Created By: kenning on March 5, 2010

Muse Abuse

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Former titles: Portrait of the Artist as Emotional Vampire, Suffer For My Art, Artists Suck.

Updates and examples invited, and will be added on launching if this gets enough response to be tropable.

Muse Abuse occurs when artist exploit their real life and the people in it for the sake of their art, often to the serious detriment of the people around them and their relationships to other people in general. Related to The Muse, but more general - it's not just how the artist treats a particular other or others, but can spread through their entire life. Also, if really unlucky, they get alienated from themselves and their own experiences this way (see the example from Neil Gaiman, below).

May or may not involve serious breaking of confidences and trust, and always involves being at some emotional distance from Real Life, consciously or obliviously.

Generally Muse Abuse works as an inversion of the Pygmalion Plot in relation to people around the artist: Real Life gets turned into art, not the other way round, and it does not end happily, primarily because the artist, in the Muse Abuse case, relates better to the statue than the live version of the Galatea, whom they may neglect or actively ill-treat. (Not that the Pygmalion Plot always ends happily either, of course.)

The artist does not have to be any good at their art for this trope to apply, mind you: Muse Abuse is compatible with a lack of talent on the part of the person who sacrifices their real life and the people in it, as well as (potentially) their personal growth, for the sake of their art. (Obviously, people tend not to be any more mollified at discovering they've been exploited by the merely Giftedly Bad, or for the sake of a work So Bad, It's Horrible.)

The trope accordingly tends to come in two main types:

A) The (wannabe) artist is resorting to Muse Abuse due to lack of imagination and actual talent. For bonus points, the artist will also get frustrated and stuck if the Real Life people and situations they are exploiting fail to develop or take different directions than they had hoped.

B) The artist is genuinely talented, but just for that reason, compelled to treat everything and everyone as raw material for their art. Quite often, there will be some suggestion that this comes with the territory, and is necessary for the person to pursue their art, so there may be a side of Blessed with Suck or Cursed with Awesome.

Of course, artists in category A often imagine they belong in Category B, and Muse Abuse as Take That! to The Muse can occur in either of these categories - great artist are not above holding grudges.

This trope is not uncommon as a self-critical claim on the part of Real Life artists (writers, filmmakers, songwriters, etc. - Seen It a Million Times), though it often tends to have a ring of It's All About Me and Wangst. By extension, it is also very common, especially on the part of the Author Avatar, in fictions, often by the same authors.

Often (for extra irony) a source of True Art Is Angsty. May lead the artist (if self-aware) to Shoo the Dog, or Break His Heart to Save Him, at least if they want them to have a chance of a good life. Sometimes, of course, the would-be love object is Genre Savvy enough to spot them coming, put off by the potential for Muse Abuse, or just plain not interested. Or the artist, if unlucky in love, may turn to Muse Abuse of the unresponsive loved one, often with more or less subtle TakeThats and, not least, the implication that the "art" version of the loved one will be what people remember.

And, of course, some genres (blogging, confessional literature, the Roman Clef, satire) have this basically built in.



  • In Preacher, Amy tells Tulip about her failed relationship with an author who mined their pillow talk for information to use in creating his female characters. (His book also sucked, according to her, but that did not prevent it becoming a bestseller. For obvious reasons, this trope in general has potential to overlap with Writers Suck.)
    "Never date writers, honey. Writers Suck."
  • Both the artists in Neil Gaiman's "Calliope" (from The Sandman). Also a theme in some of Gaiman's non-graphic fiction works, and he has also spoken about the Real Life version of this. Specifically (from The Sandman Companion):
    "As for my take on Shakespeare, I'm basing a lot of it on what I personally find scary about being a storyteller. When something terrible is happening, 99 percent of you is feeling terrible, but 1 percent is standing off to the side - like a little cartoon devil on our shoulder - and saying, "I can use this. Let's see, I'm so upset that I'm actually crying. Are my eyes just tearing, or are they stinging? Yes, they're stinging, and I can feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. How do they feel? Hot. Good, what else?" That's the kind of disconnectedness I wanted to explore."
  • Ibriel, in Mike Carey's Lucifer series, is either an oblivious version or a very, very deluded one.
    • Meleos, from the same series, deals rather better with his Magnum Opus, the Basanos, as art than as the living, plotting, power-seeking creature it becomes. Lampshaded by the title character.


  • Leonard Cohen's The Favourite Game invokes this trope, complete with an in-universe Creator Breakdown when the lead character realizes what he's done to his muse.
  • Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked plays extensively with this trope, mainly through subversion of the idea of The Muse
  • Also from Hornby, a partial subversion: in High Fidelity the lead character and his record store colleagues crush on a woman singer-songwriter, discussing the hope that maybe if one of them got together with her, she'd write a song based on it.


  • The Beautiful South's "Song For Whoever" is written from the point of view of someone who does this for profit.
  • Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen both use this theme (in Cohen's case, also in novels)

Real Life

  • Ibsen apparently explicitly invoked this in his Real Life as well as his plays.
  • See also the Neil Gaiman example, above.
  • Howard Stern, according to himself, ruined his first marriage and a large number of his long-time friendships due to his mockery of them on his show.


Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • February 23, 2010
    I see Muse Abuse is empty; why not steal that title? It seems to fit. Or maybe Sacrificed My Life To Art? Art Is A Vampire? ...I'm not good at naming.
  • February 23, 2010
    Cause I'm a bit worried if it's to be an accurate title, it's going to be Art Is Muse Abuse, which lacks snappiness - and I'm hesitant about making it another "True Art Is..." title since it applies about as much to bad, lousy art...

    The main thing is whether people find this tropable in terms of examples, though.
  • February 23, 2010
    And on the Mike Carey Lucifer front, there's also Meleos....
  • February 23, 2010
    I think "Muse" implies art. Better yet, it's general. One defintion - Muse: the source of an artist's inspiration. If we are happy that's a common understanding, Muse Absue would covers it nicely.
  • February 24, 2010
    Muse Abuse is win, go with that.
  • February 24, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    • Howard Stern ruined his first marriage and a large number of his long-time friendships due to his mockery of them on his show.
  • February 24, 2010
    Will go with Muse Abuse - anyone want to add examples? (Description updated, also)
  • February 24, 2010
    Might want to mention a connection to Writers Suck.
  • February 24, 2010
    Re The second theatre example in the OP: Um, you know Chekovs Gun is a reference to Chekhovs Gun, named for Antov, right?
  • February 24, 2010
    Adjusted - I blame temporary Muse Failure...
  • February 25, 2010
    Happens in Sluggy Freelance, when Zoe lands a spot on a radio talk-show - starting out as a comic-relief side-character, she ends up basically taking it over, by regaling the listeners with the outrageous (and completely accurate) stories of her friend's misadventures. Which fails to amuse the rest of the main characters, who are somewhat annoyed that she openly mocks them on the air, with only the flimsiest cover-names in place, and ends up basically kicking her out of the house.
  • February 25, 2010
    The blabbing-on-people-as-art thing might be an entire Sub Trope of its own, come to think of it... (And of course, sometimes a sign the would-be artist doesn't have the talent/imagination to come up with anything other than thinly disguised takes on Real Life)
  • February 25, 2010
    Would Juta Tachibana from the manga Otomen using genderflipped versions of his friends Asuka and Ryo as characters in his manga count? I've only read a couple of volumes, but he does tend to fret over how the real Asuka and Ryo's relationship isn't progressing, which is holding back his manga character's relationship.
  • February 28, 2010
    Don't know the manga, but it sounds like an example - of the not-quite-so-gifted artist variety. Description also updated to reflect the examples seem to fit into two main categories depending on the talent of the Muse Abuser.
  • March 4, 2010
    Unknown Troper
  • March 5, 2010
    Live Action TV
    • In one episode of Star Trek Voyager, the EMH makes a holonovel about a fictional ship stranded in the Delta Quadrant. It is best described as extreme Muse Abuse of Voyager's crew, so much so that the EMH has to rework the novel. The episode's main conflict is that the publisher won't allow the EMH to revise it, because holograms don't have rights. (The Federation decides that while he can't be classified as a person, he can be classified as an artist.)
  • March 5, 2010
    Given the fact that almost by definition they are talking about themselves and their feelings, bloggers run into this a lot.

    • Heather Armstrong talks about how blogging got her fired, ruined her relationships, and pissed off her family in her About page (of course, then it made her rich and famous, So Yeah. Boo hoo).
  • March 5, 2010
    The Simpsons: when Homer outed himself as muckraking blogger "Mr. X" his friends stopped talking to him since they figured it would all go on the blog.
  • March 5, 2010
    I keep wondering if there is a checklist: 'Do you hide muses around the house?'
  • March 8, 2010
    In classical mythology, at least, there's a limited number of muses, but if you must play Gotta Catch Them All... you should also keep in mind that they don't like being caught. See Neil Gaiman, "Calliope", for what could happen in that case.