This morning, I overslept, still woke up early enough to where I’m not leaving the door for work 20 minutes before my shift, but still enough that it caused a detriment to my morning routine.
Even so, I found that I had some extra time today than I did yesterday (and I did manage to get up at 5 yesterday) and I thought, “Great! I can actually get to painting my Caravaggio head study that I’ve been putting off the last three days.”
Then I stepped into my art studio.
I stepped into the studio, and it was dark, cold, and chilling.
I could possibly, I dunno, go turn on the lights (which are actually in an inconvenient place), put on warmer clothes, promise myself I’ll only paint for five minutes, then not, but nope! I’ve opted to go back into my slightly warmer living room and write a blog post instead with YouTube videos playing ensuring my distraction from what I’ve been put on this earth to do.
So many reasons to not paint. Just stay in bed, play on the computer, type up this blog entry hoping to talk myself into painting while this still time before I have to get ready to leave…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, the theme of Day 2 of the Daily Dragons of June is “Fruit.” I didn’t have a particular idea in mind when I chose the theme, but as I was falling asleep last night, I was reminded of this uncanny coincidence that happened in my life last year.
When I was living in Italy, I was painting this:
I wasn’t influenced by anything, it was just an image that kind of came to me. When I got back home, my mother and I were having a conversation, and she was telling me how a few months prior, she was thinking about a friend who was getting married and kept getting deeper and deeper into debt adding on things to her wedding that weren’t really necessary. As my mother was falling asleep, these words came to her mind: “The Serpent wraps around her neck and whispers in her ear, “You deserve more.'”
Now, I didn’t tell her about the painting I was doing. I didn’t send her any pictures (because at the time it was very unfinished), and it wasn’t even on any social media. She didn’t even mention that anecdote to me until months later when I got back home. It was almost disturbing how we were on different sides of the world and essentially thinking the exact same thing at the same time.
I took this to mean that this is something very important. Kind of like how Eve couldn’t be content with the good things she had, she became convinced that she deserved more even if it meant death. At the same time, we seem to lack the ability to be content with what we have in love, we keep driving ourselves to misery just seeking more and more.
That’s what was on my mind morning. Oftentimes, it’s much more than “it would be nice if things were different,” but this idea that we deserve more than what we have now.
Also joining me in this challenge is the artist @art.foliage with this fun picture of a dragon squashing tomatoes! Please click the link to see more of art.foliage’s art on Instagram!
If you’re an artist and would like to do this challenge, here are the prompts below, be sure to put #DailyDragon so that I can find you and maybe feature you on here!
Happy Saturday! It’s been a beautiful morning here, and I hope your weekend is off to a great start as well!
Welcome to a challenge I’m going to call: Daily Dragon! (Just for this month though).
I had so much fun with MerMay, that for the month of June, I’m going to continue with the fantasy art theme: drrrrragons! I used to love drawing them all the time as a teenager. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what they meant on a spiritual level too: a huge monster so much bigger than you, but if you’re brave enough to stand up to it- and defeat it, you get lots of great treasure, but you have to be brave enough to stand up to it first… It’s been very appealing to me lately. .
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.
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.
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!
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.