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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7 Things You Should Say to Yourself Like a Crazy Person

I’m an artist! Of course I’m crazy! (Actually, believe it or not, there might not actually be any correlation between creativity and mental illness according to this Psychology Today article. When I got myself tested, I was only diagnosed with a minor form of anxiety, but who doesn’t have it in this day and age?)

Even so, sometimes we feel like we’re actually two people. There’s the rational side that has big dreams and knows that it requires hard work to reach said dreams, then there’s the instant-gratification monkey that doesn’t want to work hard. These are also things I say to myself when I’m feeling frustrated, scared, or lazy. These are things that help me a lot of personally, and I invite you to try saying these to yourself.

1. I Will be Okay.

I wish I could say I came up with this, but this something that I hear all the time from Charlie on his YouTube Channel Charisma on Command, which I strongly recommend especially if you’re socially anxious and shy.

Every time I think things are not going well, or I’m about to apply to have my art exhibited, or try something new that could potentially help my art career, I just think to myself, “No matter what, I will be okay.” And I will. Even if things turn out so wrong for a while, I know I’ll get through it somehow.

2. This Too Shall Pass.

Oh hi, Mark!

A quote from my old buddy, Mark. Something I say when I’m really not having a good time for whatever reason like I made a mistake at work, am receiving harsh criticism that I can’t find a way it will help my art, or I’m sick and miserable (at least then I can read a book). These are the moments you really can’t stop and appreciate. All you can remember is that they will pass, and you can move on.

3. Don’t Compare yourself to others. Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday.

I really really should have put the book I got this from on my list of books that shaped my philosophy, but I’m happy to give a nod to it now. This is a rule from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life that helped me a lot as an artist (that and Treat Yourself Like Someone You’re Responsible for Caring For). This is something that keeps me from being overwhelmed, and even happy for, the artists out there with skill that I will never come to close to, but I still get to keep my competitive spirit by competing against myself. Although, sometimes I feel I’m ahead, and sometimes I’m behind. And that’s okay too.

4. I am Not a Quitter

Running on a treadmill? Having a rough time at your job that you’re not sure you can take anymore? Learning something new and you’re hitting a wall? Whenever this happens to me, I simply whisper, “I’m not a quitter.” and it gives me the boost I need to keep going, even if it’s just for a few more minutes. Now, maybe you are a quitter. Maybe you’re the kind of person who quits 100 times out of 99. Not in that moment, you’re not!

5. It Will Only Take 10 Minutes

Every time I wanted to read a book, paint, work out, or something I needed to do, suddenly, I never wanted to do it. I believe you have felt this way repeatedly. I learned, albeit later than I would’ve liked, that’s not the act of doing something that’s all that important, but starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked myself into spending only ten minutes on a project, ten minutes go by and I think, “Eh, I can keep going” and next thing I know, two hours went by, I have an almost completed painting, and I realize I forgot to eat breakfast.

6. Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Life

When I was about to graduate with my bachelor’s, I was in a kind of slump. I wasn’t sure where my life was going, what I was going to do next, and I was very, VERY scared. That was when I decided to go live in Italy for a year. Every step it took me getting there from the application process, to the acceptance letter, to the getting my passport and visa, it felt like something was fighting me. What if I end up destitute? What if it goes wrong?

My mother said, “Don’t let fear rule your life.”

If I listened to that fear, I would have never had that experience, met those wonderful people on my journeys, and have those wonderful stories.

7. If takes less than 5 minutes. Do it now.

Nothing art related, just a good rule of thumb. Keeps time doing chores down to a minimum.

Bonus thing:

“I will find a goddamn light, man.” Was listening to a Kevin Hart interview excerpt while I was writing this. The fact that this man is just “happy” and can take any moment and find joy in it somewhere is just a rare thing.

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How to Become an Artist Fast (If You’ve Never Even Drawn a Stick Figure Before)

Everybody seems to have this misconception that in order to be a real “artist,” you have to have this god-like talent. Some people are artists, and some aren’t.

Full disclosure, this post covers primarily drawing

That’s not true at all! It really doesn’t take much to develop a drawing skill that will impress your friends and loved ones- maybe your social media followers if you want to get ambitious.

And think about it: Many artists who are “successful” aren’t exactly Raphaels or Da Vincis. Most of them are cartoonists who know what kind of drawings make people happy and have fantastic marketing and social media skills as well as artistic talent. So there you go! No excuse to not start being the artist you want to be!

I want to share my personal quick tricks to get you started as an artist right away. If you want to work towards becoming as good as Cesar Santos, that’s up to you- but today we’re going to do a few quick and easy things.

The first thing I highly recommend is a sketchbook. I found a cute, tiny one for you here for less than $7 at the time of writing this blog post. Starting off with some regular computer paper is fine too.

1. Write what your favorite thing is.

In your little sketchbook, and write down what your favorite thing is. Do you really like horses? Write that down. Classical art teachers might have you start “Beginning Drawing” with landscapes or random shapes.

If you’re not interested in landscapes or spheres, but you really love mermaids, you may get bored really quickly of the former. So, think about what YOU really like. If studying those other things will help you get there- great! If not, don’t worry about it. Like I said, this list is just to help you get started quickly.

2. Find that Favorite thing in a Cartoon Style.

Everybody loves cartoons! Chances are, whatever you love drawing, there is a cartoon version of it somewhere. Go online and find clipart, or if you like people, anime, or a 2D Disney style would be a fun and great place to start.

After you find that cartoon style, it would be a good idea to draw what you see. Maybe even start with a few blind drawings to get your hands and eyes warmed up.

Pictured above: Easy to Draw Dolphin

There’s also a ton of great videos on YouTube that teach you how to draw cartoon versions of anything. If you have daughters or little sisters, or just like drawing… for example… ballerinas, general, here is a 10 minute how-to-draw a cartoon ballerina video. For very early beginners, I highly recommend the YouTube channel Draw So Cute. She gives very easy-to-follow advice on how to draw a cartoon version of just about anything.

If you’ve tried drawing this and are still struggling I recommend printing out your subject, then trace a few times. This will help the muscles in your hand remember how to draw the various curves and lines of what you want to draw. Here’s some tracing paper for less than $5.00. Make sure to draw your subject on your own though! Nobody is impressed by a tracer!

3. Draw in that Style Every Day for a Few Days

Of course, learning to draw quickly doesn’t necessarily mean “immediate.” Ideally, I should be telling you to draw every day until you kick the bucket. That’s not reasonable. I can barely draw every day- let alone a brand new beginner like yourself! I would recommend, at least starting out, trying to draw for 30 minutes per day. It’s easy to find the time.

It may not even take you five days. I’ve known many adults in their 40’s who were able to pick up cartooning immediately.

Five days is a good number though. One day let’s you suck at it, two days lets you suck at it, you should be getting the hang of your new cartoon style by day 3, and day 5, you should have created something that your friends will be impressed with- especially if you’re only starting out! Remember: The reason why most people can’t draw is because they’ve never started. If you’ve drawn Betty Boop for five days, you can still draw Betty Boop much better than 70% of people.

4. Color*

This is optional, but if you really want to impress people (especially yourself), add color. Seriously. I’ve been looking at my numbers, and more people respond to colored artworks more so than my usual daily black and white sketchbook drawings. People love colors! You can invest in some good colored pencils, get Photoshop (Gimp is free if you’re not swimming in cash or have access to a college computer), or you can get some nice watercolors- which is nice for relaxation.

5. Congratulations! You can Draw!

Ta-da!

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5 Reasons You’re Not Allowed to Say You Suck at Art Anymore

Let’s face it, in a world full of trolls, snobs, and self-proclaimed “art critics.” there’s a pretty good chance no one is meaner to your art then… well… you. You should stop that! You art has never done anything to you, why are you so mean to it?

I was inspired to write this list because I used to have this annoying habit of showing a piece of my art to my Dad, he would say it’s good, then I would say “It’s not my best” or “I’m not super proud of it” to which he would say, “It’s better than what I can do.” I’ve made it a point to stop doing that, because I too would hate it when artists better than me would say they weren’t proud of a piece of artwork they made (yet they still post it on social media) and I too would sit there thinking, “Pfft. It’s better than what I can do.”

I don’t want anybody, even people who’s art I personally don’t like, to say their art sucks. I want to live in a world where people can recognize their talent, appreciate the fact that they’re not as good as they want to be, but will get there someday. I want artists to be more supportive- especially of themselves.

Before you look at your newest painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph, or anything you made recently, and say “it sucks,” please consider these 5 reasons why you shouldn’t say it.

1. You’re still a better artist than SOMEBODY.

Think about how insecure you are about your art- now imagine meeting the artist you admire most- living or dead- and hearing them say that about their own art. You might feel relieved that even the artist who inspired you the most is critical of their own art- but the thing is, they’re wrong. You know it in your hear they’re wrong. If their art really did suck, you wouldn’t have been inspired to create art because of them.

That’s how many people think about you when you say your art sucks.

Now, you are a better artist than somebody. Hopefully the most important “somebody” was you yesterday- a month ago- a year ago. The point is, your art can’t suck because, as long as you’re still learning, the art you’re making now is the best art you’ve ever made! Most importantly, it’s not the best art you’re going make- that’s still yet to come.

I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about that fact.

2. You might just be fishing for compliments.

I know. For a fact. That I’ve been guilty of doing this. Even though I might not have been as proud of a drawing I made, but there was a good chance I was showing that drawing to someone who was not an artist- or at least not as good of an artist as me.

I would then say, “Oh it’s not my best” or whatever, and immediately expect-even on a subconscious level, that they would give me reassuring compliments and help inflate my ego.

The point is, you might need to consider if deep down, you don’t honestly think your art is that bad- you’re just trying to get compliments- and if you are- you shouldn’t probably stop. It’s manipulative and not very nice.

3. Why Does “Your Art Suck?” Because You’re Still Learning!

I think too many young artists get this idea in their head that they become an art student, then are a professional artist and can be the best they can be. The truth is, great artists never stop learning.

If you’re not proud of the artwork you made, this is a really good opportunity to learn why you’re not proud of it- to get a really good look at it and figure out what you need to do better, then learn. Is it a color theory issue? Is it a proportions issue? This where you should stop criticizing yourself, but instead, critique yourself.

Now, this doesn’t mean you suck. Be honest, yes, learn, yes, do better next time, yes, but be kind to yourself. There will be times in your life where the only place you can get encouragement is yourself (in which case, I’d advise you to move because it sounds like you’re surrounded by toxic people).

4. The More You Say It, The More You Believe It.

Imagine you’re looking for a new couch, you’re asking the salesman questions about it, and he says, “Yeah, it’s a good couch, but it’ll only last you three years, the upholstery is noisy when you sit on it, and gosh, you know? The color’s not the best, it’s a dirty color.” Would you want to buy that couch? Also, why is this salesman still even working here?

If you want to make art more than just your hobby, you’re going to need to learn a little about marketing your artwork too. The more in the habit you are saying “Your art sucks,” the more you’ll believe it, and the less attractive you’ll be to buyers. When I worked retail, and told customers about a product I bought myself and loved- I would get excited about it and can’t stop talking to customers about it. Every item like I’ve sold customers sold every. Damn. Time.

If you’re in the habit of being overly critical about you art- and especially when you’re talking about it out loud to others, you will believe your art sucks. This will make you more frustrated with your art and, in extension, yourself.

Art is more than just any old product- it’s a creation of your very being. It’s a part of you- instead of not being content with it- especially the way it looks now- you should be proud of it, excited about it, it’s a part of your story and you should tell it to others loudly and happily.

5. Finally, art is about as objective as they come. There is art out there that sucks- but not yours.

See this painting? This is a detail photo of Jackson Pollock’s “Number 8.”

You know what else? It sucks! There was no visible effort put into this painting, the guy literally just poured acrylic paint onto a canvas every which way with no apparent rhyme or reason!

And people have gotten horribly angry at me for stating these opinions. Turns out there are a lot of people who admire Pollock and his work, and get very touchy when people say it looks like- well- nothing but a bunch of splattered paint.

If you think your art sucks, there’s a good chance it doesn’t. Everybody out there has a different viewpoint on what makes good and bad art. There are people who might look at your art and think it’s bad, and there are probably a lot more people who look at your art and think you’re a considerable person of talent. You should be in the latter category.

Art is so objective, why shouldn’t you like your own art? Or at least be excited about the potential masterpieces that will come out of your future years of practice?

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7 Day Lazy Morning Challenge: Day 4: Sketchbook Drawing

I don’t have a lot of time to post this morning, but in a few words: Too tired, hard time getting up, wasn’t able to continue the painting from yesterday like I planned, opted to draw from my binder of old master references instead.

Let’s just say, thank God I had everything set up the way it did, otherwise I wouldn’t have done any art practice this morning at all- which is worse than spending 30 minutes on a sketch.