By [His] Greed Enchanted

In one poem Robert Graves’ Pygmalion has his creation made human, not by pleading for Aphrodite’s kindness, but “by [his] greed enchanted.” But soon enough Galatea’s greed kicks in too, after all she’s now human as well. Her many wanna-be lovers; “…schools of eager connoisseurs beset / Her single person with perennial suit …” however, to Pygmalion’s dismay, the lovers will praise and use his creation for their desires  “…Of themes that crowned her own, not his repute.”

In another poem, I think, Graves has the statue patiently listening to the sculptor’s lengthy wish list for her and his pledges in response. She, with a sigh, she agrees to the terms, “Pygmalion, as you woke me from the stone, / So shall I you from bonds of sullen flesh./ Lovely I am, merciful I shall prove…” But later Graves drops –perhaps because of the sigh– that hesitant acquiescence, admitting by that erasure, perhaps from experience, knowledge of its deceit. Unlike with Ovid’s ‘happy’ ending, this poet’s artist’s pleadings now go unanswered. Will this Pygmalion, sadder but wiser, move on? You’d have had to asked Graves.

H.D., too, wrote of artist’s pleadings in her “Pygmalion.” She has him ask if he can use art as therapy? “[S]hall I let myself be broken / in my own heat, / or shall I cleft the rock as of old  /and break my own fire / with its surface?” He also asks if he’s talented or just lucky? “Have I made this / fire from myself, / or is this arrogance / is this fire a god / that seeks me in the dark ? The statue says no to the latter, it replies, “you are useless, / no marble can bind me, / no stone suggest.” The poet then has Pygmalion answer the former himself , “They have gone, / what agony can express my grief? / Each from his marble base / has stepped into the light / and my work is for naught.”

And so on to the drawing. The Art/Arbeit/Amour (art/work/love) characters are all here again, twice even. Once again they show the sadness, the silliness, the futility of an artist trying to link up art with either work or love. The trio are first in the allegorical sculpture, a menage a troi in stone, where a woman is being carved as “Amour” lifting her dress, equating love with sex. She, as well, promotes the artist’s fantasy of work equated with love–allow me a pun on Graves” “suit”–  by pushing “Arbeit’s” money-spurting sleeve toward the laboring “Art”-ist. Thank whom or whatever that I’m not a Freudian.

I repeat the threesome, in the flesh this time, as artist and models. Yes, I know they are nor really real or in the flesh –I don’t draw from life, —  they are just another set of my drawings of people from memory (or mirror) not from life. but I’ll assume that you’ve seen real people like them as you inhabit the same world I do, whether you perceive them as I do is another story. One is the annoyingly recurrent self-portrait and the other two are hired bodies who’ll pretend to be metaphors.

The word “model” has two meanings, here. An artists model is a real human and the artist used he or she to create something imaginary. A philosopher or scientist’s model is imaginary and either would use it to understand something real. Do these contrary, incompatible meanings render the word useless? Not exactly, as create and understand aren’t opposites, but close enough because the directions from real to imaginary and imaginary to real are.

Context is everything. The woman/model is no longer in a pose. She’s clocked out as the artist’s fantasy “Amour.” she’s turned time backwards She reclaimed herself from the artists possessing gaze, she’s not like H.D.’s nor Graves’ quickened statue and never was, except for the time of her posing and only then in the sad and silly artists mind. The suit, the model for “Arbeit” is still in character, still a metaphor, were he not we’d see his grinning face and other indications of lustful anticipation. Give him a minute and the couple will be out the door.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” ― Thomas Merton

If you say so, Tom. In this studio scene, himself alone is all that another “by greed enchanted” artist can find. All he loses is “Amour”  and “Arbeit.” He thought/felt if he could find himself in “Art,” he could find either, in both of them in it. He knows better now; art is art, nothing more. That’s good enough though, it has to be.

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