art

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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My Art Philosophy and the 5 Books that Shaped It

Good morning, everyone! The sun has arrived after many long weeks of rain and clouds, and it truly is the best.

For years, I’ve been thinking of my personal philosophy about art. More so out of rebellion against the university I was attending, which only wanted to view art through a political perspective, I’m happy to say as someone who is just a few years shy of her thirties, I think I finally FINALLY came up with an art philosophy that I am happy with. I believe my time in Italy, and being surrounded by beautiful art every day, most of it not costing me a three cent penny, helped shape it, but the books below, were probably my biggest influences.

DISCLAIMER: Now, I’m going to come and say it, yes, these are affiliate links. If you purchase any of these books, I do get paid a tiny bit, and yes, my writing this post did start off as me trying to use affiliate links effectively, but as I got to writing, and reopening these books for this article, I just fell back in love with them all over again. I enjoyed writing about these books and how they helped through roughly the hardest times of my life. If you want to buy any of the books below, or know somebody that might enjoy them, you would not only be supporting me and my dream to become an independent artist, but you would benefit from their wisdom.

My dream for the future involves filling everybody with love and inspiration for art- to want to take the places they love and fill them with beauty. I want everybody to discover the artist within. I am convinced if everyone read these books, then my dream for a future where everyone, especially you, can become an artist filling everyone you love with joy through the power of art, this dream might just be just a little bit more realized.

1. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Don’t worry so much about making art, just do it!

I believe one of the greatest challenges artists of any medium face is creating a new idea. It doesn’t help that copywrite laws are seemingly becoming murkier and murkier.

Steal Like an Artist is the first book I read in this list. It’s a short little book with adorable illustrations. Not only does it tell you to stop worrying so much about creating an original art (after all, nothing is truly original), but how to stop overthinking and actually get started in becoming an artist.

It’s a very short with easy to follow rules. They are as such:

  1. Steal Like an Artist
  2. Don’t Wait Until you Know Who You Are to Get Started
  3. Write the Book you Want to Read
  4. Use Your Hands
  5. Side Projects and Hobbies are Important
  6. The Secret: Do Good Work and Share it With People.
  7. Geography is No Longer Our Master
  8. Be Nice (The World is a Small Town)
  9. Be Boring
  10. Creativity is Subtraction

My favorite of these rules (after the first one, obviously) is rule 3- which translates to Paint the Kind of Art You Want to Paint. It helped me imagine what kind of art would I like to see in the world? If I could make the world more beautiful with anything, what would it be? I then create that art.

I came to find out Kleon has written some other books as well, including a Steal Like an Artist Journal. Kleon has also written Keep Going (10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad), and Show Your Work! I’ve never read these books, but if they’re half as inspiring as Steal Like an Artist, then I’d say they’re worth looking into!

2. Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel

Protect your history, and above all, don’t let yourself be the one who destroys it.

I actually came across this book in a bookstore for cheap while living in Italy studying art conservation.

The thing about it that struck me the most was one of the terrifying second chapter. It was written through a perspective of a man seeking what I wanted most, to beautify through art, his beloved place he called home:

“As a young man, he had dreamed of being an artist and an architect… He had wandered in the wilderness for a decade, almost destitute and virtually living on the streets. But his true destiny had finally revealed itself. He was not destined to create, but to remake. To purge, and then rebuild…”

Robert M. Edsel pg 15

Reading that chapter filled me great rage and discomfort. This man and I shared this vision for our respective homes, but this…monster… was also responsible for the slaughter of many of my ancestors.

If you haven’t guessed by now.

That man was Hitler.

The great adventure of seeing the Monuments Men team up and recover the art Hitler kidnapped was exciting, but it was over shadowed by that second chapter. Like a foreboding warning. Whispering, “When creating and protecting art, Beware. Do not be driven by hate. Beauty, history, and legacy will not be obtained by the blood of your enemies.”

Troubled, I brought up that chapter during a lecture from one of the Superintendents of Florence. She insisted that Hitler simply wanted to obtain the art to elevate his own power- nothing else.

I don’t accept that. It’s too… simplistic. And it doesn’t take into account that evil man was also human, and if any of us underwent the same life experiences he did, it would be likely we would have turned out just as cruel and vile.

It felt like watching Peter Pan with your child, who asks you, terrified, if there was a chance he could grow up to be like Captain Hook, you simply brush it off and say, “Of course not, Timmy. He’s bad. You’re good.”

It was an interesting choice to see the second chapter was written through Hitler’s eyes. In that moment, he wasn’t a monster, he was human. A human filled with inspiration, dreams of art, dreams to rebuild and a strong sense of vengeance for people he felt he needed to blame for everything going wrong.

I took this as a warning to watch out. There’s a monster in all of us. If we don’t pay attention to history, or ourselves and our own hate and resentment, we will become something inhuman and truly evil.

3. Glittering Images by Camille Paglia

After attending university and getting my art history degree, I discovered Camille Paglia (only to find out my mother discovered and admired her first, so in a sense I consider her almost a grandmother to me). She is a woman who has a passion for art and history at a level that I can’t even imagine- and the strength, boldness, and conviction to defend art. Her very words can tear your soul to ribbons and make you rethink everything you once believed. My passion for art as a tool of free expression and strength in the face of criticism and banality is heavily influenced by her.

The reason why I recommend Glittering Images is because it’s also a relatively short, quick, and easy book to read to get started into art history as well as Paglia’s sharp wit in general. The book was written specifically for the homeschool mother demographic to teach their children art history, the very art history they probably wouldn’t get in school.

Not only that, but because Paglia herself is such a strong woman who lives and breathes out of a hot, burning passion for art, strong sense of character and honesty, and is not afraid to speak out against the petty, spoiled, mutilated version of what is and isn’t acceptable art, she actually encouraged me to look at several forms of art of which I previously disdained (more out of rebellion than my own actual thoughts) with an open mind. Least of which, her beautiful analysis of the Mustafar fight scene from Star Wars episode III, a film that I just didn’t like, and yet,

The Mustafar duel, which took months of rehearsal, with fencing and saber drills conducted by word master Nick Gillard, was executed by Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor at lightning speed. It is virtuosic dance theater, a taut pas de duex between battling brothers, convulsed by attraction and repulsion. Their thrusts, parries, and slashes are like passages of aggressive speech. It is one of the most passionate scenes ever filmed between two men, with McGregor close to weeping.

Camille Paglia

She showed this, and even the performance art of the 1960’s and 70’s that I previously disdained in a new light that peaked my curiosity in a way other than, “If you don’t get it/like it, you’re just dumb and don’t understand” like how it was taught in university.

Glittering Images is not just an art history survey book. It’s a work of poetry.

4. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Don’t take things so seriously, love your critics and enemies, or at least love the art you love more than you hate them.

For those of you who might not know, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a former Atheist who converted to Catholicism. Historian, Philosopher, and Theologian, He has written dozens of books and poems and is beloved by both Christians and Atheists alike.

Orthodoxy is the sequel to his book, Heretics, where he critiques by playfully poking at the the popular agnostics and atheist philosophers of his time of his time such. Including, but not limited to H.G. Wells, George More, and James McNeill Whistler.

If I were to put the sum of his critiques in one sentence, it would be,

Naturally, after the book was published, his critics were not happy. They, quite understandably, demanded that Gilbert explain himself. It was probably even more frustrating that he critiqued them very much like a court jester: not hostile, just gently nudging that there might be some holes in their serious beliefs, and now everyone in the room is giggling.

It would have been better if he responded like a stern, angry preacher, sure the wrath of God would fall on the heads of these godless heathens, that way they could feel martyred and justified in their discoveries. Not Gilbert. No. Gilbert, treating them like a five year old boy would talk to his big brothers, simply asked them to stop being such sticks in the mud, to take a break from bragging to everyone about how smart they are, and just come outside and play. It’s sunny out and Mom just made lemonade.

Alright, they said, He explained their philosophies, but what about his? Gilbert, seemingly believing he was being challenged to a duel, picked up his pen and with much delight, responded:

“No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne. I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all the other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.”

G.K. Chesterton: Collected Works (Orthodoxy), pg 214

As little seriously as he took his brothers, this silly man takes himself the least seriously of all.

While Chesterton specializes in theology and not so much as art, his wit, humor, and glowing sense of benevolence probably was the thing that shaped my art philosophy in the most important way. His almost jester-like response to his critics

When you’re passionate anything, In Chesterton’s case, religion, and in mine (and most likely yours too) art, you’re going to face critics or encounter people who are just… wrong.

Now, I’m not talking about legit criticisms, where people offer feedback that if taken seriously, could be used as an opportunity to improve your art. I’m talking about bitter, nasty people who insult your work because they just get a kick out of making you feel bad.

Should you get angry at them? Insult them back?

No.

You should instead treat them like they’re stick-in-the mud older sibling who thinks they’re so much better and smarter than you and need to show it. You should respond to their insults with a sense of humor.

5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Yes, I have an affiliate link above, but since Meditations is in the public domain, here is a link to the free pdf if you would like to download it!

As an artist, it’s easy to get swept up and emotionally invested in things. It’s easy to compare yourself to others or think you’ll be great if you could achieve X level of skill, or make X amount of money or what have you. I found that many artists, myself included, tend to get very emotional especially when it comes to their art. I know for a fact there is a sense of hopelessness I feel knowing that the thing I’m most passionate about, and the most skilled at, doesn’t exactly put bread on the table as easily as getting an office job.

But, there is a strong wisdom in stopping, looking at the present situation around you, no matter how terrible, and realize that’s the only moment you truly live in. Might as well figure out how to enjoy it with dignity and meaning

Marcus Aurelius is one of the greatest philosophers known to mankind. Both he and his meditations on the philosophy of Stoicism have withstood the test of time on such an impressive level. People usually think “Stoicism” and imagine an emotionally repressed man who just does not care and is very good at suppressing his emotions. Not so.

One of the key tenants about this book is being happy. Particularly, finding happiness in your current situation. It’s very difficult, but the truth is, you can’t change the past, you can’t always predict the future, it’s just best to this one thing: Live in the moment. Bad moments will pass, and the good moments are worth stopping and being grateful for.

I downloaded the PDF to Meditations two months ago and have made a habit of writing a journal about it every day while analyzing each little section of the book and how it can be useful in my own life. Meditations helps put the insecurities and hopelessness I feel about my art in perspective. Since then, I found that I’m more willing to accept things as they are rather than getting angry about things in the world that I can’t control, I can focus better on the things I can,

Art Museum Internship, Uncategorized

ArH Internship Week 9: A Brief History on Printing

Bleh. So, I wrote two blog posts yesterday, yet still it took me this long to get this blog post done for my school. I don’t why this is happening, it’s really dumb. I should just get all my school projects done at the beginning of the week before doing other projects like the Van Gogh or Lenten projects.

funny
Why???

So, this week, I wrapped up more print works. I realized that in my blog post last week, I talked about the prints I’ve been preserving, but not anything about the history of lithographs, prints, or anything like that. I figured, since I got caught up in all my other classes, that this would be as good of any time to do this.

Even though printing has been around for centuries and believed to have originated from Ancient China with the earliest known print piece found in Shaanxi, China created back in 618-907.(1) This was a woodblock printing. More famously, in Germany, Johann Gutenburg invented a complex typing printing machine in 1455. I actually remember as a small child doing a presentation on Johann Gutenburg. As interesting as Gutenburg’s invention was, Alois Senefelder’s story was moving.

Alois Senefelder, also from Germany, was an artist who lost his funding and support after

isenefe001p1
Alois Senefelder (1771-1834)

his father’s death. He tried, with no success, to gain a living as an actor, then he finally got a job in a printing workshop. He worked hard on a play he wrote and, again, found little success in getting it published. At this time, printing plates were very expensive, so he tried to make his own printing blocks to publish the play himself with little success.

It just so happened that he was writing his laundry list on a piece of paper on a lithograph stone, but when he looked under his list, he found the impression and discovered that by continuing to etch on the stone he could create a new, much cheaper form of printing. Finally, after failing again and again, he found a way to not only publish his own play on much less expensive level, but was asked to teach lithograph printing to musicians and other people seeking to print their works for a much cheaper price.

Yes. This man is my new hero.

Now, here are the things I wrapped up today:

 

Above are prints of animals, but the prints here below are a little closer to home. According to the information page in the Old Days portfolio, these were a series of prints that were made in the 1980’s during Willamette River crisis and the prints inside were reimaginings of the wilderness before it was inhabited by humans.

(1)Pan, Jixing. “On the Origin of Printing in the Light of New Archaeological Discoveries,” in Chinese Science Bulletin, 1997, Vol. 42, No. 12: 976–981. ISSN 1001-6538. Pages 979–980.