A few weeks ago, I gave myself the visual treat of taking in the Mary Cassatt/ Edgar Degas exhibit at the National Gallery, there through October 5. The paintings are gorgeous and to see the way these artists speak to one another, fostered by their artistic friendship was fascinating. I highly recommend the $5 audio tour.

For two decades, Degas and Cassatt explored the artistic process in a kind of partnership, each of them drawn to the other’s art, connected through their art. Both of them were raised in wealthy, educated families, he in France, she in the US. Before they met, she said his paintings “changed her life.” And his comment after first encountering her work: “There is someone who feels as I do.” Cassatt moved to Paris in 1874 to pursue her painting. Degas gave her the opportunity to show her work in the first big Impressionist exhibition in Paris in1879. In the National Gallery exhibit, one can watch the shifts in their relationship:  Degas began as a kind of mentor to Cassatt.  He even worked on the background of one of her paintings, the signature painting for the exhibit! Then it was as if she became a kind of muse for him. He used her as a model in many of his paintings, but apparently she didn’t want to be remembered as only his model and so she moved away from that identity. Then she became his contemporary as they explored print-making and attempted to get an art magazine off the ground. He ended up a great collector of her art, while she did not have much of his. In fact, she very much didn’t like a large portrait he did of her leaning forward awkwardly on a chair. He had given it to her as a gift, but she later sold it and didn’t want him to know she had gotten rid of it. Eventually, their artistic impulses took them in different directions although they remained friends until he died.

Sounds like a charged and creative relationship for a time. What must it have been like for her as the lone woman with all those male Impressionists? At one point, as her painting got more sophisticated, Degas impressed, was heard to say: “How could a woman draw like that?!” Knowing him as well as she did, she took this as a compliment. But she must have had to contend with such a double standard. Was there a kind of competition between them? It seems that she had something he wanted to possess. Perhaps she needed him to help her get established in that male world. We might not know of Cassatt and her art if it hadn’t been for Degas.

Do you have a relationship that fosters your creativity? Can you identify a creative process? Cooking, gardening, even writing a brief or a campaign strategy all require a creative process. Whose creativity do you admire? Or envy? If you’re interested, come and explore with me this fall your own artistic process as we work through the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Wednesday nights beginning tonight. Click here for more information.