New Work: She is Sheltered By Faith

Organized religion has always had an interesting relationship with women. While many of the ways in which various religions are practiced (notice I say practiced, because often how one chooses to express their religion and how they are kind of supposed to practice it based on the basic tenants of their religion’s teachings can be quite different) have not been too kind to the ladies, even in this day and age, women on the whole are practicing their faith in greater numbers than their male counterparts. This is especially true in Christianity, the faith I will be discussing as it is the one I practice, and the one I am most familiar with.

Interested in this dichotomy, I knew I had to do a piece on women and faith for my current series surrounding women and the various themes that intertwine their lives. Thus, this art nouveau inspired piece was born, titled “April: She Is Sheltered By Faith”. The lush flowers and vines radiate in growth around the central figure, sheltering her from the rains of darkness. She is surrounded by a metallic gold halo of light, and smiling calmly and assuredly through the storm.

april she is sheltered by faith

As one who strives for equality for all, including between different genders, I often find myself in an awkward space where it comes to my Christian faith. Though Jesus himself surely stood for equality, churches don’t always do the best job carrying this message through in our everyday life today. One need look no further than the recent trending hashtag on twitter, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, to read statements that range from laughable in their utter lunacy to those that are absolutely heart wrenching.

…And, there are many, many more. These are not made up stories or exaggerations. As thankful as I am that I grew up in the same church I attend now that I feel comfortable in for the most part, many of these messages are familiar through the stories of friends of mine and through articles and advice in Christian teen books or magazines I remember from my youth. We need to do better, and it starts with listening to others’ stories, speaking up when you do hear any of these toxic messages spoken, and knowing the truth. I used to feel so uncomfortable about being the very antithesis of what both mainstream and religious conservative media would have you believe a practicing Christian is “supposed to” be, but nowadays I kind of embrace it. I feel like I’ve finally found a lot of my purpose in life, and besides, aren’t we supposed to stay true to what’s right and not worry about “fitting in” with everyone else? Maybe, this sometimes even means not fitting in with those within our own little group.

So what draws women to faith based lives despite the challenges of organized religion? I’d say it is because the Person they follow advocated for equality way ahead of His time, and that in the stories of His teachings and examples of how He treated others, justice and love have always been at the forefront.

I didn’t want this post to turn into a theology lesson so I kept the background brief, but here are some resources concerning women and Christianity that I think are worth a read, and that definitely challenge the status quo of what Christian women are hearing from society:

On Being A Christian and Being A Feminist … and Belonging Nowhere / Sarah Bessey / (Pst! This cool lady actually started the #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear thread.)

15 Christian Women Get Real About The Role Of Women In The Church / Huffington Post

Women’s Faith and Power / ReThinkChurch / “We believe advocacy for the equality between women and men results in positive change that improves the world.” – Yeah!

Jesus and Women / Christianity Today / “In His treatment of women, as in many other areas, Jesus of Nazareth was a radical contrast to the standards of His times”

The Case For Women In Ministry / ReKnew

On Being ‘Divisive’ / Rachel Held Evans

10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up In The Church / The Junia Project

 

 

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Art Discussion : Seeing The Other

once we truly see eachother light

Once We Truly See Each Other / 2013 / 18×24 Watercolor, Ink, Embroidery Thread

At a young age, I began to notice the different ways in which men and women were viewed and treated. Ever since I first voiced confusion at this incongruity, I was answered with more questions such as “Why do you have such an issue with men?” “Why do you think men should be treated as less?” etc., etc., etc. These questions always left me with the disconcerting feeling that I’d somehow been shot into a parallel universe unbeknownst to me, where words that you spoke meant the opposite of what you’d said. How does equality mean one being treated as less than? The math just didn’t add up. Especially as one that tended to have an easier time talking to guys or tomboyish women than other “typical” ladies, was best friends with her younger brother, and generally thought men and women were equally awesome; how ever did someone get the impression that I wanted to bring anyone down?

As it turns out, social research is finding that when we as a society get used to seeing inequality for so long, any steps towards even partial equality are seen in an exaggerated light. An article from In These Times critiquing the fear of a “feminized society” , an anxiety that apparently is somehow all too prevalent, hits the nail on the head as to how this phenomenon occurs.

“So how do you get from some feminism, some of the time, to a feminized society?

The heart of the problem is one of the strangest manifestations of male privilege: It actually seems to interfere with men’s ability to count women. Specifically, it creates a tendency to actually see more women—or hear more female opinions—than are actually present at any given time.

Geena Davis Institute for Gender In Media found that, in crowd scenes, women tend to comprise about 17 percent of any given crowd. She’s argued, based on outside data and her own interpretations, that this imbalance relates to and reinforces the way men perceive the actual number of women in any given room.

“If there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50,” she told NPR. “And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.” ” (By the way, love Geena Davis. I watched and re-watched A League of Their Own I don’t know how many times as a kid, and I hate all sports, especially baseball.)

This same phenomenon happens where speech is concerned as well. You know that whole perception of “Hoo boy, women sure like to talk, yak yak yak!” Turns out it is just that, a perception. In mixed company, and especially in a workplace setting, women may be hard pressed to fit a word in edgewise according to a PBS series on language myths.

This same thing happens when it comes to race as well. People are always in self-preservation mode, and fear that by lifting one group  up the scales will be tipped so that they lose out. Or, I wonder if some don’t subconsciously fear that when we are all on an even playing field, they may sometimes get treated how they have treated the other for so long.

In reality, we are not living by the rules of the animal kingdom in this modern age. We are human beings with pretty solid cognitive and reasoning abilities when we choose to use them, and there is no rule that someone always has to be underneath the others’ foot. We need 100% of our society working together, and we need a collaboration of everyone’s ideas, not just 50% of the population’s ideas. By seeing each other for who we truly are, without the guise of archaic preconceived notions based on gender, everyone is lifted to a higher playing field.

This piece, titled “Once We Truly See Each Other”, is about support, and it involves men too. When striving for equality not just in our own backyards but across the world, it is a mistake to leave out men because they can be some of our biggest allies, and they are effected negatively by rigid gender expectations also. If you are ever in doubt of this fact, check out  the completely eye opening documentary, The Mask You Live In.

In my piece, women of all ages and ethnicity are illustrated as doctors, moms, members of the corporate world, musicians … Men are depicted as businessmen, athletes, artists, stay-at-home dads… The 3 cliffs are symbolic. Sure, men have started out on a historically higher platform as far as societal advantages are concerned. But, notice that third platform, the third and best option of all. In the piece, men are partnering to pull the women up. From there, the women are also helping the men up to reach their full potential. Equality requires that we invest in the lives of our fellow human beings, men and women both.

To me, equality is about allowing every individual to reach his or her full potential, whatever that may look like. No, women are not “settling” by choosing to be stay-at-home moms if that is their dream and what is important to them. They should have that option. No, the woman who wishes to rise to the top of her company and expects to be respected the same as her male colleagues is not an angry pink Godzilla hoping to kick every man in the balls with her shiny metal foot. She should have the chance to prove herself free of prejudices. And by the way, the same goes for men.

mecha_godzilla_individual_layouts___hello_kitty_by_nobackstreetboys-d5tf2np

Art Is Not A Luxury

More often than not in this modern age, as we have multitudes of tools at our disposal to both vocally and textually communicate, art has been getting bumped into the category of a “luxury”; unnecessary, mere decoration, or else something for the unbelievably wealthy who don’t know the value of a dollar to irresponsibly blow their money on. In fact, art is an important tool for effective communication today, and has been throughout history. With the less than stellar economy, art has been the first thing to get cut in schools for awhile, and yet we as a society are facing a complete breakdown of productive adult communication the likes of which has never been seen. Spend 24 hours amongst other human beings in a department store or 15 minutes on the internet and you will no doubt see what I’m talking about. I notice art and creative writing both tend to get the same rep: entertaining fluff, imaginary stories, unnecessary tools. I know quite a few people whose opinions I, on the whole, respect, that insist you can’t learn anything from fiction. They assert that it’s just something for having fun and relaxing, nothing more nothing less. Now while some creative works may be just that (Let’s be real – you aren’t likely to come to any existential truths while reading the Twilight series), if all fictional literature and all art were truly meaningless, there wouldn’t continue to be controversy around their messages; they wouldn’t still get banned from schools or showings. People don’t ban things they find uninteresting, unattractive, or mildly annoying – they ban things they find dangerous – because art has the ability to change hearts and minds. Art communicates, to those who are listening.

Visual communication has some staggering advantages over verbal communication. Firstly, we are a culture of immediacy. We want things and we want them now, Veruca Salt style. Visual communication accomplishes just that. Facts and ideas come presented visually with no complicated explanation, no lengthy preamble, simply look and absorb. People’s reactions to visuals are also often quicker and simpler than their reactions to spoken word. It is easy to cause feelings of happiness and ease in a viewer (and thus happiness and ease in them towards your message) by presenting them with an image of something they find pleasant. Turn this around, and it is also easier to inspire fear by showing images of violence or things that cause worry or disgust to a viewer. This is why advertisements for products are always primarily images, not columns or articles. Visual communication is also more versatile, and gives you more tools at your disposal. Rather than just words in your arsenal, you have all the elements of design; color, shape, texture, space, form.

This is a blog post, not a book, so know that there are innumerable examples not highlighted here on art’s role in history (And, this just in American History, let alone the many examples to be found in the history of other cultures!). I figured I’d today simply touch on the real hot-button historical moments, those that we begin hearing about in social studies class as early as elementary school.

While cameras were certainly around during the Civil War, it was still common for the media portraying historical events and news to be hand-drawn.

The lithograph above was done by an unknown artist, and portrays a well-known victory of the famed Underground Railroad. Henry “Box” Brown made headlines in 1849 when he escaped from slavery in Richmond, Virginia in a quite unorthodox manner. Brown actually packed and mailed himself to the North, and to freedom, with the help of abolitionists. When the lid was removed, he allegedly said, “How do you do, gentlemen?” and quoted some Bible verses to celebrate his escape. The fact that he is dressed the same as the men standing around him upon arrival, in a fine looking, tailored suit, is probably not indicative of how he actually arrived on the scene, but a deliberate decision on the artist’s part to reinforce his equality with these other men.

A great historical change that art played a direct role in beyond immortalizing events was the Suffragist movement.

Art has the ability to visually re-frame stereotypes, and cause people to envision situations in a new way. The first illustration below turns the assumption at the time that suffragettes were “vain, idle rich women with nothing better to do” completely on its head by showing a working woman. For the working class, the ability to vote is vital, certainly necessity far more than luxury. It asks the question, if they are contributing to keeping the “machine” of society running smoothly day in and day out, shouldn’t they have a say in how it runs? The second illustration reminds me of a quote I read recently (I wish I could remember who/where, because I think it is just excellent!), “If you’re a man that says he’s not a feminist, I want you to go explain to every woman in your life why you think she doesn’t deserve to be treated equally.” The poster asks men to think of their mothers. You respect them, you revere their wisdom, so why don’t you trust them to help the country make decisions? By framing it in a personal way, a technique that is still used to combat societal problems of sexism today, women are taken out of being this distant, abstract category or group and humanized into your daughter, your mother, your sister, your wife, your best friend …

Fast forward in history, and art plays a fascinating and unexpected role in the two World Wars.

It is argued that without modern art, there would have been no camouflage, a vital tool in saving lives on the battlefield – the ability to hide in plain sight. The idea for the complex geometric designs on “dazzle ships” is credited to artist Normal Wilkinson. These hypnotizing designs confused the spotter with their sharp, contrasting colors and confusing intersecting lines bumping into and interrupting each other. The enemy had a difficult time determining how many ships there were, as well as their range and location making it more difficult to shoot. Understanding how patterns can trick the eye from a distance also became vital to concealing targets during the first World War.

Later on, two Australian modern artists, photographer Max Dupain and painter Frank Hinder, would experiment with applying some of the newer modernist techniques to modern day warfare. One of Max Dupain’s photography experiments with optical camouflage is shown below. They used double exposure and obliterative shading, techniques that make it difficult to distinguish between foreground and background.

Never before and never again since WWII have we seen such a unity in American patriotism and civic responsibility. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, but one thing is certain: the iconic propaganda artwork of the WWII era played an instrumental role in banding people together under a common cause, and inspiring a strong, almost blind sense of duty and optimism. The famous “Rosie the Riveter” piece is still to this day a feminist icon, and the inspiration of many Halloween costumes, both celebrity and pedestrian (and even some great face-in-hole shots. Girl power! I’d like to think I’m almost as fierce as Beyonce). Those at home were represented as just as vital to the war as those abroad, and given a renewed sense of purpose through this inspirational artwork.

rose

In the 1960s, artists took up the cause of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jacob Lawrence’s 1962 painting “Soldiers and Students” is shown below. Lawrence was always interested in using his colorful paintings to document African American history, and during the civil rights crisis of the 60s, he began documenting the disturbing everyday scenes he witnessed in the struggle for equality.

The birth of feminist art also took place around this time. I have to admit, although I have always considered myself a feminist, I could never get into feminist art. I wanted to like it, I really did, but as someone who has never felt overtly in touch with their so-called “feminine” side to begin with, I felt a lot of the motifs and delivery methods were simply lost on me. It seemed strange to me to make art that was only accessible to a specialized group rather than reaching the whole on some level. Isn’t feminist art just a bunch of flowers growing out of vaginas and bad performance art? Male or female, if you feel like you don’t really get feminist art, watch the !Women Art Revolution documentary – it’s on netflix instant. While I still can’t pick out any iconic piece of work from that era as my “favorite art ever”, these ladies really paved the way for what I do today, and I owe them heaps of gratitude, whether their artistic style or methodology is my bag or not. By the way, there’s still work to do, ladies.

Today, though it’s easier for art to get lost in all the noise with people plugged into some media or another 24//7 and everyone and their great-grandma with their own website or blog, artists are still speaking. For this same media also gives us easy access to an unlimited stream of creative media to peruse. Below, Michael D’Antuono’s painting “Conservative Christ” critiques the marrying of Christianity with extremist far-right politics. Street artists have also done a brilliant job at visually speaking truths, placing their work right in the unavoidable path of citizen’s daily commute.

noharmI am reminded of this beautiful piece I saw at Art Prize in Grand Rapids last year, especially relevant in light of the recent supreme court decision. (And the subsequent vicious, mean-spirited attacking coming from both sides in the aftermath that made me want to delete my facebook forever.)

Throughout history, art has been used to both promote mainstream values and also oftentimes clash against them, and it has the potential to be wielded as a weapon of good or a weapon of evil, hate, and deception. You can see below how art can also be used to persuade people into harmful beliefs and mindsets. After all, at the same time as the victory garden posters were circulating, so on the other side were illustrations praising Hitler and demonizing the Jewish nationality. It can be used to justify withholding rights from a group of people, like the anti-suffragist poster (lol, chocolate). It can be used to poke fun at and disrespect people who look different than us as “less”, like the vintage soap ad (Nothing to laugh about in this next one. I felt uncomfortable even posting this particular ad, and it was not even close to the worst that can be found, unfortunately). It can be used to promote unhealthy lifestyles, and guilt people into feeling like without a certain body or certain clothes, they are ugly and worthless, like the current day Photoshopping controversies. As artists, we have to realize that what we create speaks. We have a valuable platform, and as Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, (Ok, so Voltaire said it first but I’m a total Spiderman geek) “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Gender Inequality : Not Just A STEM Issue

Piece from a project tallying art world inequality and creating posters out of the data collected.

In this post, I’d like to talk about an issue that is close to my heart. It covers a range of bases, so I’ll try not to jump around too much. I have to start off by giving a little bit of history. I have always had a hyper-awareness towards injustice. I have a vivid childhood memory of cringing whenever the old Trix cereal commercials would come on in between my morning cartoons. I could just feel the righteous anger bubbling up inside of me as the kids taunted the Trix Bunny with choruses of “Silly rabbit …” They have no right to say that Trix are only for kids, not rabbits! He invented the freaking cereal! He’s on the cover of the box for crying out loud! There would be no colorful fruity shapes without him! (This was, of course, when I was young enough to think the animated characters running around before my eyes actually existed in real life.) So naturally, when I began to perceive instances of gender bias in the adult conversations I eavesdropped on and the kids around me at school, I did not approve. Basically, Lisa Simpson and I would have been soul mates. It was kind of a shock, since my home growing up had been completely void of any such thing. My brother and I were given the same expectations, and when we were approached differently by mom and dad it was due to our completely opposite personality types, not our gender. We were four years apart, kind of the perfect gap: close enough in age so that we could still relate to each other well enough to play together, but far enough apart so that we weren’t constantly feeling like we needed to compete. We shared toys all the time, and both played with stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girl” things from time to time. It wasn’t really a big deal.

Despite what people think (I mean, everyone can vote now so it’s all good, right?), gender discrimination is not just a distant memory, and it continues to hurt both men and women, though for today I’ll mainly be talking about women. Gender separation in toys has gotten way worse than it ever was in the past, with every single little toy down to a basic set of blocks relegated to being pink or blue. Some consumers are finally saying enough is enough with the “Pink vs Blue” binary madness, and are also seriously starting to question what the doll section in any local walmart or toy store is communicating to young girls. I myself have wondered that same thing, and my queries have most often led to nothing good. Enter Lammily, a doll with realistic body proportions, moveable joints that allow her to do more than simply be a human clothes hanger, and stickers to add imperfections we all have like acne, scars, and cellulite.

The toy problem is just the tip of the iceberg. The US has one of the worst science gender gaps in the developed world, and marketing ridiculous shirts like these below to young girls certainly isn’t  helping.

It’s no wonder educators and innovators are doing anything and everything they can to encourage young girls towards STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics).

Every little bit helps, and I am in no way downing any of the goodhearted initiatives mentioned above, I just think we can do more. We can always do more, do better, be more comprehensive in our reach. I have to admit, if the Lammily doll would have existed when I was a kid, taking one look at her ultra-preppy wardrobe of mostly simple solids, I would have totally still begged for the anorexic doll with giant boobs, ideals be damned. Why can’t a realistic doll still wear lace and sequins or giant earrings or crazy neon floral patterns once in awhile? Realistically, that’s how some girls actually dress! Giving her a more subdued, athletic looking, polo-shirt-laden wardrobe isn’t revolutionary at all. In fact, in the real world, that sort of style is actually preferred and women who step outside of that and dress more “girly” are more likely to be perceived negatively. It has been proven that women who wear more masculine clothing (simple, straight silhouettes, angular lines, dark neutral colors) are perceived as more competent in the workforce, taken more seriously and given a higher level of respect in their current job, and are more likely to get hired to a new position. This is also why you see frantic posts by young women online asking whether it’s ok to be a feminist and wear makeup or dresses or high heels. Yes Virginia, there is as of yet no official uniform for thinking equality is a rad idea.

Similarly, encouraging a girl towards STEM who is truly interested in science but is simply intimidated or feels like “Well I’m not supposed to do this because I’m a girl,” or encouraging a girl who is worried to stand out from her peers and be teased if she admits she thinks math is fun, is truly awesome. How amazing for a kid to realize what their passion is so early in life, and to help them grow and learn in that passion is a beautiful thing. However, I sometimes worry that in trying to tear down walls we are simply creating a new sort of box. What about the artsy girls?

New York Times explains why we actually need STEAM (Science Technology Engineering ART Mathematics), STEM alone is not enough. The idea that a person is either right brained or left brained doesn’t work. We need to use both sides to be effective. I took science all 4 years of high school even though it wasn’t required. The decision was at first at the urging of my parents, but though the exams were killer, I loved getting to move forward into taking Chemistry and Physics and found the information and experiments in class fun and inspiring. When I teach children, I love integrating scientific experimentation into art. It’s great for keeping kids focused and involved. Recently I did a project with my children’s watercolor class where we tested how lemon juice, rubbing alcohol, salt, oil, and milk reacted with the paints, and afterword they made pictures incorporating the new textures they learned how to create.

Yes, girls are underrepersented in STEM fields but the fact of the matter is they are also woefully underrepresented in the art world. Art News reported this year on findings from over the last 7, where on average women artists exhibited in only 10-20% of the solo shows at American Institutions over the last 7 years. A slightly smaller percentage of women artists were featured in group shows. Before you protest, “But they are just picking the best art!” these percentages apply to non-anonomous submissions. Truthout reported in their article, Women Artists Still Face Discrimination, that studies have shown if you submit work to a juried exhibit and the jurors don’t know the gender of the person submitting, it ends up pretty equal in terms of who is selected. But as soon as the artist’s gender is known, women drop back to one third. It is why pen names are still a thing in art as well as literature. Famed writer of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has been pretty candid about the fact that way back when she was told she should publish the series under her initials rather than her first name, Joanna, because young men won’t want to read books written by a woman. (They will not only assume it to be poorly written, but will fear catching any residual “cooties”.)

Why choose only one genre of barrier to break down? We should be smashing all of them, all while encouraging our own children and the kids around us to excel in the area they love, whatever it ends up being.