There is a sarcophagus in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, created in the 3rd century AD, which depicts an Olympic war: the nine muses, protective deities of writers and thinkers, raised by the gods against the half-human, half-bird sirens best known for attempting to lure Homer’s Odysseus to his death with their seductive song. In the myth, the contest between mermaids and muses began as an artistry, but was enshrined in art as the battle becomes rather literal: the muses whip and stare aside the mermaids, and pluck their feathers and turned to style them.
In Antonia Angress‘, the themes of muses and siren songs are played out for four people at Wrynn, an elite art college: three students – the wealthy and prodigal Karina, the anarchic Preston and the shy Louisa (a painter of birds and women) – find themselves entangled in a triangle of love and artistic jealousy, while Richard, a teacher and once lauded artist, clashes with Preston on where and where political art belongs. The book sees the four characters leave campus for New York and, set at the start of the Occupy movement, grapple with issues of art and business. There’s art theft (of all kinds), art pranks, good art, and art that reminded me of a line by Jemima Kirke from Lena Dunham’s 2010 web series, Delusional Downtown Divas “It’s a mixture of cocaine and digestives, mounted on wood.