Where creativity and madness meet
Emile Zola’s powerful novel The Masterpiece is one that strikes me to my very core. As an award winning author and editor, I strive to deliver the best manuscripts to my publishers and will accept any form of criticism necessary to ensure sellable work. Yet, I refuse to allow my creative gift and the underlying passion to completely consume me. How many times have people given up everything for the sake of their art?
Claude, the main character of The Masterpiece, does exactly that. His obsession with painting the perfect female leads him down a path of blind fury, disdain for his wife Christine, and total blindness towards his sickly son Jacques. His love for women, naïve and somewhat twisted, reflects the fact that he is in love with the “perfect” woman, one that is impossible to paint and even more impossible to conceive. When he first meets Christine on the steps leading to his studio, she is a pale and sickly. He later discovers her to be a budding beauty not yet sullied by the ways of the world. He becomes obsessed with her form and figure, ultimately treating her as only bits and pieces of a body. Yet, even she does not compare to his ideal woman, for Christine eventually changes as she matures and bears their child while living in the poverty created by her ever absent husband.
Claude, like his fellow Bohemian friends, is driven by his obsession to be creative. It will kill them in the end, but they feel it is a death worth having. They will die doing what they truly love and yet hate at the same time. For as his closest friend Sandoz tells him, his life is nothing more than endlessly perfecting his art of writing all the while realizing that it will never be perfect. And yet, it is his life. While some of Claude’s friends turn their creativity into employment where all the passion is squeezed out, he continues down his maddening path of perfecting his woman in his never perfect painting of Paris. She must be perfect, no matter the cost. And, what is that cost? Is the price truly worth the “gift” of being creative and showing to the world what lies within the not-so-normal brain?
Art for art’s sake; that’s how the saying goes. And yet, it is more than that. Art for Life’s sake. Art for Sanity’s sake. Art for Not Dying’s sake. For Claude, it is for Woman’s sake, a woman that will never be his and will never appreciate him as an artist, lover, and husband. She will only be his Muse, taunting him from behind the curtains, revealing only a little bit of pure white flesh or a pink nipple to lure him and keep him guessing until the bitter end. She will love him from afar, always barely out of his reach for that is what she does. The Muse is here to play, taunt, tease, and keep the creative beings burning with passion of their gift, and they will always love her for it. I know I do.