|Burne-Jones and Morris...my favorite photo|
I've wanted to start this post for a while but never knew quite how to begin it. See...I want to explain to you a particular and personal reason why I am passionate about Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. Of course it is obvious that I might find them fascinating for the incredible art that they created both together and separately. And of course it is also obvious that I could love them for their romantic natures and love of imagination and wonder. But I want to talk about another, less obvious and very dear reason why they are so important to me.
They were fans.
When Morris and Burne-Jones met, they were both rapidly smitten with the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This fact is often mentioned in biographies of William Morris (Topsy) and Edward Burne-Jones (Ned), but let's take a moment to really let this sink in. With the distance of time, it's easy to simply call Ned and Topsy the 'second generation' of the Brotherhood. But in their youth, they idolized the original members of the Brotherhood and practically worshiped them as mentors of beauty and imagination and art. Edward Burne-Jones is described as having gone to lectures and waited for hours in crowded halls just to catch a glimpse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. And when he was later invited to tour Rossetti's studio, he awkwardly outwore his welcome, staying and watching Rossetti paint for a long time and only later finding out that Gabriel absolutely hated it when people did that. But despite an awkward beginning, Ned and Topsy soon began hanging out with Gabriel more often. They were invited to assist in the painting of the Oxford Union library murals. And Gabriel convinced them both to not only admire the Brotherhood, but to create their own art, abandoning their previous ecclesiastical career goals.
So why does this story make me love them so very much? Because I
too have a circle of artists and creative minds that I adore. In this
modern day there is also a group of magic makers that both intimidate
and inspire me. In my mind, these artists and
authors and crafters and merrymakers are direct creative descendents
from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They call their work Mythic or
Interstitial arts, and it carries on the tradition of Burne-Jones and
Arthur Rackham, of Walter Crane and Alphonse Mucha,
of William Morris and J.R.R. Tolkien.
|Portrait of Rossetti in youth by Hunt|
And their names are Terri Windling. Rima Staines. Brian and Wendy and Toby Froud. Charles de Lint. Theodora Goss. Alan Lee and Virginia Lee. These names are only a few of many more who awe and inspire me daily with the immense artistic and imaginative font from which they draw and share with the world.
|Art by Brian Froud|
|Art by Virginia Lee, draft version of the cover of a new edition of Theodora Goss' short story collection.|
|Art by Terri Windling|
|Art by Alan Lee|
And like Burne-Jones, I find myself eager to stand around for hours to listen to them talk in crowded lecture halls (or convention panels, as the modern case may be). I also, like he did, have a tendency to put them on pedestals of hero worship. These are the names of the people who molded and shaped my inner landscape in the salad days of my pre-teen and teen years. Their art infused my dreamscape, and their stories influenced the birth of my beliefs in magic and wonder.
Ned and Topsy got their chance to meet their hero, Rossetti. And as is sometimes the case, they discovered their god had feet of clay. This lesson was especially harsh for William Morris, who fell utterly in love with Jane Burden (Morris), and later would have Rossetti and his wife engage in a torrid affair. Ned and Topsy had to discover the reality that the chivalrous and knightly romantic hero they imagined Rossetti to be was only partially a reality. The man could create miraculous works of art, seeming to be directly inspired by the muse of aesthetic beauty. But ultimately he was a man, with flaws and personality quirks (and a love for blue and white china and claret). My own artistic heroes have become more real as of late to me as well. Through the miracle of the internet, their lives are revealed to me through blogs, Tweets, and Facebook conversations. And I'm happy to say that I've become friends with a few of them, and amicable acquaintances with others. Slowly, I am discovering and realizing that these people, although the work they create may be deeply infused with the power of magic, are people too, with good days and bad days, dirty dishes and laundry to do.
And not only does this realization make me feel like it's possible to relate to them, but it also makes me see that my dream to become one of the new generation of Interstitial artists is not an unreachable goal. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, as I mentioned, were swayed by Rossetti from their career goals in the clergy to become artists instead. Edward Burne-Jones chose to pursue art, while William Morris was to pursue architecture. Topsy, however, soon discovered that he had not the patience for blueprints and building plans. Slowly over time, he discovered where his massive and formidable talents and achievements would lie, in the decorative arts, in writing, and in a myriad of other areas. Burne-Jones never swayed from his new goal of becoming a fine artist, but over time his style became less and less a mirror of Rossetti's as he found his own voice and a way to display his own inner landscape.
|An unflattering Burne-Jones cartoon of Rossetti carrying pillows for Jane Morris|
|An early Burne-Jones painting, The Blessed Damozel, at left, is very easy to mistake for a Rossetti painting. The Beguiling of Merlin, completed seventeen years later, is unmistakeably Burne-Jones' own style.|
And so all of us who have loved, admired, and been influenced by the creative minds in the Mythic Arts need to find our own voices, our own talents, and our own way to express the world we have inside our imaginations. The choice is ultimately ours...do we allow our hero worship to intimidate us from creating, or do we allow them to motivate us to do our personal best? Do we stand 'idol' or let these people move us to create?