Legend Of Muse Istago

Istago did not like his new patron, Baron d’Lumiere, from the moment that he first saw him. He couldn’t explain it really. It was just an uncomfortable feeling that sent a wave of dread over him. Almost like when the weather was about to change. Istago knew the baron would be difficult to work with. He watched him stride into his studio with an unusual blend of confidence and complete distraction. The baron wanted to commission Istago to paint a mural for his new country lodge, and Istago needed the commission because he needed the coin to live, and so he said yes, against his better judgment.

“You can paint whatever you want,” the baron said, “but there is one condition. I want distraction. I want to fantasize when I look at art. I want to see a completely different world. I don’t want to see myself. I don’t want to see my surroundings. Does that make sense? My duties and pleasures encompass all of my hours, and so I want this artwork to not have anything to do with me—to be a place where I can escape completely.”

Istago was annoyed with how demanding the baron was and with the esoteric nature of the request. But he understood that his patron wanted to receive a specific feeling from the mural. Art could evoke many emotions and one’s patron should gain the emotions that he wished from his commission. After the baron left, Istago inspected the courtly lodge. The first thing that he noticed was the huge stark white wall, waiting to be filled. It reminded him of the walls in his childhood home, which remained desolately whitewashed and empty until one day he grabbed a box of charcoals and filled the wall with bright colors as high as his eight-year-old arms could reach. Istago smiled as he walked around the lodge and remembered what it had felt like to press those waxed charcoals hard against the flat wall. He didn’t paint that day. Instead, he contemplated several design ideas.

That night, Istago had an extremely vivid dream. At first, the images appeared to come from an unknown muse hovering at the edge of his consciousness. He saw bright colors and clear shapes and incredible visual manifestations of sound. Then, suddenly, he became the muse, floating in his bedchamber near the rafters looking down at himself and holding a watering can from which he sprinkled glittering confetti onto the closed eyes of his own head. He was in his body again, now at a costume ball across town where he could peer into the thoughts of each person. Most were thinking of food, their clothes, and who was standing with whom. In one mind, he saw soft, swaying clouds. He closed his eyes and hopped into the clouds. It felt as if he had landed in an unlikely medley of goose feathers, oversized silks, and fallen leaves. One leaf brushed against his arm as a kinetoscope descended before him. He felt peaceful, overwhelmed, excited, and ready to begin work.

Istago awoke early the next morning and quickly sketched the ideas from his dreams onto an old piece of canvas. As soon as he finished, he immediately rode to the lodge. Taking a piece of charcoal out of his bag, he was about to transfer the images on the canvas to the wall when the baron strolled in.

The baron picked up the canvas, frowned, and raised his brow. “This is nice,” he said as Istago waited for the disclaimer to end so that the baron could get to his point, “but I’m sorry, it’s not going to do. I told you that I don’t want to see any of my own life in art. This twisted mirror here is very artistic, but it reminds me of myself and my confusion of how other people see me. Can you come up with something else and show it to me tomorrow?”

For the next ten days, Istago brought the baron new sketches each day, trying to find something that would satisfy him—not only because he was his patron and needed the commission but also because he could tell that the baron would be a much happier person when the mural was complete. Istago’s sketches came from various points of inspiration: dreams, inner monologues, quiet reflection. He made housecalls on friends from the academy and spoke to old masters. “I’ve got a complicated task,” he told each one. “Do you have any suggestions?” He took these thoughts and made numerous lists of different ideas, created separate piles of art books of various periods on his supper table, even used placards to organize his thoughts. He turned to his favorite songs and even took afternoons with the local bards, handing himself over to the harmonies of sound to activate his imagination.

None of the sketches were directly based on anything real, and yet, for each one, the baron found something that had some direct significance to his life. Istago sketched a picture of an aboleth, and the baron saw a question of his spiritual beliefs. He sketched a pandemonious melting clock, and the baron saw his inability to balance time between duties and leisure with his family. “It’s amazing!” the baron told Istago. “I barely know you, and yet you keep drawing my life. That’s what I don’t want though.”

“Right.” Istago made a mental reminder to forward bills to the baron of all the supplies he had wasted. Was there a way to solve this problem? Could he have the freedom to create without really having complete liberty? The painting was for Baron d’Lumiere and the baron was supporting him, so he had a right to determine its context. And yet, as the artist, Istago was doing the actual creating; the work wouldn’t exist without him. Was his muse more important than the baron’s wishes, or were his wishes more important?

Such questions, along with the pile of discarded sketches in the kitchen corner, made Istago dizzy. Finally, he hit upon a solution. If there was nothing identifiable in the painting, the baron wouldn’t be able to relate anything back to his own life. It was pure genius. Istago thought about different objects and ideas surrounding him. With each image, he drew a tough sketch. Then he drew a second sketch contorting the image so much that nobody but himself would be able to tell what the first image was. After, he draw a picture incorporating all of these contorted images. This took all day.

Late that afternoon, while wading through a rabble of market wagons, Istago looked out his carriage window and glimpsed a boy in the grassy commons. The boy was sitting and drawing a picture. Perhaps the picture was of a tree or a friend. Maybe it was the whole commons? Perhaps it was a sketch of nothing but the manifestations of a young mind spilled upon paper for the first time. As Istago imagined such a picture, he suddenly felt as if he were the boy sitting and drawing a picture in the park and the boy was him, wading through a thick marketplace and glimpsing out of the carriage window. Amazing, he thought as he returned to the space and time in front of the cold, clanking carriage. A violent whistle of wind brought the leaves dancing near his carriage to the neighing of the horses. He leaned forward out of his window and looked at the sky. In that blue backdrop above, he saw what the mural would look like when it was complete. The market road cleared of wagons. He smiled and rode on.

Istago brought the baron the new sketch the next morning. The baron looked at it, then looked at him. Istago looked at him, then looked at it. This carried on until the clock chimed before he spoke. What was the baron thinking? “I like it. And it doesn’t remind me of myself,” he said. “But you know that in all this time we’ve spent together, Istago, I really feel like you are a part of my life. And this picture reminds me of you.”

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