Longform You Have to Read: Lives of the Muses

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In a world where you have more options for satisfying longform reading than ever, your friends here at Flavorwire are taking the time once a week to highlight some of the best that journalism and longform has to offer. Whether they’re unified by topic, publication, writer, being classic pieces of work, or just by a general feeling, these articles all have one thing in common: they’re essential reading. This week, we’re looking at the tangled lines of inspiration and sex in the stories behind some of art’s greatest muses.

The muse! Most often a woman, most often objectified and lacking a voice, only serving as the inspiration for some man’s greatest art. There’s been a plethora of fascinating articles online lately wrestling with some of these very topics, and we wanted to highlight some of our favorites.

Yoko Ono and Her Sixteen-Track Voice,” by Jonathan Cott, Rolling Stone, March 1971

Sometimes I worry that we’ll never get the dishy Yoko Ono tell-all of my dreams, but at least there are vintage articles about Ono’s life with John Lennon and how their love affair affected each other’s art. Ono: “I was dying to scream, to go back to my voice. And I came to a point where I believed that the idea of avant-garde purity was just as stifling as just doing a rock beat over and over.”

Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” by David Sheff, Playboy, January 1981

Ten years later, John and Yoko sat down for a refreshingly frank Q&A with Playboy about their experience with The Beatles and the world’s possessiveness of Lennon. It’s perhaps best summed up with this vintage Lennon rant: “Anybody who claims to have some interest in me as an individual artist or even as part of The Beatles has absolutely misunderstood everything I ever said if they can’t see why I’m with Yoko… Let them go jack off to Mick Jagger, OK?”

“Archival Mix: The Story of Lee Miller, Part One/Two/Three,” by Alexis Coe, The Toast, June – October 2014

This excellent series by Coe, the author of the recent Alice + Freda Forever, starts with this anecdote from the art museum, at an exhibit on surrealism, photographer Man Ray, and Lee Miller: “‘Who’s Lee Miller?’ a man next to me asked. ‘I guess it was his muse,’ shrugged a female companion.” Coe goes on to answer that question, tracing Miller’s life from Man Ray muse, model, and inspiration, to badass war photographer who washed herself clean in Hitler’s bathtub. Essential reading.

The Big-Eyed Children: The Extraordinary Story of an Epic Art Fraud,” by Jon Ronson, The Guardian, October 2014

This story is nuts. Walter Keane was known for his paintings of children with “big eyes,” looking sad and sorrowful. But it turned out, he wasn’t the real artist behind these paintings — it was his wife, Margaret. Writer Ronson got Margaret to sit down for a rare interview, where she talked about the fraud, and the real story behind the paintings and who should get credit for the work, which is due to be immortalized in Tim Burton’s upcoming film Big Eyes.

Molly Crabapple’s 15 Rules For Creative Success in the Internet Age,” by Molly Crabapple, Boing Boing, November 2014

Lastly, let’s end this by showcasing a woman who should be your inspiration: writer and artist Molly Crabapple. She has some excellent advice for how to be a creative person in this day and age. It’s all quotable, but ultimately: “Be massively idealistic about your art, dream big, open your heart and let the blood pour forth. Be utterly cynical about the business around your art.”