about owning your work, and being an artist is one I’ll hold with me for the rest of my life.

It’s one of the most powerful lessons a girl can learn- that she isn’t just a muse for creativity, she is the energy source of it. And historically, the world doesn’t want you to know that. Keeping women quiet and hiding their gifts as been a tactic of the patriarchy for centuries. But in order for us to grow, to be true to ourselves, and go within to create incredible work we need to own that. These titles and words that have been owned by men are ours to reclaim.

And I’m starting with artist.


Written by Erin Bagwell
Copy edited by Diana Matthews

Erin BagwellComment