MSB brainstorming

15 May 2017

Dr Great Art, Episode 13: "The Nine Arts and the Nine Muses"

Dr Great Art Episode 13: Nine Arts and Nine Muses
There are traditionally Nine Muses and Nine Arts, frequently linked to one another. This is my attempt to concoct a fresh, contemporary version of this system for no darn reason other than pure, cultural fun.


Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements while recording).

Dr Great Art Podcast Thirteen
"The Nine Arts and the Nine Muses "

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the thirteenth "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today we have a little arcane fun.
"The Nine Arts and the Nine Muses "

There are traditionally Nine Muses and Nine Arts, frequently linked to one another. My ex-Latin professor Dr Clemens Müller helped me with a weird idea I had, to concoct a fresh, contemporary version of this system for no darn reason other than pure, cultural fun.

In Greek mythology, the Muses are nine goddesses who personify fields of artistic endeavor. They are used in modern times to refer to inspiration, often with creators half-jokingly referring to their own personal artistic muse, as if they were a form of quirky guardian angel with endless numbers but unpredictable demands. In addition, the word amuse has its roots in their name.

The number of Muses began as three, quickly expanded to four and finally, still in ancient Greek times, to nine. The Muses were not assigned standardized divisions of poetry/song until late Hellenistic times. The assignments themselves were not completely hard and fast even then. Apparently, in the 19th century, that age of grand systemizing, various "duties" and forms of art were assigned to them, with which they are now identified, although there are several versions of the system.

Likewise, traditionally, there is a numbered list of the Arts. The number itself has varied widely, from five to nine, generally. Originally they were all versions of poetry and literature, with the addition of dance, comedy (theatre), tragedy, and usually history and astronomy. To the ancient Greeks, all forms of literature were forms of poetry, and therefore of music, as poetry was sung. Ricciotto Canudo, an Italian film theoretician living in France, claimed in 1911 that film was the sixth art. Later, Canudo renumbered his list, in the article Reflections on the Seventh Art, making film the seventh. Then, in 1964 Claude Beylie, (Beh-lee) a leading French film academic, said that comics were the ninth art, as Beylie felt that television was the eighth.

As I said above, the Muses, usually nine, were often assigned art forms, especially in the 19th century. This activity began to cross with that of numbering the arts to produce various strange and enchanting lists. One common one was the following:

Calliope was the muse of epic poetry. Clio was the muse of history. Erato was the muse of love poetry. Euterpe (Evterpeh) was the muse of music. Melpomene was the muse of tragedy. Polymnia was the muse of sacred poetry. Terpsichore was the muse of dance. Thalia was the muse of comedy. Urania was the muse of astronomy.

However, nowadays it is usually different — we see history and astronomy as sciences, so Clio and Urania have to get other jobs. Additionally, we see all poetry as one art form, so Calliope, Erato and Polymnia have overlapping functions. We also think theatre is one thing, not comedy and tragedy as separate, so Thalia and Melpomene have to work together.

Taking into account current divisions, utilizing Clemens' vast knowledge (he is also a scholar of ancient Greek), thus considering the meanings of the Greek names of the Muses, here is my list, for our Postmodern times:

Dr Great Art Version

The Nine Arts and Nine Muses

1) painting (including drawing and photography) — Polymnia
2) sculpture (including installation) — Clio
3) theatre — Melpomene
4) architecture — Urania
5) music — Euterpe
6) dance — Terpsichore
7) literature — Calliope
8) cinema ("moving images" in whatever technological format,
so also TV, video, etc.) — Erato
9) comics (now universally called the ninth art, the only really fixed
"number term" nowadays, and the most recent) — Thalia

Some notes:
Polymnia, all painting is somehow sacred, celebrates vision; her name means "many hymns," but is not exclusively sacred, it also means "many songs of praise," "many paeans," "many expressions of joy." That's painting to me. Drawing as an aspect of painting is clear, but also photography is, I believe, indeed photo-graph-y, i.e. "drawing with light," thus a form of painting.

Clio, sculpture was originally born of works of commemoration, seeking "monumental presence." A solid remembrance, related to Mneme, the unnamed precursor of the Muses, the Muse/goddess of memory. Clio's name is from the root meaning "recount" or "make famous".

Melpomene, theatre, because tragedy is clearly now the queen of drama. There is an enduring tradition of paintings of famous actresses posed as Melpomene.

Urania, architecture, ---" heavenly measure," mathematics embodied, is now more architecture than astronomy.

Euterpe, music, she keeps her original job, which was one of the few rather fixed points, and her name means rejoicing/singing well, singing with delight, to please well.

Terpsichore, dance, she too keeps her traditional assignment, and her name fits it well ("delight of dancing").

Calliope, literature, because literature, whose queen is nowadays the novel, was all born of epic poetry; "beautiful-voiced," "beautiful speaking."

Erato, film/cinema, well, you know --- love stories, eroticism, reigns in movies; even the fact that "eros" implies a more superficial form of love seems appropriate; one of her sites was a pilgrimage place for star-crossed lovers in ancient times; her name means something close to "lovely."

Thalia, (meaning “blooming,” "flourishing," the amused muse), comics/sequential art, because the term for comics in most languages (incl. comics, funnies, manga, etc.) is a form of "comic story" or "amusing art."

Of course, I must add, the numbering is not intended to be historical, moreso to relate to generally occurring or earlier such lists. The first seven arts on our list all "began" united, and furthermore united with religion and magic. "Ur-humans" painted themselves and their clothes and walls (painting), carried and wore masks and fetishes and props (sculpture), in a sacred space or shelter (architecture), while dancing to music which told stories (dance, music and literature), usually acted out (theatre) in order to worship (religion) and affect the natural or spiritual world (magic) and so on. They then slowly divided into constituent parts.

The last two are combinations. Cinema photograhs theatre, in a way. Comics is the mongrel child of literature and drawing. So both are painting mixed with another form. TV is only a technological variation on film, and not much of its own thing yet anyway. Computer (so-called digital) forms in the future are also only technical variations, not essential ones. If it moves it's cinema (or animation, a form of cinema borrowing heavily from comics). If it's still, it's a form of painting/photography/drawing. Yes, a piece of code in itself is almost math, but a piece of pigment in itself is dirt, not painting. Interactive is indeed a new dimension, but I suspect that is philosophically a widening of painting, if static, or cinema, if moving. It will usually also be sequential, yet multistranded, thus I would put it under Thalia.

That was "The Nine Arts and the Nine Muses"

Thanks for listening. That was podcast number 13. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations. most recent ones were on the image of Social work in Art History, "Kunstgeschichte in Schnelldurchlauf, Sozialarbeit in der Kunst," Self-Portraits by Artists from Prehistoric through Postmodern Times“, and the entire History of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today.

You can find or contact me at

book me at
or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagra

No comments: