The Complicated Role of Women’s Bodies In Art

Women have for centuries been a muse for artists and the main character in the narrative (or often the main decoration) where works of art are concerned. They were the subjects of paintings far before it was even acknowledged that they could be painters themselves. It is honestly rare for me to ever draw men. I always figured my pull to depicting women was because as a woman, that is the voice I can most comfortably speak from. However, even male artists tend to habitually depict women when figures are included in their works. I try within my own art to create a story and psychology around each figure I create, and so do many other artists working today and so have many in the past. However, just as many if not more use female figures in their work as a passive decoration, just as one may place a waterfall or flower in their composition, including many artists whose work I still enjoy. No matter whether the woman is portrayed as a decorative object or a narrator in a piece, they also all tend to follow the traditional standards of beauty for the time in which they were created, without a lot of deviation. This is something I had even noticed happening in my own art, a mold I worked to break out of in my most recent portrait based series.

These musings and observations are not a new topic, but it is a subject that jumped to the forefront of my mind last week when I read Manchester Art Gallery removed John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognizable pre-Raphaelite paintings in their gallery, not only from the walls but from print and postcard form in their gift shop as well. The room this piece hung in was titled “The Pursuit of Beauty”, a collection depicting women mainly as passive decoration as discussed above, or else tempting sirens, all in various states of undress. Guests were given the opportunity to post comments about the removal with sticky notes in the empty space where the painting used to hang. You can read the full story here, as well as some of the reactions to the decision.

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I am a feminist myself (Though, sidenote, as feminism has gone more mainstream in recent years and grown to include a wider audience, I often compare feminism and its many schools of thought to a religion with multiple denominations – You can put two feminists in a room together and they may not agree on anything.). Given that, obviously this singular portrayal of women doesn’t fill me with joy. But, for most of history and even sometimes still today this is how women were viewed! Putting this fact on display doesn’t mean it’s a good thing – but it is a true thing. I am a big proponent of learn your history no matter how unsavory, or we are doomed to repeat it.

6-_thc3a9rc3a8se_dreaming_balthus_copy_80105371There has been a similar instance recently where there were petitions to remove a painting from the Met that New Yorkers felt sexualized a young girl, a painting by French artist Balthus titled Therese Dreaming. The biggest issue was exposure due to how she was seated, and the fact that it was known the mid 20th century artist had an inappropriate infatuation with younger girls.

I have always been against censorship at all costs, rolling my eyes at protests of books being read in school, movies being shown at theaters, art being hung in galleries… If you don’t like it, don’t view it, but you don’t need to take away others’ personal autonomy. The counter culture of American society has always been against the filtering of information to the populace, against some overreaching authority handing out declarations of what is good and evil in popular culture, but it seems now the roles have reversed. What you might call the counter culture today seems to be more for censure and removing from the culture entirely those messages or images which they deem undesirable.

My first thought after hearing about these paintings’ definite or potential removal was that we are erasing history, and where does it end? Immediately a red light went off in my brain that this was the same excuse used over this past year to air grievance about the removal of Confederate monuments, which I was all for because honestly some legacies do not deserve celebration. To me, the issues in that circumstance versus this one are apples and oranges and not at all comparable, but it did lead me to question, do I have a blind spot?

One of my favorite artists, Ray Caesar, depicts young women and girls in what many would deem sexualized poses. However, in an interview with Hi-Fructose Magazine he says he views his work as a personal exploration, something autobiographical, and the women to him are the different voices of his own mind (Caesar is affected by Disassociate Identity Disorder). In his bio from his website, Caesar also discusses his time working in the Art and Photography Department of The Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto from 1980 until 1997. He was responsible for documenting cases of severe child abuse, surgical reconstruction, and psychology and animal research. He affirms that this experience greatly affected the images in his work, and ends by saying, “I now live my dreams for those that didn’t get a chance to live theirs … to do otherwise would be a sin”. As an artist myself, injecting one’s personal experiences into the art they create, especially when those experiences have been as emotional and life altering as the ones Caesar describes, makes sense. Could it traumatize others who have actually lived those circumstances rather than someone who as Caesar was looking in as an outsider? Does it bring awareness to those circumstances or glorify them, or does it do a little bit of both? Is it that fine line that makes people’s reactions to his work so strong? Isn’t it art’s job to evoke emotional response from its viewers?

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27285_533898609974622_435312268_nThis whole debate really offers a lot more questions than answers. If you were waiting for me to come to a conclusive opinion at the end, I will admit I don’t have one. Women are undoubtedly valued from a young age based on their physical appearance above all other traits. How important is the art world’s role in this? Does it matter? Does art and entertainment have a responsibility due to the fact that it can shape our society, or is it just about the individual artist’s personal expression? What defines a sexualized image? Can depictions of women that are more sexual still be respectful? How far does talent excuse a harmful character, as in the case of Balthus, or a handful of other modern day actors and entertainers that come to mind? I have a feeling that the answer is probably somewhere in the middle of life’s complicated web.

Both women and men, the artists and non-artists out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to discuss and share what’s on your mind!

 

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Art Prize 9 At Founders Brewing Co.

IMG_0372 (1)This past weekend I trekked to Grand Rapids to hang up my installation for this year’s ArtPrize, my Unlimited series. My parents came along for the ride to both help lug my 12 pieces to Founder’s Brewing Co. and ensure I didn’t get lost and miss my installation appointment all together, as I cannot do directions. I think this may also be the only time my mom has been in a bar, so we had to capture a photo for posterity.

If you can’t make it to ArtPrize this year, you can still see the whole series up close in my online portfolio. Prints are also available on eBay and Redbubble. I’ll be going to soak in all the amazing art next weekend. Life has been a little ball of stress lately, and with all the house renovation stuff going on I haven’t left town all summer, nor even donned on a bathing suit once so I need this. Counting down the days!

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Final Artprize 2017 Series: “Unlimited”

Last week I finally finished the last piece in my 12 part series for this year’s ArtPrize, titled “Unlimited”. For this series, I created 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color, one representing each month of the year. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. I was able to connect with Founder’s Brewing Co. as a venue for my series. I love art, and I love beer so I must say it is sort of a match made in heaven ;).

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May: She Is A Dreamer

I really learned a lot from working on this project. I got experience in drawing portraits of a variety of ages and ethnicity, and with that different bone structures and proportions of features. I also furthered the skill of not choosing an arbitrary medium just because “this is what I want to use”, but choosing the medium that makes the most sense both aesthetically and functionally for a given part of a piece. All 12 in order can be seen below.

In the midst of all this Artprize excitement, life has been filled with a variety of other creative endeavors such as an art trade with former student turned instructor at the arts program I run, some fun summer painting workshops I’ve been teaching, and the purchase of a home which my boyfriend and I are aiming to completely renovate in one month with a combination of hopes, dreams, and elbow-grease ;). I knew that bachelor’s in interior design would come in handy one day!

But seriously, though I adore the unexpected job I found nearly by accident, I also love design. I have assisted friends and family with projects here and there, but I’ve never done something on this large of a scale, and best of all, the project is not for a client but for ME, so I get to tailor everything exactly to my tastes (Well, mine and my partner’s. My other half is so not one of those “whatever you say, honey” kind of guys when it comes to design, and actually wants to be a part of the process. This is equal parts amazing and frustrating depending on the moment ;).).

He didn’t put up a fight about keeping this trippy metallic wallpaper in the bathroom, so I guess we’re alright <3. Now, back to ripping down all the other wallpaper that is not so rad. See you in 10 million years -_-.

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Artists To Know: Amazing Artist and Designer Parents

In homage to this season where we honor parents through mother’s and father’s day, I wanted to highlight successful artists with families. There is this widely accepted perception that artists (especially women artists) can’t be successful if they start families. The stereotype of the the lone artist dedicated to their craft, eschewing any and all serious relationships lest it distract them from their ultimate purpose of creation still reigns supreme. Acclaimed feminist artist Marina Abramovic has repeatedly spoken in interviews about how having children holds artists back and is a disaster especially for women’s careers. However, isn’t viewing parenting, a role that is traditionally considered feminine, as less then an inherently sexist view? Disclaimer, this is all coming from someone who actually doesn’t want kids! However, it boggles my mind that being an involved parent is often looked at in society as “doing nothing” or underachieving one’s potential. I never thought about it much when I was a kid or teen myself, but how much of a full time job parenting truly is has really hit home for me as friends of mine are beginning to have children, and I see and hear firsthand about their experiences. Even with pretty awesome, well behaved kids, parenting is a 24 hour job. After 18-20 years, the hours may be cut back a little but really it doesn’t end there, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a vocation that is far from “nothing”.

Abramovic made headlines and sparked heated debate when she told German newspaper Der TAgesspiegel: “In my opionon, having children is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that”. The following amazing artists and designers with kids prove that you don’t have to.

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Mark Ryden,  forerunner of the pop surrealism movement, used his daughter as the model for this famous (or to some infamous) piece, Rosie’s Tea Party. The painting ended up in the middle of some controversy over the inclusion of Catholic symbols embedded in the piece. Asked amidst the uproar whether he felt people were imposing their own interpretations on his work, Ryden responded, “There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of. The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to the making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery. They need to literalize it all and tie it up in a neat little package”. As someone who has had people misinterpret the intent of some of my work based on their own bias and subsequently fly off the handle over it, I can empathize. Wrongfully interpreted or not, I am also very against censorship in general and feel people need to be able to handle being confronted with things they don’t always agree with. Ryden’s wife Marion Peck is a successful working artist as well.

 

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Jason Lee, a wedding photographer working in San Francisco, started this project in 2006 when his mother became ill. Because of the need to be careful about germs, her granddaughters’ visiting was restricted. Lee started a blog with these whimsical photos because he wanted his mother to still feel connected to what was going on in the girls’ lives, and he also wished to give her something that would cheer her up and make her laugh. Lee collaborated with his elementary aged daughters to come up with a host of ideas for surreal, comical photoshoots to share with their grandmother. More of the creative and adorable results can be seen here.

 

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Remy Coutarel is an illustrator from France, now residing in Seattle. He sites his young twin boys as a constant source of inspiration for his work, especially with his children’s book illustrations. His cheerful and imaginative illustrations span a variety of styles and subject matter, all with a recognizable sense of movement and unique character creation.

 

 

Children’s clothing line Princess Awesome got its beginning on kickstarter, the collaboration of two moms and good friends, elementary educator Rebecca Melsky and stay-at-home mom, part-time web developer, and seamstress Eva St. Clair. Melsky had a daughter who loved cars and dinosaurs, but would only wear skirts or dresses. Of course, there were no patterns of cars, trains, or prehistoric beasts to be found anywhere except the boys’ section. The two moms saw a gap in the clothing market, and decided to fill it. They started bringing their designs to craft bazaars, not sure whether other parents would like their designs that featured fabric patterns far different from what could be found in the typical girls’ section in department stores. The clothes sold out immediately, and they started getting orders. St. Clair also home schools her 4 children (She’s basically a superhero), and the two knew there was no way they’d be able to keep up with one person sewing out of their home, which is when they turned to kickstarter to fund their business. The rest is history. I love this company. As I think of myself as a child, one who was also not a fan of wearing pants and liked playing with dinosaur figures and matchbox cars and collecting  bugs and rocks just as much as playing with Barbies, I know I would have adored these clothes. Most clothing companies that pop up as an alternative to the typical “girls section” fare tend to veer entirely in the opposite direction of no pink, and no dresses, so that the girls in the middle who may love  stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girly” things end up left out. The company even makes scarves for adults featuring the fun fabrics covering their kids clothing. I need that dinosaur scarf ASAP.

 

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Independence day clothing is another line of designs created by a mom that saw a need that wasn’t being filled, and rose to the challenge. ABC news interviewed designer Lauren Theirry in 2015, shining a spotlight on the new company that aims to provide accessible and fashionable clothing to the autistic community. Theirry was a financial news anchor for over a decade before she decided to make the change to becoming an advocate for autism full time. Theirry had no fashion design experience when she started, but she had been helping her son with autism get dressed for 17 years and knew what others like him needed in a piece of clothing. Because people with autism often have issues with fine motor skills and can also have heightened senses, zippers and buttons or rougher fabrics can be extremely vexing and uncomfortable for them. Theirry decided that people with autism, “… deserve better than T-shirts and baggy sweatpants.” She designed a line of clothing in soft fabrics that feature no zippers, buttons, or laces that men and women with autism could easily take on and off themselves. All designs are also completely reversible with no defined front or back side, and are not designed to be gender specific, so that everyone can feel confident and comfortable while wearing them.

 

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The Huffington Post interviewed this last fashion entrepreneur, who is not just a designer mother but a designer grandmother. Karen Bowersox already had business experience from running her husband’s medical practice, but the decision to dive headfirst into the clothing business at 65 was inspired by her granddaughter with down syndrome, Maggie. Finding clothing that fit Maggie’s proportions properly was always a struggle for Karen’s daughter, especially with jeans or pants. Maggie’s family was not alone in this. Having no prior fashion experience, Bowersox reached out to designer Jillian Jankovsky in order to start her own company tailored specifically to children and adults with down syndrome, then called Downs Designs. Bowersox’s company was rebranded in 2016 to NBZ Apparel International after it expanded to provide jeans and slacks not only for people with down syndrome but individuals with other varying disabilities as well, including styles with no buttons or zippers for those struggling with fine motor skills. Bowersox wants people who look at her granddaughter and all individuals with disabilities to see the person first, not the disability first. She believes having clothing that individuals with disabilities can feel comfortable and confident in and that fits correctly is the first step. In the interview with Huffington Post, Bowersox said, “I can’t believe I’m changing the world, all with a pair of jeans“.

These artists, illustrators, and designers are successful because of  their family, not despite them, and their children have inspired them to generate ideas they would not have come up with otherwise. Don’t let others define what limits your potential based on their own fears and prejudices, and to all the parents out there, thank you!

 

One More Series Reveal + More On Redbubble!

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Say hello to December – She Is Connected To Everything. What can I say, I’ve been on a roll lately. I don’t think I’ve ever finished so many different pieces 2 days at a time in my life … Granted, I haven’t been doing much of anything else in my free time, as the pile of dishes in the sink will tell onlookers ;). Though all the pieces in my current series I’ve been working on are similar in style and use of medium, I wanted to keep them different enough that each could stand alone as well. I went a lot softer and less graphic, high contrast with this piece. I even used some leftover dried moss I had purchased for a felt floral arrangement commission earlier this year in the girl’s woodland crown. There is something I never thought in a million years I’d ever use in one of my drawings!

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I have been getting all my series posted to my Redbubble Shop as well, available for print on a variety of gorgeous items. My series also finally has a name … Unlimited. Each individual piece has it’s own title and the works cover a variety of different themes, so coming up with one title to encompass the whole was a struggle. At it’s heart though, this series is about the best of humanity, and about the strength, curiosity, compassion, and vibrancy of women across time, nationality, and ability. It is about the common ground that unites us, and when people come together, they truly become unlimited.

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.

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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

 

 

Exciting News From the MAG Annual Exhibition!

Friday was the opening reception for the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition. What’s awesome about this year is that the show actually took place at the gallery I work at as Coordinator for one of their major programs, Creative 360. The piece that was accepted into the show was “She Is Everything At Once“, the 3rd installment in my new series I’ve been working on since late 2015. There was so much amazing work this year, I truly was just excited to get into the show and did not go in expecting any further recognition… and then my name got called for an Award of Excellence. No matter how many years I spend involved in art, I don’t think I will ever lose that factor of complete surprise when something like this happens.

 

For those of you who may have missed previous posts on my new series, I will be creating 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year, the one featured in the MAG show being March. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected.

My goal is to get this series into this year’s ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. With the positive responses I’ve been seeing to images from this series thus far including an award for my January piece at the Greater Michigan Art Exhibition last Fall, I’m certainly feeling hopeful!