Sunday, February 28, 2010

The beach vs the mall

I'm beginning to prepare for vacation.  We're headed to the Outer Banks for a week.  I love it there.  The air feels different.  There are broad expanses with no buildings, no people, no civilization.  We will be staying in Avon at the edge of one of the parks, so we'll have 17 miles of sandy beach to walk on should the spirit so move us.  Rarely do we see any people walking along there at this time of year.  It's perfect for silence and deep thinking (as long as the waves crashing don't count as noise!)

In contrast to being at the beach, Chris and I went to the mall yesterday.  It was the first time in over 15 years I'd been to a mall, so it was quite an experience.  (Remember, I told you I'm weird!)  It was such a stimulating experience.  First of all, there was no silence to be had.  The sounds of voices echoed throughout the cavernous space whenever we weren't in a store.  In the stores, there was always loud music blaring.  Visually there was so much to see and to process, it was overwhelming.  We were looking for a pair of shoes for Chris.  He wears size 14.  We'd already been to 4 stores along Midlothian Turnpike, but none of them had anything his size that would fit his feet well.  That was why we decided to brave the Mall.  For three hours we trudged through the packed hallways (hard to believe we're in a recession given how many people were there) looking for black casual leather shoes for narrow feet in size 14.  I think we went to 15 stores.  Eventually we were pulled into the Sleep Number Mattress Store.  That one looked too inviting to pass up!  We lay on the beds one by one and were hypnotized by the very nice saleswoman's pitch about how the beds are made and why.  Chris was very interested in buying one, even though they cost about $2000 just for the mattress.  I told the saleswoman we'd give it some thought and would let her know.  I knew I needed to get him out of there!  They were interesting mattresses and might be helpful for the back pain I've been experiencing for the last year, but I am not ready to spend $2000 for one! 

When we walked out of the store and compared notes, Chris asked me, "How does your back feel?"  I told him it was feeling strained and sore.  He said his was too!  So much for the mattress!  He said he figured we could sort it out so it would be just right.  I feel skeptical.  It was a very good sales pitch though.

Eating at the food court was another experience.  Such a din!  Dinner was fine - teriyaki chicken.  I was thankful for the water.  I tend to get dehydrated when I shop in Malls so needed water badly.  So many people there with their kids crying; teens hanging out, trying to impress each other; couples wandering around; kids ready to go home NOW.  Not much interaction between people other than those already together.  And noise.  And sights and sounds.

A few more stores so we'd been to all of them to find the darn shoes. We stumbled into Sears like survivors onto an island.  We looked at the Lands End area.  Chris found some khakis and shorts for ridiculously good prices.  I bought a winter coat I'd been looking at in their catalogue all winter long - 75% off.  After 3 hours, we'd finally pried open our wallets.

We heaved up our bags and walked wearily to the car which we finally found after pushing the lock/unlock button enough times that we could locate it by sound.  Too hard to remember where it was parked after all that time.

It was a relief to get into the car, a hybrid, with no motor noises, in the dark, and be quiet together as we rode home.  The silence of our home on the cul-de-sac was so welcome.  We are open to the possibility of becoming hermits.  We appreciate simplicity and silence and open space and sparse surroundings.  We love our friends and family and don't really want to be recluses, but it is such a jolt to be confronted by so much excess in a Mall.  Wow.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something has shifted, and it's really good

Something has shifted, and it's really good.

This last week has been my best art week ever. So many affirmations!  It began with my selling one of my small color studies on my online gallery,  I love how I get an email with the title, "Congratulations on your sale!"  A very perky way to start the day!  So the week has been full of getting that piece ready to go then mailing it.

The next day I received another email from one of my local galleries, Serendipity, saying I had sold a piece and might be able to sell another one if I could get it ready for them.  That was a green pear in pastel, unframed.

Then my most recent sale was of The Dancer at 89, one of my large oil paintings.  I sold it to a friend of my neighbor's who saw it and loved it and had been playing with the idea of purchasing it for some time but had to figure out where to put it.  They figured it out and decided to get it!  I'm thrilled!  They're great folks, and I'm really glad the piece will go to their wonderful home.  Selling my pieces is interesting for me - in some ways it's like putting my children out into the world- I want to make sure they're going to a place where they will be loved and appreciated.  Of course it makes sense that they will - otherwise why would someone buy them?!  But a part of me goes with each piece.  It makes me so happy when they find new homes.

In addition to those sales, I also heard from four galleries who would like to have me show/sell my work there.  Red Door Gallery here in Richmond will be doing a show of nudes sometime next year and would like to include my pieces in that.  Crossroads Art Gallery would like me to have a solo show there in 2011.  Visual Art Studio is interested in having me do a solor show there in October or November.  And The Pea Island Art Gallery would like me to sell my nudes there.  After so many people telling me that they couldn't/didn't want to show nudes, it's very, very refreshing to get so much affirmation all in one day - yes, all those calls took place in one day!  The Universe seems to be strongly affirming my intention to paint these beautiful women and to make a difference in the world with my work.

Thank you, dear reader, for your part in my journey.  I feel you with me and appreciate it that you take the time to join me for these moments several times each week.

May you have success in finding and pursuing your heart's treasure.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On the beauty of Silence

Many people consider me very strange - that may come as no surprise to those of you who read this blog regularly - but at any rate...  what I'm referring to this time is that I love silence.  2-3 times/year I go on a retreat where I don't speak for days at a time.  I would go  more often if I could.

The first time I went, I was terrified.  I told my friend I was going with I didn't know how I would deal with not talking that whole time.  I think I was afraid to be alone with my thoughts for that long.

What ended up happening was that I fell in love - with myself, with silence, with all of Creation.  I took the time to walk quietly through Nature and to see what miracles are all around me.  I took these photos which are quite different from anything I take in my "normal" life when I'm rushing to get places and do things.  I remember feeling so happy I could hardly contain myself.  I was exuberant.

Ever since then, whenever I can, I go to be in the silence.

The article below was sent to me by a friend and describes her experience with Silence quite beautifully.  I wish you much joy from reading it.

The Devil Loves Cell Phones

Silence isn't just golden—it's heavenly.

By Julia Baird

Published Oct 22, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Nov 2, 2009

It's not hard to imagine hell as a place that is very, very noisy. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis's Devil detests music and silence. Hell, he crowed, was filled with furious noise: "the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless and virile…We will make the whole universe a noise…We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end."

In the Middle Ages, Christian scholars believed that Satan did not want human beings to be alone with God, or with each other, fully alert and listening. This is why British author Sara Maitland believes the mobile phone is a "major breakthrough for the powers of hell." Maitland is more conscious of noise than most—she spent more than a decade pursuing silence like a hunter its prey. She writes in A Book of Silence, just published in the U.S., how she traveled to the desert, the hills, and the remote Scottish Highlands because she wanted to discover what silence truly was, and immerse herself in it. "I am convinced that as a whole society we are losing something precious in our increasingly silence-avoiding culture," she writes, "and that somehow, whatever this silence might be, it needs holding, nourishing and unpacking."

After spending 40 days in an isolated house on a windy moor, Maitland found silence did several things: her physical sensations were heightened (she was overwhelmed by the deliciousness of porridge, heard different notes in the wind, was more sensitive to temperature, and emotional); she became what she calls "disinhibited" (a Jungian notion that once alone, you are free to do what you want—picking your nose while eating, stripping your clothes off, abandoning grooming, washing once a week); she heard voices (a young girl, then a male choir singing in Latin, which she thinks may have been the wind); experienced great happiness; felt connected with the cosmos; was exhilarated by the risk and peril in what she was doing; and discovered a fierce joy, or bliss.

It is a strikingly refreshing book to read, in the midst of the clamor and din, ever-mounting distraction, yelling TV pundits, solipsistic tweet-ing, and flash-card sentiment of our Internet age. It made me realize what a profound longing many of us have for silence, how hard it is to find, and how easily we forget how much we need it. Most snatch it in small grabs—hot baths, long runs, lap swimming, bike rides. Maitland rails against the idea of silence as void, absence, and lack—something that we must rush to fill—insisting it is positive and nurturing, and something more profound that must be actively sought. (When silence is imposed, of course, it is something entirely different.)

What's interesting about silence is not just the extremism, often merging on madness, of those who can claim to have lived silently: the Arctic explorer, the deep-sea diver, the sailor, the hermit, the ascetic, the nun. What is also important is what the rest of us can wring from the more mundane moments of stillness. We can't all skip around nude through the Scottish bracken, or inhabit caves in Tibetan mountains, but we can experience silence in ways so potent they become addictive: the magical quiet of swimming under the sea; the uninterrupted hours after midnight; the sweet intimacy between a mother and her baby, being nursed in the wee hours; the breathless stillness after excellent sex; the hush of awe while gazing at a proud, ancient mountain, a huge rock glowing red in the desert, or someone soaring down a 20-foot wave. Even if it is not pure silence, it can be enough. We may not all have visions of a spinning, shining, silent God as Maitland does, but, as our thoughts are stripped back and stilled, we might sense the mystery of something greater than ourselves.

We often talk about distraction, and the banality of a culture that seems to smother deep thought or time-sucking contemplation—we tweet sneezes, we blink and record it for our friends, we sprint to be the first to speak. The anonymity of the Internet has been replaced by hyper-identity; the idea of shutting up and staring at a rock, piles of sand, or blinking stars for hours, if not weeks, seems profoundly countercultural.

I know, it sounds like the lament of the Luddite. But if generations of mystics and seekers have insisted that there's something that connects silence with the sublime, you have to wonder what we are distracting ourselves from—and who we could be if, every now and then, we paused.

What's the difference between nudity and pornography?

I've gotten curious, as you can see, about what it is about nudity that gets people so darn upset.  Yesterday I posited that perhaps it's because they equate nudity and pornography.

I will admit right here, right now, I do not like pornography.  I have strong judgments about it and about the whole industry that creates it.  I worry that women who are involved in posing for pornographic pictures are betraying themselves, despite their assertions that they know precisely what they are doing and want the money they can earn from doing it.

I don't like pornographic images.  They disturb me.  They make me feel strange - like a voyeur, looking at something I shouldn't be seeing, something tawdry, dirty, nasty, forbidden.  But I love looking at a beautiful nude, exploring the forms and shapes and composition.  The human form, to my eye, is one of the most beautiful forms on earth.

What is it that makes something pornographic?  I don't think anyone has been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to that question yet.  I believe one of the Supreme Court justices summed it up by saying, "I know it when I see it."  That sounds rather stupid, but on deeper thought, I think there's truth to it. 

I hope no one perceives my nudes as pornographic.  I do my best to depict the women (and men when I painted them) respectfully - as beautiful, empowered people who love themselves and their bodies.  I choose not to paint graphic genitalia because I find there are too many pornographic associations to it.  I know of a couple of young women who are still in high school who draw genitalia for their art class and have to figure out how to show it to the teacher and not get in trouble for bringing it to school.  I haven't seen their work, but from the descriptions I've heard, I don't believe it's pornographic.  It's simply the subject matter that's problematic.

Georgia O'Keeffe, whose painting is shown here, was accused myriad times of painting female genitalia and of being over-sexed.  She constantly had to clarify what her work was about.  Early in her career, before she became well known, her then-lover, later husband, Alfred Stieglitz, photographed her in the nude.  That caused such a controversy that she never allowed herself to be photographed nude again. The photos completely colored the reception of her own abstract art and caused people to believe she was painting sex.

What do you perceive as the difference between nudity and pornography?  Are you OK with porn?  with nudity? 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It takes courage to be an artist sometimes

So today I had a very interesting experience....

A few days ago a friend of mine from Northern Virginia called me to ask if I would be able/willing to help him out with a class he is teaching.  The class is meant to empower girls.  He thought it would be cool if he would interview me about my art since my work is all about empowering people to love their bodies.  When he told the powers that be which people he was planning to have as guests for his class, they looked at the info, looked at our websites, etc., and told him that it wouldn't work for him to interview me.  As he phrased it, "they decided me bringing up the topic of anything that might include nudity was itching for problems."

That makes me SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO curious!  What is it about nudity that is problematic?

I recognize some people will look at me like I just asked what's wrong with shooting the president?  Duh - it's wrong!  bad!  not done!  will get you in trouble! 

But nudity?  I truly don't understand what is wrong with it.

Are people afraid their children will go out and start having rampant sex because they've seen breasts and pubic hair in a painting?  Do they equate nudity with pornography?  I'd love to hear your ideas about why you think people are so hesitant to have their children see naked bodies, especially if they're painted respectfully.

An adult art student of mine told me that her brother refused to take his 16-year-old daughter into the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, because he didn't want her to see the nudes in there. 

I love the ending to that story, though - a couple of years later, this same daughter won an art competition and a trip to Paris by painting a picture of herself and her boyfriend nude from the waist up! 

Go figure!

Perhaps it is our desire as a nation to control nudity that makes people so darn excited to see it.


Fat is beautiful too

Yesterday I showed pictures of models who had gone beyond slender and attractive and who are unfortunately probably ill.  Today I'm going to show some pictures of women who are considered overweight but who are portrayed as absolutely gorgeous in their own right. 

These first two models were on the runway in 2006 after the death of the model from anorexia caused such concern in Spain. 

I can only imagine that viewers would respond positively to seeing such wonderful examples of real bodies and how the clothes fit on them.  I myself would be more likely to buy something after seeing it on a model who looks more like me than the rail-thin waifs who normally show the clothing.

Leonard Nimoy - yes, Dr. Spock! - has another facet to his personality which I learned about a few years ago - he is actually an outstanding photographer who has shown his work in galleries and has at least one book to his credit.  The first black and white photos is one of his more classical nudes.  I find it to be very beautiful.  The pictures I love even more,  though, are from his book called The Full Body Project.  (I'm including a link to it on Amazon so you can see more if you're interested.)  I just bought a copy of it - I saw it a few years ago and just couldn't get enough - the women in it are fantastic!  They're so proud of their bodies and look so joyful.  I love the images he has captured.  Here are a few of them:

This last one is my favorite - I love the way the women are cavorting around and look to be having so much fun!  It's great! 

The model who posed for me for this painting has a similar sense of joy and revelry in who she is.  I call this piece, The Bliss of it All!  I love her self acceptance and pleasure in her body.

This second piece of the same model is called Beauty with a Veil II.  It's a companion piece to the one next to it, Beauty with a Veil I.  Each of the women is comfortable in her own body, exactly the way it is.
2000, Frank A Gordas, top models
I found this online.  I don't know anything about it or the photographer, unfortunately, but I like the image.

2000 The Grand Odilesque, sculpture, unknown artist
Another image I found online.  I wish I knew who sculpted it.  You can get a sense of the size of it if you notice the people back by her calf.  They look very small compared to her!

Ditto on the premiere cover of London's Love Magazine. She has been an outspoken advocate for large women being body-positive and has been regularly photographed as an editorial model.  (Link is to the article about her on Wikipedia.)  I don't know Beth Ditto's music, but I get a kick out of this picture!

So it looks to me like heavier women are starting to be seen as more normal - perhaps even beautiful and powerful in their own right.  I am so glad to see the shift.  May it continue unabated until all women love their bodies no matter how they look!

Monday, February 22, 2010

backlash in the fashion industry

We're all aware, I think, that the ideal female body, according to Madison Avenue, is skinny, boyish, wan.  Designers apparently don't want anything to get in the way of their clothing - anything like breasts or hips - so they prefer the skinniest models that can be found.  Young girls manage to fit that requirement better than more mature women so there are many girls 16 and under who are modeling.  Their agents tell them to lose weight - just another 5 pounds - so they can get more contracts.  One young woman took a picture of herself and plaintively asked, "Where am I supposed to lose the weight from?  My bone mass?"  I think as you look at her, you'd have to agree that she is about as slender as a person can be. 

Here are some pictures from fashion shows which are startling if not disturbing for how unhealthy the models look:
These pictures and others like them actually led to a backlash in the fashion industry in 2006.  Another cause was the death of a model in Spain - she died due to complications linked to anorexia.  From that moment on, governments actually began to get involved to see if/how they could regulate the weights/sizes of models.  Some countries managed, but the industry complained that it was illegal to regulate weight - what if a model was just naturally skinny and couldn't gain weight?  Some countries did something about it.  Others didn't.

There was also a more general reaction to the problem as people became more aware of the issue.  There are many, many posts on blogs about it, and it was written about in many magazines around that time.  Here are some pictures which address the problem:

a cartoon showing how a very slender girls perceives herself

one of a series of billboards from Spain, I believe

As far as I know, this is an actually photograph of a real person.  It's hard to believe a person could actually cause herself to be so skinny. To me it's reminiscent of the concentration camp victims who would much preferred not to have looked that way. In a world where people are starving because there isn't enough food for them to eat, it's such an odd thing for people to starve themselves.  The range of possible ways to hurt oneself is immense and incomprehensible.
Presumably a parody

A hint of the posting tomorrow when real women's bodies begin to get seen as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I had an absolutely horrible headache today.  I fell asleep last night with a small one and awoke this morning in searing pain.  I tried doing exercises for my back, thinking that perhaps some muscles and nerves were interacting in unpleasant ways, but that didn't help.  I asked Chris to massage me.  Even after a lovely, relaxing, wonderful hour-long massage, I was in so much pain I felt like I was going to vomit.  I went downstairs and had some breakfast then came back upstairs and slept for three hours straight.

The rest of the day I spent in bed reading and talking to Chris and resting.  I can't remember a time I've done that in the last 10 years - taken a full day to just relax in bed without accomplishing a darn thing.  I had to admit that it felt good.  This evening I was finally able to get out of bed to get some cereal for dinner.   Chris and I played Boggle for a little while - about 20 games.  We ended up even at 182 points each!  First I was ahead so we played a few more rounds, then he was ahead so we played a few more, then, finally, we ended up with the same score.  Neither of us enjoys losing!  We are quite competitive with each other!

Friday I was able to get some good work done on Mother and Daughter Jocks.  I worked on the Daughter's hands and on her racquetball racquet.  Next time I may try "stringing" the racquet.  That'll be interesting!  I hope it isn't incredibly difficult.  I'll definitely use a ruler to get the lines straight.  The women's faces are looking almost right, though there's still work to be done with them.  It sure is harder to paint bodies with faces and all the rest of the body parts as well!  Just torsos are so much easier!  But the point is definitely not to make it easier - it's to do it right and have a picture I love!

I've also spent some time lately filling out more applications for shows.  I'm hoping to find some universities where I can display Authentic Flesh.  There are several more apps I need to finish up before March 1.  Interestingly, my youngest son is also trying to get a bunch of applications done by then, but his are for college scholarships - a different part of life's full spectrum!

If you were planning to come to Talk20, you'll want to know that it's been re-scheduled for Tuesday, March 16th at 6 PM at 1708 Gallery in Richmond, VA.  There will be 8 artists there talking for 20 seconds about each of 20 slides.  I'll be one of the presenters.  I hope you can come if you live in the area!  I think it'll be very interesting to hear what different artists in the area are up to!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Men's response to women

I've had some heart-wrenching conversations with men who are confused by the whole situation as well. They know they're supposed to respect women - and these men do - but they are trained to by the same media that women deal with. Here's what one enlightened man commented:

What I'm hearing from men is that this false expectation of how women are supposed to look damages men as much as women. It makes them sexualize women when they look at them. It makes their hormones kick in so they can't get past their erections to have a real conversation with a woman. It makes them ashamed of their physical reactions and terrified to talk to a pretty girl.
I think that Hugh Hefner, as just one symbolic figurehead of many, clearly damaged women AND men's appreciation for real women's bodies. This is very, very obvious, but I thought I'd pipe up with the politically-incorrect, culturally-stereotyped view of what makes a woman beautiful, that was TAUGHT to me and deeply inserted into my sexual conditioning, starting at around age 12 or earlier, by Hef, Madison Avenue, billboards, film and TV: what makes a woman beautiful is being under 30, slim, smooth-skinned, wrinkle-free, fat-free, cellulite-free, with long hair, preferably blonde, and a look in the eye that says "You know you want me." That is what many or even most men are up against in our heads when we begin to encounter the world of very real, and very beautiful women who are outside that image. Like I said, obvious; that's why you're doing what you're doing in the first place, right?

And men are beginning to feel some of the same pressure women have been feeling for a long time - their bodies are supposed to look a certain way. I think gay men have felt this pressure for a long time, but now heterosexual men are beginning to as well. Anorexia is on the rise for teenage boys. Steroid use is obviously out of hand.

How can we stop this before it really gets going?  I'd hate for men to suffer the same low self-esteem we've been plagued with for years.  How can we help people accept their own and other's bodies just how they are?

What can be done to change this cycle? Write in with your ideas. Let's change the world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

facebook responses to the question: What do you think makes women ugly?

Susan Singer: What do you think makes a woman ugly?

response #1: a bad attitude, selfishness, self-centeredness.....

response #2: Is there such a thing as an ugly woman?

response #3: Negativity

response #4: Ugly is in the eye of the beholder- or maybe the heart.

response #5: For me: her looking as though she is being chased through life and never does anything she herself wants - just what others want from her. On the other hand, then she doesn't really look "ugly", I suppose. She looks disenfrachised in life - which I find threatening and therefore "ugly".

response #6: There's no such thing as an ugly woman; some are just better looking than others. (not an original line, don't know where I first heard it)

response #6a: But remember ... "all pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be." (Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie , 1944)


response #7: An ugly woman is a behaviour, mean or cruel. But ugly can be fleeting as beaty can be fleeting.

response #8: the same things that make anything ugly: gross assymmetries, discolorations, lacerations, gross or awkward improprieties, neglect and dissolution.

response #9: I think ugliness, as well as beauty, is in the eye of the beholder...

response #10: I think it's interesting that there are more responses to "what do you think makes a woman ugly" than "what do you think makes a woman beautiful". Are we generally more comfortable with one question than the other?

response #11: ugly is as ugly does...

response #12: A certain meaness of spirit ... it shows on their faces, no matter how conventionally "beautiful" they are.

response #13: Nothing "makes" a woman ugly. We perceive ugliness, visual ugliness, because as humans we are endowed with aesthetic sensibilities. Not all notions of beauty or ugliness are acculturated. Certain physical forms are"ugly." Oozing lesions are universally repulsive. A person's face, disfigured by having been mauled by a mad dog, is not beautiful, despite the inner beauty that might radiate. The face missing a nose and lips is monstrous. Disharmonies can be disturbing to look at.

response #14: Over use of profanity.......

response #15: People are not ugly. Women are beautiful.

response #16: pretty is as pretty does...ugly is as ugly does?

response #17: Beauty comes from within...
response #18: When I was a young guy, whenever said woman/girl really turned me down for a date. But that was a very long time ago. Nowadays, at my advanced age, I somehow no longer see any ugly women (or men for that matter). Ugly behavior - that's another story.

response #19: You are so right, #18, ugly behavior is truly ugly. Be nice out there!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Landing strips out of pubic hair?

Definition from urban dictionary: (if you ever wonder what your kids are talking about, this is a good place to get the definition)

1. landing strip

(female) cultivated pubic hair pattern where the hair on the inside of the thighs is removed, any hair near the arse (or for that matter, behind the back corner of the vagina) is removed, and hair between the leg-belly crease is removed on the abdomen leaving only a groomed rectangle running from the mid-tummy to the upper edge of the vulva; as if pointing towards her pussy, 'guiding' one towards the honey pot region

(male) quarter-inch-wide beard running the centre-line from the bottom of the lower lip to the bottom of the chin

(female): he:"Did she have a landing strip, triangle, Brazilian or was she just unkept?"

(male): she: "I came down hard on his landing strip during oral sex last night"

A friend of mine arrived at my house a few months ago in the middle of a heated discussion with her 16-year-old daughter.  They were arguing about whether or not the daughter, Esme, should shave her pubic area.  Apparently a boy had asked Esme that day if she had a "landing strip" and told her he had one ready for her anytime.  I had no clue what they were talking about.  The mom, Mary, told me that girls now shave their pubic hair into different shapes and patterns so they'll look better for guys.  I asked how on earth the guys would know.  Apparently they ask.  And Esme felt obligated to tell this guy.  She was too embarassed to tell him it was none of his business.  I was appalled.  Esme defensively informed us both that her younger sister, who was 14, shaved too, and her 12-year-old sister was getting ready to start.  (What would she shave - I didn't even have a trace of hair at that age!)  I feel so sad for these girls that there's yet another societal expectation now for yet another body part to be trimmed just right.  Eyebrows plucked into just the right expression.  No leg hair.  Head hair long, straight, and preferably blond.  And now pubic hair has to be inviting too.  Or gone.  Gone is good too.  I think that's starting to make young girls into pretty good imitations of babies.  What are guys saying if they want hairless nymphettes?  And who are these guys?  And what is making them feel this is what they want?

In my work with models, I'm finding an age divide on the pubic hair issue.  Women 30 and under tend to be neatly shaved in whatever pattern they choose.  Women over 30 generally have no clue what I'm talking about when I ask if they know what a landing strip is.  They become incensed when I tell them and frustrated that there is yet another thing their daughters and women in general have to put up with.

What do you know about this phenomenon?  Or is it all new to you too?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How do women artists depict women?

Pretty much all of the paintings we've looked at so far on this historical tour of paintings of women have been done by men.  It's been tough for women artists to get noticed, actually.  There's a very good article on Wikipedia which cronicles women artists' efforts through history.  Apparently there weren't many women artists over the centuries partially because they weren't allowed into the academies because of the nude male models.  Finally there were some women artists whose fathers or husbands were artists - perhaps they were allowed to work with their family members without scandal. There's a movie called Artemesia which is about one of the first well-known female painters - apparently it's too fictionalized for many people to like, but it gives some sense of her.  She was raped by one of her teachers then was put on trial for the rape - that's how women were treated in those days.  She was tortured to see if she would confess that her accusation was false.  Here's the picture she did a year after the trial in 1612:  It's called Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Powerful.  I can understand where her feelings might have come from which led her to do that painting!

Below are some pieces by other women artists from the last several centuries.  All of them are self-portraits.  At some time or another each was attributed to a man. 

1630, Judith Leyster, Self Portrait

1715,Rosalba Carriera, Self portrait
Rosalba Carriera is one of the first and most famous pastel artists of the 18th century.  It was a relatively new medium at the time and not that many people used pastels, but she was reknown for her beautiful detailed portraits.  She was highly sought after as a portraitist in the courts of France and other countries.

1801, Marie-Denise Villers, Young Woman Drawing
Also a self-portrait.  Such luminosity!

In our century, there have been many famous women artists, and many of them have chosen to depict women.  Below are pictures by some of them:

1936, Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother
Dorothea Lange was a famous photographer who worked during the Depression to take pictures which showed real life conditions for people.  Such compassion and empathy in this picture!

Judy Chicago Radical Cross Stitch
This was one of the first pieces of feminist art I ever saw.  I can't quite remember if it was before or after I gave birth, but I remember feeling the visceral searing pain of tearing in my vagina when I looked at it.  It still hurts to look at.

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Georgia O'Keeffe

The Dinner Party, an important icon of 1970s feminist art and a milestone in twentieth-century art, is presented as the centerpiece around which the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is organized. The Dinner Party comprises a massive ceremonial banquet, arranged on a triangular table with a total of thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history. The settings consist of embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and china-painted porcelain plates with raised central motifs that are based on vulvar and butterfly forms and rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honored. The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the triangular table. This permanent installation is enhanced by rotating Herstory Gallery exhibitions relating to the 1,038 women honored at the table.

 1990 Carole Feuerman

My favorite woman artist I know about these days is Jenny Saville.  She is young, born in Cambridge, England in 1970.  She paints gigantic canvases of huge women.  The way she depicts flesh is phenomenal.  Her surfaces are spectacular - so beautiful.  I saw one of them in person at the Philips Collection in their exhibit Paint Made Flesh.  It was so moving I could hardly stop looking at it.

1990 Jenny Saville

1992, Jenny Saville, Propped

1992, Jenny Saville, Hybrid

1996, Jenny Saville, Shift

1996, Jenny Saville, Strategy

an ad next to an article about Jenny Saville and her paintings.  I found the juxtapositioning of the large women Saville paints and this almost anorexic model quite jarring.  And telling!
1999, Jenny Saville (this is the image that was next to the ad above.  I might have felt that way too had I been that woman in the painting.)

I don't find that the women Saville paints are beautiful, and I dare say she isn't worried about making them seem beautiful.  I think she's fascinated by flesh in whatever form it takes.  What I love about them (besides the pure artistry) is how authentic and real they look.  I even love their misery.

Annie Leibowitz is another female artist who has done great things about women.  She is a photography who has done so many different types of images of women!  Some are quite empowering; others are ridiculously absurd in their idealization of them.  She did a book of photos of women called Women.  Quite wonderful.

All the rest of the images are by her (except for Bold Woman which is one of mine).

2003, The White Stripes

Cover for Vanity Fair, 1991

This cover and the accompanying photos were vital in my development as an artist.  It was the first time I'd ever seen a pregnant woman depicted as beautiful.  I'd only ever seen them as bulky, wearing tent dresses, etc.  My ex-husband seemed to share that view and took no discernible delight in my pregnant body.  This set of pictures help me re-frame my entire pregnancy experiences.  From that point on, I began to photograph my friends who became pregnant, and in 1999, I began drawing their images.  I don't think I'd be doing the work I'm doing today if it hadn't been for these pictures.Singer, 1999, Bold Woman
This picture is one of the first drawings I did of my pregant friend.  Definitely inspired by Annie Leibowitz!

This is called 700, I believe.  It's one of those which is over-the-top glitzy, idealized - not something a real woman could even aspire to!  I don't think it helps women feel more empowered.

1998, Abused Woman

Vanity Fair Portraits - the most famous women in Hollywood looking incredibly glamorous.

Transvestite (I couldn't find the date)

Women have come a long way from not being allowed to paint to now contributing to the art world every bit as much as men do.  I realize women still have difficulty getting shows and being taken as seriously as male painters, but I can't say I understand why.  Any thoughts?