My time with the muse was brief and strange. In this work, there is an artist dressed as a mythical creature--a half-white/half-black bodysuit with a matching mask that covered almost his entire head. He sits in a tent with a small altar in front of him with various musical instruments set out for visitors to play. As long as there is music, the muse will paint expressively. Surrounding his half of the tent are several surfaces, some already marked up heavily from the day before. This is an exercise in collaboration between the artist and his visitors, and a test of his endurance as well, since his tent is open for ten hours a day.
When I arrived early in the evening, no one else was there. The muse knelt behind his altar wearing a cloak. I looked at the available instruments: an acoustic guitar, a herald’s trumpet, a plastic accordion, a shaker, and a tambourine. Slim pickings, for sure, especially since the guitar only had two non-consecutive strings. This is the type of show where you need to move outside your comfort zone, especially if you’re one on one with the artist.
I picked up the tambourine and started to shake it. The muse slowly dropped his cloak. I had a straightforward beat going, which quickly bored me and also made me question my own rhythmic creativity. I paused, briefly, to reconsider picking up the guitar, but it was cold and I didn’t want to risk breaking one of the two remaining strings. The muse started to draw his cloak back on. His barker reminded me that he wouldn’t paint without music, so I started shaking the tambourine again. Luckily I was soon bailed out of my solo performance by a young man who brought his own mandolin.
Once the music got going, the muse started to mix paints in his jars and excitedly work on the canvas. The art is abstract with a balance of choppy strokes and gliding lines. Some figures do emerge, but based on the length of time this show will run, it is inevitable that the end result will have some layers lost under new work.
While I can’t say that what ended up on the canvas had anything to do with the way we played or the tempo, it would be hard to objectively call the music we were making inspiring. It was lighthearted work between strangers, and no doubt larger groups or better musicians than myself will unwind some more memorable passages from the muse’s brush.
Up and down St. Claude Avenue the panhandlers are out in force. I was forced to reflect on this after I left the muse. Why was I lying to them about the change in my pocket when I had I so readily handed over a dollar for the chance to watch a stranger in a mask paint strange designs? The muse needs music, or else he won't play. But how much context or backstory do I need before I'll pay?
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