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Evil that Lies Beneath (Self Portrait Project)

I’ve never been scared of spiders.

Ever since I was a little girl, spiders meant different to me than what they might have meant to you: cool-looking weavers that made beautiful tapestries in the trees which they used to eradicate the actual bad bugs.

Another thing that contributed to this mindset also stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a place where poisonous spiders were only slightly more common than winning the lottery or getting stuck by lightning. The movie, Charlotte’s Web, which featured the protagonist’s “mentor” as a kind, pretty spider that dies tragically was a film I enjoyed immensely.

But.

Last year, I was on a year-long study abroad trip in Italy. Over Christmas break, my now-husband flew to visit, and proposed! After the break was over, and he left, I fell into a depression. Partly missing him, partly scared of the many changes that would take place after getting home.

One night, I had a dream that mortified me. This dream stayed in my head days after it happened. No dream ever shook me before like this one.

I saw two spiders, a dark brown and a yellow one, emerge out of some food I was eating wrestling with one another. The dark brown one devoured the yellow one. The weirdest part was, this spider actually scared me. I took off my shoe and was about to crush the spider with it, but I woke up just before the blow hit.

Days after, it was consuming me. I drew spiders all the time. After generally not believing dreams had meaning, I KNEW this one did. I did a quick internet search of spider symbology, but all I got was spiders signified “great change.” Let’s be honest. A freaking cow fart means “great change” in New Age symbology. I gave up that internet search pretty quick.

Then, one day, I bought Camille Paglia’s book, “Sexual Personae.” I just discovered this woman, a non-establishment feminist and art critic, who said so many things about the tragic nature of art in academia that I believed wholeheartedly, but could never put into words with the same precision that she did. I was excited to read one of her books, and oh how beautiful the words, with the same cutting diction as when she speaks, but yet, differently, with a sense of love, enjoyment, and enthusiasm for art that you don’t always get when she speaks. It was like reading poetry celebrating humanity, yet rife with a warning of blood, gore, and cruelty brought about by both Man and Nature. When she spoke of femininity, it was both with admiration… and caution. Throughout history, Woman had immense power-much more than we care to admit today- through our femininity alone. The ability to paralyze men with a gaze, to pit men against each other to win our favor, to bring destruction to established order that was built as a defense against Nature and her wolves, storms, and serpents. After all, we-women- ARE Nature.

According to Paglia, in art, there is no Male Gaze, the women depicted in art are gazing at US.

As I read her book, with a certain dark fascination with this side of femininity- and a slight sense of guilty pride, I came across a sentence that just put everything into place. Finally, my dream made sense.

“Hoever, the danger of the homme fatal, as embodied in today’s boyish male hustler, is that he will leave, disappearing to other loves, other lands. He is a rambler, a cowbody and sailor. But the danger of the femme fatasle is that she will stay, still, placid, and paralyzing. Her remaining is a daemonic burden, the ubiquity of Walter Pater’s Mona Lisa, who smothers history. She is a thorny symbol of the perversity of sex. She will stick.”

Just then, everything clicked. I knew what I was dreading. I knew what that dream meant.

I was afraid of getting married. There was a dark part of me that saw it as an inescapable trap.

Only it wasn’t me that was being trapped.

Without going too much into detail, it made me terrified of myself. The evil within. The evil I was capable of. Human beings, especially those who genuinely believed they could do no wrong, have committed unthinkable atrocities to one another throughout history.

In my own personal experience, the people who were the most sure of their personal morality (Christians, atheists, left and right-wingers, doesn’t matter), usually had the most vile and disgusting things to say about people they didn’t like. Whereas the people in my life who were open to the idea that they could be wrong, or not as moral, were the best and most honest people.

Yet, there’s a reason why Evil is typically associated with Snakes in Western Culture. It’s heavily ingrained in our biology due to the fact our ancestors had very unpleasant encounters with them, but also that snakes are sneaky, if you’re not watching out, they can blend into your environment and get you when you’re not looking. Your spouse came home grumpy and snaps at you? Chances are you’re thinking in the back of your mind how to get back at him/her. You might be suppressing that feeling, but it’s there. You know it’s there. If it happens enough, your desire to come out will spring and strike like the venomous snake it is. Or maybe, you’ve been conditioned to be weak and helpless because your overbearing, malevolent boss conditioned you to be: someone weak, unable to take autonomy, and forever unsure of yourself… letting out your resentment when you get home, sabotaging your own work, or becoming bitter to your coworkers who don’t have power over you, but now don’t want to help you because of your attitude.

This is also why we get satisfaction out of violent video games or movies like The Purge. There’s a sense of Catharsis that we’re conditioned not to exhibit, yet get’s played out in that media.

So, does that mean we’re doomed? Are human beings so flawed that we’re destined to become either a monster or a bitter, sniveling weakling that makes our situation worse? Not necessarily. The same drive towards rage and violence can be utilized to be protectors, and make bullies back down if we can show we are capable. If we can integrate our “shadow” personality, our lives would be much more fulfilling and easier to take whatever life throws at us (Carl Jung).

So let’s make some art based on it!

Upcoming Project: Self Portrait as Medusa (working title)

I’m inspired by Caravaggio’s painting of David and Goliath with Goliath’s dismembered head actually being his self portrait.

Maybe it was the most convenient, but there’s something I find fascinating about being willing to cast yourself as the villain. There’s almost an extreme sense of empathy required to do so. It’s not thinking “What would I do in a villain’s situation?” but “What would I do if I grew up exactly the way the villain did, and believed everything they believe?” Which is a much more difficult exercise, but I think a necessary one. Again, I doubt that’s what was going through Caravaggio’s mind, but it’s certainly going through mine.

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath

The Medusa Story

The Medusa story is interesting to me. It seems as though it’s been a study of the dark side of femininity for a long time.

Medusa’s Origin

According to Ovid, Medusa was formerly a priestess of Athena who was raped by Poseidon. Since Greek deities are kind of the worst, if that wasn’t enough, Medusa’s beauty had been on object of resentment for Athena. People were coming to Athena’s temple to see Medusa and get a glance at her beauty. After Poseidon’s attack on Medusa, this was simply Athena’s chance to get vengeance on Medusa, fashion for her a monstrous form, and banish her to a far away island, and help Perseus kill her.

Interpretations

In the traditional interpretation, Medusa symbolizes the gaze and judgement men feel when trying to approach and pursue a beautiful woman. Men fear Medusa the same way men fear the rejection of women.

A lot of feminist scholars will portray Medusa as the victim. Understandably so, she was raped, then the Goddess she dedicated her life to punished her for it. She then becomes a symbol of righteous feminine rage and retribution. Unfortunately, that’s where the interpretation seems to stop. No condemnation of Athena for lacking any kind of support to her loyal subject. Worse of all, Medusa has no agency. No control over self, nor is she expected to. She is a victim, and that’s the end of it.

Perseus is no longer seen as a hero, but just another aggressor. One who invaded her place of solitude. Only this time, he obliterates her completely.

My Questions

As you might have guessed, I don’t like the interpretation where Medusa has no agency. Everything that happens is only because other people did terrible things to her. That’s not trivialize the terrible things that happen to her, and do happen to women (and men) today. I can think of at least one specific example where a male politician raped several women working for him, and his wife turning around and did everything she could to silence them. So, yes, it does happen today.

But people seem to forget about Medusa’s power. It’s a deadly, not fun power, sure, it’s still powerful. Not only that, but I find it highly likely that Medusa very well might have enjoyed her newfound superpowers. Since a man has wronged her, she uses her power to end the lives of any and all men that would come near her. It would definitely ensure that something like that would never happen again. Many today would say that Medusa was not viscous monster the Greeks of old came to be, but a helpless victim, but I think it likely the events that happened turned her into viscous monster on the inside as well as the outside.

Medusa is the anti-Cinderella. While Cinderella remained good while malevolent people were being cruel to her ever day, Medusa would instead more and more viscous in her treachery and isolation. Human beings, as cruel as we are instead, generally tend to be more like Medusa after being treated wrongly, ultimately making our situations worse.

Not only that, but Perseus used Medusa’s head in many battles, using her power to fight evil forces. Something Medusa was unable to do herself.

That’s my own interpretation. What happens when something traumatic happens to you? How do you cope with it? Do you seek vengeance on the world, becoming at least as bad if not worse than forces who turned you into this monster, until a hero finally rises up and puts an end to your nightmare? Or, do you learn how to incorporate your newfound savagery? Maybe realizing a power you never had, then using it to defend not only yourself, but others weaker than you? One path leads down to nothingness and despair, the other path, maybe Medusa could have become hero with awesome godlike power.

Self Portrait

I took my sketchbook and spent about a minute sketching my face in a screaming expression (also, I got a new haircut). I think for a quick study, it didn’t turn out too bed. I was able to think of all the frustrations I suffered in the past year and captured it into a single moment. Not just with my expression, but with my hands too.

I have no idea what I want the final painting to look like, but I’m sure the process itself will be informative. I have a lot of questions in my head about the nature of good and evil. I hope this painting will serve as a an effective exploration as well as catharsis and therapy.

I demand to speak to the manager!

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Does Art HAVE to Be Political?

In my research on how to make my own art blog better, I’ve been researching other art blogs. I found the ones that are the easiest to find seem to be groups and collaboratives of artists as opposed to independent individual artists, which is fine.

I did find that many of these groups are involved with social justice activism such as feminism, environmentalism, inclusivity and other social justice values, just as much, if not more so, than their art.

That got me thinking to something I heard from Elizabeth A. Sackler when I lived in Italy. She said “All art is political. Even if it’s not political. It’s still political.”

At the time, this bothered me. Whenever I hear “Political Art,” I hear “Propaganda” somebody using something as wonderful, meaningful, and powerful as art only to be nothing more than to to try to tell people what to think. Not only that, but whenever I heard the word “Political” my mind easily jumps to evil, corrupt, greedy politicians who think they have the right to tell the rest of us what to do. Any art of this nature would be glorifying these scumbags like gods, which they are far from, as much as they like to think they are.

It wasn’t until later that year, when I decided to focus more on what I love about art instead of what frustrated me about how it’s taught in university, that I realized why it bothered me so much. Politics is a lens. It’s only one lens, and a very narrow one usually utilized by bored, rich, power hungry people, I found in my experience.

Art isn’t just looked at through a political lens… there’s philosophical viewpoints, psychoanalytic, scientific, historical (my favorite), and… religious.

Then it hit me.

Historical Significance

When you look back at history at any culture, what was the thing that got commissioned, kept, and preserved the most? That’s right. Religious art. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Gaza with their anthropomorphic animal gods, the Parthenon of Greece, the giant Reclining Golden Buddha of Thailand, all of these had significant religious significance.

Yes, we have statues of the great political leaders of the time too, but I don’t believe they inspire as much awe as the religious monuments. Historians spend countless decades and lifetimes analyzing every aspect of meaning, the myths, the legends, the significance these monuments had to the community, whereas we see a statue or painting of a king and say, “Yup, he lived in that time. Definitely had a big ego too.”

Even the tiny non-Christian Roman baby angel thought Augustus was the best… let’s be honest, he was probably right.

Although, you could make a religious argument for the statues of great rulers. Some cultures believed that the king was either a god or representative of God on Earth.

The Nature of Art Itself

Don’t hate me, but art is an inherently useless thing. It doesn’t serve any of our physical needs.

Art alone doesn’t give you warmth, nourishment, or any other physical thing you need to live. Even with cake, as an example, you can make a very artistic looking cake, but the “art” part of it really has no use beyond just looking pretty.

Some cakes are so well decorated, you actually don’t WANT to eat them.

A beautiful, well decorated house with stunning architecture gives you shelter and warmth, but the art part of it doesn’t serve that function, not really. You could live just fine in a plain, mass-produced house.

The sun gives us life, a beautiful sunset doesn’t. Yet we take the former for granted, and the latter we enjoy and appreciate much more. It inspires something in us.

Something that reminds us of how alive we are.

Something that, even just for a moment, fills us with a sense of completeness.

Something akin to a “religious experience.”

Religious art in the Gothic and Renaissance Western world was made with the purpose of evoking a religious experience such as this in the viewer. I very much felt this in every church I stepped into in Italy.

I was literally surrounded with so much beauty- the color, the shapes, the music- it made me appreciate what human beings were capable of- and if we- flawed, greedy, and self-obsessed as we are- were able to create something like THAT… then what were the angels capable of?

Of course, if you got your degree in Art History, like I did, you were constantly told that these were only made for rich people to show off their power.

Honestly?

Who in the nine depths of the Underworld gives a scarlet damn?

“Politics” is Just Code for “Religion”

The reason why you’re not supposed to talk politics and religion is because, to many people, they’re one and the same. They’re both vehicles of meaning and are an important part of peoples’ identity.

When you become a religious devotee, it can be very difficult to not look at the world through a religious perspective. Had a bad day at work, and towards the end, one of your coworkers hands everyone including you chocolate? God must have sent that coworker to give you the chocolate to cheer up and reward you for enduring such a trial-heavy day. It gives your life meaning. A sense of purpose. You may have taken advantage of opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise because you believe everything happens for a reason, and God loves you deeply and personally.

So, now I understand why important gallery owners like Elizabeth Sackler, university professors, and other art authorities say something as ridiculous as “All art is political.” They live in a very political world, are most involved with activism and pursuing a better world through their eyes.

Pictured above: An Enlightened individual after creating the greatest art known to the universe. She looks awfully happy. Maybe she knows something we don’t.

Many have gone into great detail of the similarities between social justice and religion. Every time I go to a Call for Artists on a publicly funded arts and culture council, most of what they want art specifically having to do with social justice values such as promoting environmentalism and feminism.

I used to be disgusted by this because everything about it just screamed “Propaganda for the Democrat Party,” but, maybe this is just the current dominant religion which promotes, values, and keeps this type of art.

I believe human beings are religious by nature. We NEED a religion of some kind to give us purpose and meaning, otherwise we’re just lost.

I’ve come to believe that art whether they’re sculptures, paintings, music, or even a momentary act of performance art, is an instrument (sometimes literally, looking at you, you fantastic musicians!) to evoke a sense of meaning in someone, whether it’s a gut reaction, or something that’s meant to leave you in a stupefying state of awe for hours while you’re trying to figure out what it all means. Of course, as long as it’s art I agree with, that is 100% beautiful.

In short: Sure, I think art can be political, but, more deeply, all art is religious by nature.

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this incredibly long post. If you would like to know what you can do to start becoming an artist today, here’s my post on baby steps through cartooning, and to my fancier friends out there who yearn to be oil painters!

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7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Become an Artist

I’m writing this more for myself. It seems like the more I pursue my art career, the more opportunities open up, and the more daunting it becomes. As I’ve said in the past, I’m personally struggling with a very odd Fear of Success (versus the fear of failure. Only instead of not trying because you’re afraid of failing, you don’t want to try because you’re afraid you’ll succeed and can’t handle it). but if you guys think this list is helpful to you too, then that makes me happy! Let’s all go through this journey together!

1. The Internet

Today is probably the best time ever in the history of art to become an artist and make money and recognition in your lifetime! Back in the olden days, you had to be lucky and make friends with a rich person who really really REALLY believed in your work enough to pay you a full salary to sponsor your work. Otherwise, in the less recent time, you had to push to get your art exhibited in galleries (I highly recommend you still go this route for reasons I will explain in a future blog post, but for now, let’s be excited about the internet) where you have to pay a fee for them to show your work and if you are lucky enough to sell any, most of that money will just go back to the gallery. Putting your art in galleries may actually LOSE you more money than you gain.

Now, you can post your art for free, and if you keep at fostering your social media presence, you will eventually gain a following which will put you in contact with people who want to buy your art. Yes, you do have to compete with other artists, but you may forget that this is not a zero-sum gain. Just because one artist gets a commission doesn’t mean you don’t get that commission. You can also make passive income by selling digital prints, eBooks, Patreon, and numerous other places. With the internet, it’s difficult to put all your eggs in one basket, and that’s a good thing!

2. Whatever You Love Doing: There’s a Niche for It

Art is one of the most frustrating things to go into as a profession because what’s “In” in the art world changes so drastically. When I brought my sketchbook to a Portland gallery, the gallery owner noted I did a lot of figure drawings, and those just weren’t “in” right now.

Read my previous point. If you build a following on the internet, it doesn’t matter. Someone will like what you’re doing.

Not only that, but there are infinite numbers of communities for what you’re doing. Even if what you’re doing is purely original, which is unlikely because humans are bad at being original, you will find a niche.

If you like painting waterscapes and fish, fishermen will probably want your art, if your faith is important to you, you automatically have an audience of people in your faith who are probably DYING for the kind of things you create, if you love painting cats and dogs, you have a lot of people out there who love their pets and would be delighted to have you paint a portrait of their beloved Sir Colonel Fluffikins III.

So Fluffy

And yes, I know I sound like a broken record when I say “Do What You Love” but I mean it. If you’re working on something because you think that’s what’s “in” right now, you’re not going to care that much about it. When you try to sell it, you’re not going to have that same enthusiasm and conviction that makes people want to buy it (if you don’t care, why should I?), and you’re just going to be frustrated.

So, do what you love. It’s not as hard to find people interested as you might think.

3. You Don’t Even Need to Be Good- At Least, Not Right Away

I believed that before I had any business pursuing a career as an artist, I thought I had to be good. I don’t even know why I thought this, because there are many teenagers out there on the internet who are already making a living making videos of their art and pride themselves on how they’re learning, and simply want to be an amazing artist when they grow up- as they should!

The truth is, a good artist should always be learning. As a general rule of thumb, I found that no artist believes they’re really “good.”

Not only that, but look back at history. The most remembered artists of the 20th century didn’t create the most beautiful, realistic artwork, their expertise lay with creating a strong message behind the artwork, shaking hands with the right people, and marketing.

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re good, as long as you keep at it, love what you’re doing, and do the necessary research along the way, you’ll be fine. You may not get rich, but that’s not the goal, the goal is to be an artist and make enough to get by.

4. There’s Parts of it That Might Suck… Just Like the Job You’re Currently Working Now!

You’re smart enough to know that once someone becomes an artist, there’s a whole lot of challenges to face along the way and after the fact: keeping a business going, deadlines, customer relations, taxes, and there even might be viscous and jealous competing artists. This may be what’s keeping you from pursuing your dream as an artist, that these may be things you don’t want to deal with.

As opposed to be the job you might be working at now, you’re working for someone else, they may be malevolent and send you home every day with this feeling like you’re not worth anything, the work you’re doing is soul-killing and not doing any good for the world, maybe even making it worse, and it may be affecting your attitude, your family may find you unpleasant every time you come home from work, and things will only continue to get worse.

As opposed to working for yourself- you may not make as much money- but you’ll at least have the chance to do something you know is meaningful. You will come to the end of your life not having regretted doing what you really love.

5. Even If You Don’t Make it As an Artist, You Will STILL Pick Up Skills that Job Seekers Like

I do not advocate dropping everything and starving yourself to be an artist. It’s good to have a fallback plan. Take comfort in knowing that not only do you have one, but by following your dream, you will be even more equipped, proficient… and desired, in said fall back plan.

I actually want to write more on this topic, but one of the things that keeps me going, even though I’m still new, is all the skills I’m learning along the way to reaching my dream of being a stay-at-home artist.

I thought of the skills I was learning that jobs seekers wanted: utilizing social media through a business perspective, waking at 5 am to work on my art career before going to my 9-5 job, customer relations, setting and keeping deadlines, sales, photo editing, marketing, website development, etc. Many of these were not skills that I learned how to do in school or at other jobs, but they were skills that I learned while pursuing my own art career.

It’s easy to think that it may not be worth it in the end to become an artist professionally, that you’ll be spending so much time and money on art, no one will want to buy it, and it will all amount to nothing.

Not so.

Even if you make art that nobody buys, you will learn many other skills and develop habits that will be attractive for future job seekers.

6. You Will Fail… A Lot

The reason why I personally don’t have a fear of failure anymore is because I I know I will fail… many many times.

You will fail to make the masterpiece you want, you will fail to make online sales, you will fail to get the number of followers/subscribers you want, you will enter that Call for Artists, and you will fail to get in. You will fail many many MANY times. And that’s okay. I know, it’s still discouraging when something doesn’t work out, but that’s part of the journey of becoming an artist.

With every failure, you will learn something, the next time you try something, you will approach it a wiser person.

It’s also satisfying to know that you are not a quitter. That the world is out to get you, and knocked you down so many times. Just to spite it, you got back up and kept going. Nothing will keep you down!

Pictured: You.

You are a warrior! You’re a lion! You’re a Viking!

You’re not afraid.

That tingling feeling in your nerves… that’s excitement. You’re going to go back out there and fight! Everyone will see how impassioned you are, and they will either cheer loudly with you and follow you to victory… or out of fear, they will get out of your way.

7. It Takes Time, but It’s So Worth It. And Fulfilling

Becoming an artist is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time. You’ll find shortcuts along the way, but for now, what you have is a cute little baby snowball.

You keep packing a little snow here and there, and it’ll get bigger. You roll it down a hill, and it will start to spiral and get so big you don’t know what to do with it (which is why I’m writing this blog post right now).

I know that ever since I decided to dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes every day to my art, I go to my day job feeling happier and more fulfilled. I have a sense of purpose and understanding of who I am because of my ambitions and goals that I dedicate a little time every day too. I am more resilient, less anxious, and stronger because of the habits that I spent the last several months accumulating. Because I actively look for things in other peoples’ art that I like- and used my art to build a philosophy of focusing more on creating the world you love instead of tearing down the one you hate- I am much less introverted and enjoy being around people more.

I like the person I am. Especially since I decided that I was no longer going to be afraid to be the artist I want to be.

Now go out and be the artist you want to be!

art, Uncategorized

I don’t know what to write

I don’t know what to write, so here is the most recent progress of my Springtime Copy:

 

So far, I’ve spent several months working on it a little bit every day. I learned a lot about painting in general by doing this. I feel like it looks like a child’s drawing when side by side with the original, but that’s okay. I’m still very happy with how it’s turning. It’s not done. I’m taking a break from it to work on some original artwork (finally), but I just wanted to show you my progress.

Also, How to Fight Writer’s Block: Just type “I don’t know what to write…” and see what comes after.