Thursday, July 29, 2010

More from Thomas Bosket's workshop

Whenever I work with Thomas, I do brand new things which challenge and exite me.  I go to lands hitherto unknown to me.  I learn things I didn't know existed. 

There's the saying, "Reach for the stars and you may just reach the moon" - or something like that - the idea being that going way far out and reaching high at least gets you further than you'd be if you hadn't left your comfortable easy seat. 

It's like that for me with Thomas.  I am reaching for the stars.  Ultimately I end up at the moon after a long while of integrating what he's taught.

Here are the images I've been working on this week.  They're not nicely cropped because my canvas is too close to the wall to be able to get back far enough to take a good image, but it'll certainly give you an idea of what I'm working on.  They're quite different than my usual work!

This first picture will give you an indication of where the pieces all started.  They were in this shape at the beginning of the week, though the others had some indications of value on them as well (darker paint where the shadows are).

The second picture has two different images.  The one on the far left is the first one I did.  Thomas was showing me how some of the Masters painted.  They would put down a carefully gradiated layer of grey values and from there they would work darker with transparent paints and lighter with opaque ones.  Obviously I haven't gotten to the second stage of that one yet.

This is Thomas's first layer of a painting by Rembrandt to show me how to do the layers juicier and looser.  I used that technique - believe it or not - in the second one before putting on all the crazy layers.

The second picture in this image is what I spent most of yesterday on.  Thomas gave a demo on mark making in the morning then I decided to try to incorporate all those types of marks - and more - into my painting.  I went into the basement and found a bunch of crazy tools to use - bad house paintbrushes, twine, scrapers, plastic pieces, etc., -  then looked outside for more - leaves, sticks, twigs.  I think I used them all.  It was very freeing to try to think of ways to use each one.  It gave the picture a lot of diversity of marks and many interesting passges throughout.

Chris looked at it in the evening and wanted to know how people feel looking at it who already like my work the way it is.  I told him that isn't the point.  I have to keep developing as an artist - it's the only way to be an artist - to keep exploring and learning new things.  I doubt my work will continue to look like this, but for right now, it does - and it might.  And if that's the case, then people will either like it, or they won't, but I'm not creating for other people - I'm creating because I have to.  I think artists die inside if they get trapped into making art that always looks the same.  It's a horrible fate, and I refuse to consign myself to it.  Period.

So the second image has lots of explorations in it.  Lots of different types of marks.  Lots of intense color.  Chris commented that it has lots of emotion in it - I can certainly see how it gives that impression - but I wasn't angry or anything like that.  Instead I was curious.  I was playing.  I was intensely interested in what I was doing.  I listened to music for part of it, but that was actually too much - it got in the way of the rest of my mind. 

This last image was a real gift from Thomas.  He came out to the studio with me after the other students had leaft, after dinner.  We looked at a book of Jenny Saville's images.  She's amazing the way she paints.  The image here is the one we were looking at when we did the above image.  It hasn't gotten to the finished stage Jenny Saville's piece is at yet, but we're heading there.  Saville puts all those colors underneath - those gashes of paint, the drips and runs and stains and deep darks and shocking lights.  Then turns out with something so exquisite and real looking, it makes me want to weep with recognition of the pure humanity of it.  Her work is also 10' tall or bigger usually.  I wish I had such a large canvas prepared so I could practice on it, but this smaller one will have to do for now.

Thomas sat behind me and told me the strokes to put on and how.  It's so completely foreign to me to figure out how to do those strokes - I mean, compare that image to the first, grey, subtle one!  This later one is NOT my normal predilection!  But I'm loving learning how to do it.  I am looking forward to figuring out the next layer today.  I feel trepidation about being able to figure it out myself, but that's the task I'm setting for myself.

So now the canvas looks crazy with the three different styles of pictures on it, but I'm seeing it as an incredible opportunity to learn so much in one week.  Amazing!

Off to the races!  Who knows what'll be up here tomorrow????!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This week I'm involved in a workshop with Thomas Bosket, my long-time teacher who teaches at Parsons School of Design in NYC during the school year.  This is the 6th or 7th time I've worked with him, beginning in 2000 or so.  I met him when I took a drawing class he taught at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, TN.  He's a fabulous teacher, full of knowledge and an insatiable desire to share it.  He is zany, intuitive, kind, and demanding. 

When I work with him, I invariably learn enough for me to chew on for the next year or two.  My work shifts dramatically after his workshops, and I find it takes me a couple of years to absorb everything I've learned and to integrate it so it's mine.  Our first year together, I went from drawing 3" pregnant nudes in pencil to drawing my kids' faces 3'x6' on brown paper!  THAT was dramatic!  The thing is, I feel like both options are completely valid, and I like both - it's just that he opens me up to possibilities I hadn't considered before because I hadn't know they existed.

The other thing he helps me do is figure out how to integrate my very intense, emotional side and my more perfectionistic, careful side.  Can you figure out which is which in the two pictures I've put here?!  I tend to behave very carefully in my world so I won't rock the boat or upset people.  That part of me certainly comes out in my very careful, photorealistic work.  But there's also another part of me which is quite intense and emotional.  I feel deeply - what artist doesn't? - and, with those with whom I feel safe, I express myself thoroughly.  I would ideally love to integrate those two parts more fully both in my life and in my art. 

Each time I work with Thomas, I work on ways to accomplish that.  Over the years I've found ways to bring more passion into my art, even if it's subdued and subtle.  The picture on the left, Dancing Woman, isn't subtle at all!  I had begun the canvas months before but couldn't get anywhere with it so I set it aside.  Then one day I was feeling angry and decided to blow it out all over the canvas.  In 2 hours I had a finished piece, and I felt so much calmer!  It was great therapy!  So constructive - and effective!

I will also often paint with my hands (with latex gloves on) because that is so visceral.  It's so satisfying - like finger painting when I was a kid, or making mud pies.  The picture I did of Dylan recently was done with my fingers.  I like the immediacy of it.

In this workshop with Thomas, I'm trying to learn how to paint classically, like Ruebens and those guys.  I am aware that I don't have a lot of technique - I just paint however occurs to me.  So I figured if I learn the classical way to paint, I can then choose to use that or not, but I'll be making a clear choice rather than working by default.  So this morning Thomas showed me the first step to painting a cactus in this method.  it's extremely dark and subtle at this point. 

First he painted the canvas brown - he wanted to use burnt umber, but all I had was burnt sienna, so he used that mixed with a bit of Vermillion (red).  Then he mixed black and white - I NEVER use black! - and painted the shadows in varying values of grey.  Then he modified the greys by putting color in with them, but still in the mid-value range - not very dark, not very light.  The result is the picture you see (except that it's a poor picture because of the glare on it from the wet oils - sorry!)

Thomas is going to show me the other steps tonight so I can see the whole process from start to finish.  Thank goodness!  I'm finding it embarassingly difficult to understand and absorb the process from words.  I really need to see it, then I need to do it!

This afternoon after his lesson I took out a canvas I'd laid aside a few months ago (Shiela x 4) and started doing the process on it.  First I covered the canvas with a layer of sienna brown mixed with a bit of burnt umber.  I don't  have a picture of that.  Then I began putting in the greys on the far left-hand image. The task I set for myself was to render the values correctly in grey.  I didn't get to the next stage yet - this one took a long time.  What it feels like to me is that this process takes many, many layers - it's a lot more work than direct painting.  You also have to know where you're going and trust that the process will get you there.  I don't quite trust it yet - that this grey image will end up with luminous gorgeous skin.  I have done that with direct painting, but I can't figure out how to get there from here.  It seems like the greys would just remain grey and yucky. 

I do trust Thomas, though, and look forward to learning how to do it.  I have an image of a woman who has exceedingly pale skin.  I'm looking forward to figuring out how to make her look effervescent and glowing from inside through this method.

Stay tuned!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Processing Dylan's surgery through paint

As most of you probably know if you read my blog somewhat regularly, my 18-year-old son just had extensive surgery to correct his scoliosis.  Thankfully the operation was a success, and he is in the long process of healing now - which means trying to function while doped up on Percocet and Valium and weak and wobbly in his legs and trying to learn to re-assess the world from 2 inches higher up!  (The surgery made him significantly taller, so now he's about 6'4".) Apparently it makes a big difference to ones center of gravity to be that much taller, so he's having to sort all that out too. 

This painting is one I did a few days after his surgery.  It's based on a photo taken the day after surgery when he woke up, groggy and swollen-faced and in pain, in the PCU, yet still wonderfully present.  

It is helpful to me in times of stress to express my world visually.  Painting Dylan did two things for me - I painted him with my hands, a much more expressive way of painting than when I use a brush, so I could feel the vitality of my feelings, my fear, my anxiety, my relief, my concern, my gratitude.  It all comes out through my hands.  I could get my mind into another mode - no longer squirreling around frantically in the aforementioned feelings, but rather thinking more analytically, using a different part of my brain, yet still focused on my darling son.  Towards the end of the process, I did use a brush at times, so I was more delicate in my touch, expressing my tenderness and gentleness and absolute love.

Some people process their lives through words.  I do that too when I journal or write this blog, but I think the more profound process for me is to paint and visually re-create something I've seen and am experiencing.

How do you process your world?

Laurie Anderson

While reading Smithsonian Magazine last night, I came upon a quote by Laurie Anderson, a performance artist, which I thought was worth sharing:

What qualities must an artist bring to her work regardless of the era, medium or technology?
I would just say one word - openness.  And you could also say awareness.  That's what I treasure in other people's work - when they create something that makes you go, "Whoa, I never saw that."  In a way, what artists really do is extend your senses and your awareness of things.  For me, the making of stuff - the creation of artworks - is not really to the point.   The point is to experience things more intensely.  I hear people commenting that culture is dying, but it's not true.  People are making lots of fantastic things.  You don't know about it, that's all.  It's really hard to squash artists.  They keep appearing and making things.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

European Nudes and American Prudes

My brother, who lives over in Germany, was thoughtful enough to send me a link to an article from CNN about the difference between how Americans and Europeans view nudity. I had a very similar experience when I was living in Europe - living there gave me a sense of ease with the naked body and taught me that it's just not a big deal. On their television there, violence is what they try to shield their kids from, not nudity.  What a concept!

Here's the link: article

Monday, July 19, 2010

Self portrait, even more exposed

Today was my first real day with studio time since Dylan's operation July 9th.  I felt raw coming in here, so full of emotions about his surgery, his recovery, and the rest of life.  I wish life were simple and kind.  It isn't always.

I wasted a lot of time until I calmed down enough to draw, then I approached my self-portrait again because it's what's been on my mind this week if art has knocked gently on my door at all.  I think about this piece a lot because it makes me uncomfortable to be drawing it.  And also because I realize I really like it.  The more I work on it, the more beautiful I find it.  As I draw my face, I realize I like the contours of it.  I trust my eyes.  I understand my smile.  The fall of my breasts is comfortable and, oh, so familiar.  Even the crease in my belly has become more benign. At the museum the other day, Chris pointed out a lovely statue of a female nude and showed me that she had the same crease I do.  I could see how slender and beautiful she was, so I began to allow for the possibility that I, too, am beautiful.  My body, too.  I like the openness of my posture.  The vulnerability.  Yes.  This is me.

That's the title:  Yes, this is me.

No more upside down coyness.  No apologies.  No shame.  No embarrassment.  This is part of who I am.  My body.  My flesh.  My sacred flesh.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nude self-portrait

Sitting here in the hospital for the fourth day in a row while my son heals from major surgery for scoliosis, I am worlds away from my studio.  My mother asserted a couple of days ago that I must be missing being in the studio.  That sounds logical, but I realized that I hadn't considered the possibility whatsoever.  I've been here.  Only here.  Or at home, collapsed, trying to grab an hour's nap and perhaps some decent food before returning here.

Before I left for Dylan's surgery, I wrote a bunch of blogs and scheduled them to be published during the week so I wouldn't leave y'all high and dry in case you were wanting your fix of "Exploring Women's Bodies"!  (Thanks to those of you who read it so regularly, by the way.  I'm truly honored.)  Anyway, I have a few minutes right now because Dylan is asleep, so I thought I'd check in to see how things are going in blog land.

I notice that people have read the blog about Valley more than anything else I've published before.  I think she has quite a lot of friends who love her dearly.  Very cool!

I also noticed, gasp!, that my entry about my nude self-portrait is about to be published this afternoon.  I notice myself having some feelings about that!  I feel shy about showing the painting publicly (even though I was coy and am showing it upside down.  That'll fool 'em!  Yeah, right.)  It's just a bit embarrassing to show my body in all its glory on the internet, nude, with my face attached.  It certainly gives me even more respect for all my models who have come before me down this path. 

So what about it is such a big deal?

Well, I guess we do a lot in our society to keep ourselves from showing our bodies.  We wear clothing.  We undress in gyms in dressing rooms.  We shower in stalls (at least women do - I have heard that men often have common rooms for showers - and have seen that in movies and prisons - where the lack of privacy is shown to lead to rape more times than not - not accurate, according to research I've done, but it makes for more compelling drama - see what happens when you're naked around other people?  Rape.).  We decorate the parts of ourselves which are visible to the public - we wear make-up on our faces, including foundation so our true skin color and texture aren't even visible; we do things to our hair so it looks "just so"; we paint our fingernails and toenails; we shave our legs and underarms; we pierce parts that might, just might, become visible.  So with all that effort that goes into covering up/decorating/hiding, of course it makes sense that we'd feel uncomfortable about having our actual bodies (the undecorated parts) seen in public.

In my self-portrait, my whole front side shows.  My breasts.  My face.  My legs.  My pubic area.  My feet.  Not my hands - they're behind my head.  I don't have on make-up.  I didn't paint my toenails.  I have no memory of whether I'd shaved my legs or not (though you can't tell from the painting - too much texture).  You can tell that I don't wax anything.  I'm just me.  There for you to see.  A bit uncomfortable.  Feeling exposed.  But doing it anyway, because why shouldn't I?  It's my body.  MY body.  My BODY.  Boldness has a power all its own.  This feels like the next right step, so I'm taking it.  With some trepidation.  But taking it anyway.

One of my mottoes is "Feel the fear, but do it anyway."

So here I am!  (Well, actually I don't have an image to post today because we're still in the hospital, and I haven't taken one right-side-up completely finished.  That will come soon enough.  Til then, you can look at the upside-down one from a couple of days ago.)  Exposed.  Open.  Vulnerable.

What a trip.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nude guys dancing

Thanks, Mom, for sending me the link to this silly video of Naked Guys dancing in Sweden.  It's very fun to watch!   I think it's Sweden's answer to America's Got Talent.  Very funny!   link

TED talk about breast implants

Here's a terrific video talk given by an artist named Chris Jordan.  He works with huge statistics which otherwise seem so massive as to be incomprehensible and tries to make them more tangible.  One of his works addresses the number of breast implants done in the US yearly by using images of Barbie dolls. 

By the way, if you're not familiar with the TED talks, all the ones I've seen so far have been fascinating and stimulating.  Enjoy!

link to video

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I just got the excellent news that I got second place at an art show at Crossroads Art Center here in Richmond for my piece, Presence.  There's an opening this Friday from 6-10 with the juror's talk at 7.  I'd love to see you there if you can come!

This piece was quite a journey in the making.  There are so many different "pieces" of it where there's light then shadow, so painting it was sort of like putting together pieces of a puzzle.  The light hits each one differently, so the trick for me was to make each part luminous then to make them all fit together in a unified way.  I thought I was done at one point, then let it sit for quite a while before going back into it and re-working it, making it richer and more successful.

That said, I really love the image.  The model for it was having a great time modeling, but we weren't getting any particularly terrific shots when we decided to try a prop.  The chair seemed like a good option.  It was perfect!  Immediately we knew we'd found the key.  The picture on the right was one of the first ones I took.  I love the curve of the shadow on her back and the lusciousness of her curves and the way the light caresses them.

The top picture I like because of her presence.  She is such a powerful woman, bold, secure in herself, and I think that comes through clearly in this image.  I'm curious to hear what the juror has to say about it and what appealed to him/her about it.

Hope to see y'all there!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nude self-portrait progress

Since I wrote the post about drawing a nude self-portrait, I've had a lot of input about doing it.  It was already in progress - I'd chosen the photo from among those Chris took of me quite some time ago.  When he took them, I had a great deal of trouble looking at them because - well - because...  it was hard to look at myself nude!  Time passed, and when I went back to them, I found that a couple were actually quite beautiful from an artistic point of view.  I chose one, printed it out, gridded it, prepared the canvas, drew the image onto it, then, finally, began to draw it.  I have chosen to draw in pastel on canvas again like I did with Dora because I really like how that feels.  I'm working on canvases with another painting under them, so there is lots of texture - so much, in fact, that sometimes it's difficult to get the pastel to get into the cracks.  If I chose to blend the pigments, I could get into the cracks, but I'm instead leaving it as is, so the texture is a strong component of the piece.

Yesterday I'd gotten as far as I could with it, so I employed a strategy which I find very helpful at times - I turned it upside down.  Here's the rationale - most of us draw things the way we think they look, not how they actually look.  If I turn the canvas and the photograph upside down, I get disoriented and can no longer really draw the object how I think it's supposed to look.  Instead I have to examine the picture more closely and draw what I'm really seeing.  It helps me draw faces and hands and other very complicated passages much more effectively and accurately.   When I turn it back right side up, it's almost always a much better picture than it was beforehand.  It's a very helpful technique and one I  highly recommend if you're interested in portraying something accurately from a photograph.

Perhaps you can find inaccuracies in the image here.  I can see a couple of issues with color which I need to address, but overall I think my face and body are accurate.  Working with it upside down definitely helped me get the hands right and the face.

Now I'll need to spray it with workable fixative then do a bit more work to it, then I think I'll call it done.  (To my students - I know I rant about fixatives and that I never use them because they change the color and the texture.  That is still true - but I'm aware that because I'm working on very textured canvas, I simply don't have a choice but to fix it, so I've just decided that I'm OK with the changes the fixative have wrought - serendipity at play.  Or whatever...  a different element to consider, at any rate.  I've gotten the best fixative I can - Schminke - and use it outdoors so I don't asphixiate myself.  We'll see what happens!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Breast Implants

The following is an essay a friend of mine (thanks, Eliezer!) sent me, thinking I might be interested in it. It's about breast implants.  It's a strongly worded almost-rant about the negative aspects of them.  I found it worth the read.  I'll be curious to hear your input about breast implants, should you have any thoughts you'd like to share. I imagine some of you readers have had them yourself or know people who have or are/have been in relationships with people who have.  What do you think?

It's by Robert Masters, a critically acclaimed author (of 10 books), teacher of spiritual deepening, and highly experienced psychotherapist (and trainer of psychotherapists) with a doctorate in Psychology, who has innovatively integrated mind, body, emotion, and spirituality in his work for the past 30 years. For more information on his work and writings (and to subscribe to his free newsletter), visit


Breast augmentation is the sterilized term for it — but whatever we call it, it’s showing no signs of diminishing. There were just under 330,000 such operations in the United States in 2006, up 13% from 2005. In 2008 there were 356,000 (many of them repeat customers), despite a seriously sagging economy. Getting breast implants is now the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the US, with liposuction coming in second (with women, not surprisingly, opting for it ten times as often as men) — fat suctioned from the midriff resurfaces, in a certain sense, as a kind of superfat for bigger breasts.

Plastic breasts seem to be popping out everywhere, titillating many a masculine eye, reinforcing our already well-implanted cultural obsession with mammary mass. Women in the entertainment industry who don’t have breast implants appear to be in the minority in their profession. More and more teenagers are getting implants, including as graduation presents. And so on. More and more women are busy taking their newly bought tits out for a walk, forgetting those veteran breast implantees, now in their sixties, whose flesh is getting more and more wrinkly and slack, with their implants hanging down like alien bowling balls in skin slings. We literally have been invaded by breast implants, and we’ve gotten too used to it, normalizing it to the point where we all but cease seriously questioning the dysfunction behind it.

So it’s a booming business (and a relatively new one: silicone gel-filled breast implants were first introduced in 1962), fed in large part by the increasing acceptance that it’s getting. If it makes “you” feel better, then just do it — such seems to be the prevailing, look-how-tolerant-I-am attitude toward breast implants these days, with little real attention being devoted to the underlying motivation, both personal and cultural, for wanting to have them in the first place.

Yes, there’s been some consideration of the insecurity, not-enoughness, poor body-image, and men-prefer-larger-ones social pressures that motivate most women who get implants (or who feel driven to use silicone bra inserts or whatever else increases their cup size), but this is more than offset by the increasingly popular notion that having larger or more uppity breasts constitutes, to whatever degree, a solution to such insecurity and related factors. After all, don’t women feel better about themselves when they’ve got the breasts they want, or at least the breasts that most men apparently want them to have? There may be some truth in this, but it is a very superficial and partial truth; the underlying insecurity and not-enoughness remain implanted, regardless of the new breasts’ massy magnetism, compensatory cleavage and thrust, and power to reel in male gazes and fantasies. Boob jobs are mostly just time-delayed booby prizes, eye-catching overcompensations for undealt-with pain and insecurity (including being shamed for being flat-chested), exploiting the already-present obsession with breasts, real or not, that pervades much of contemporary culture.

Before I go further, I need to emphasize that in some cases — post-masectomy and post-huge-weight-loss being two obvious examples — breast implants/reconstruction can be a good thing. But for the great majority of women, such surgery is not necessarily a good thing. A recent study, for example, shows that the suicide rate is three times as high for women with breast implants as it is for women without them. This, of course, does not mean that having breast implants causes a higher rate of suicide, but that there’s a positive correlation between having implants and suicide (which of course implicates the factors generating the desire to have breast implants). What’s essential to consider here is what the women who have had breast implants were doing before getting them, especially with regard to their less-than-happy feelings.

If men — not all men, but probably the majority of men — didn’t want or need women to have larger breasts, would women still be going for breast enlargement (or otherwise trying to make their breasts appear larger)? In most cases, no. But the male preference, at least in contemporary Western culture, for bigger breasts shows no sign of abating, and nor does our media’s obsession with them — which all adds up to an enormous pressure being applied to women regarding their breast-size. There is a natural attraction to breasts — for women as well as men — but we’ve gone far beyond that, into the airbrushed recesses of unnatural attraction, attraction that’s little more than socially acceptable obsession and eroticized fetishism. The fact that the compulsive pull to bigger breasts infects many men (and is considered normal and sometimes even admirable in some circles) is accompanied by the fact that it is not ordinarily examined in any real depth.

Boobs, tits, titties, knockers, jugs, bazongas, cupcakes, puppies, melons, fun bags, floaters, fog lights, hand warmers, hooters, warheads, bazookas, cans, rack — and the list goes on, stretching far beyond the corseted decorum of “bosom.” That there are so many synonyms for “breast” simply reflects how much our culture has been pervaded by the idea, sight, and promise of human mammary glands. Here, size does matter — how else to explain the inordinate attention that some women have received for their breasts, despite the fact that they are universally known to be implants? The sighting of size, whatever its origin, is automatically arousing for many men; they may not particularly enjoy the feel of fake breasts, but the sight more than makes up for it. And just whose eyes are such men looking through at such times?

The rubbernecking lust and I’d-love-to-fuck-her fantasies that may be aroused by the sight of a pair of blown-up, gravity-defying breasts (with the rest of the woman in the background) is arguably natural, at least to some degree, at a certain stage of development for a male — adolescence (which unfortunately often extends into old age) — but not so natural once he is no longer a teenager. He may still look, but if he has truly matured, he looks in the same way that he’d look at a lavishly-blossomed tree or shiny new car or a prominent pair of eyelashes or ears — whatever stands out in his visual field at the time. Curious, focused, but not titillated, for he no longer can isolate a woman’s breasts from the rest of her. When he looks at her breasts, he sees her in her totality, and in seeing her thus, he is not drawn to any sort of fantasy regarding any part of her anatomy. He has, in short, outgrown his capacity to compartmentalize her. Connecting with her is far, far more important than hooking up the horny adolescent in him to her mammary display.

If he is in deep relationship, his sexualized gaze is reserved for his beloved; he does not have to repress his urge to look with erotic interest at other women, for he’s all but outgrown this desire (which does not, however, mean that his sexual passion is diminished!). It simply no longer pulls at him to any significant degree. He does not avoid looking (looking, not staring) at other women’s breasts (including those that are implants) — unlike men who are trying to be “good” — but nor does he eroticize what he’s taking in. Even as he observes the implants and feels perhaps some aversion, he also senses the overall energy and presence of such women, attuning to them as a totality, sensing their state and their humanity, doing nothing to make his beloved lose any trust in him. So any aversion in him toward breast-implanted women coexists with his compassion for them and for whatever drove them to getting implants.

Part of the reason that most men don’t examine their big-breast interest in much depth is that they do not seriously question the appeal that large breasts holds for them. They typically take it as a given. But is it? Not necessarily! And is the appeal of big breasts truly sexual? Not necessarily! As I’ve written elsewhere, the eroticizing of our needs (the sexual framing of them plus seeking their fulfillment through sexual activity) is a common occurrence, and fasten-ation to large breasts is no exception in this context; we may have developed a charge with breasts, and large breasts in particular, for all kinds of reasons, going back to infancy, a charge that we eventually eroticized (usually in our teen years), which only increased our pull toward large breasts.

Picture an infant boy suckling, his mother’s breast comfortingly and sensually — and perhaps also massively (a milk-engorged breast being no small object to an infant) — before him, literally in his face, there for his need and his pleasure. But did this create an obsession with breasts, and big breasts in particular? Not necessarily! Something else had to happen.

Perhaps his breast-feeding was done on a schedule that didn’t work for him, so that he was left with an unrequited milk-craving too often. Or perhaps his breast-feeding was done whenever he was hungry but was cut off prematurely, as happened with many, many mothers during the Dr. Spock era (this would leave him with a craving made all the stronger, at least for a while, by being in intimate proximity to his mother, but not having access to her breasts). Or perhaps he didn’t get breast-fed, but still knew the urge to suck, since he was, like all newborns, born to suckle; no colostrum, no milk, no warm bare breast against his face, but only a familiar heartbeat when his mother held him close to her breasts. So much nourishment so very close by, such a rich warmth, such a soft sweet welcome, such exquisite mounds of motherly nectar gourds so near by, signaled by the sight of cleavage or the breasts themselves — and him growing up not seeing these wondrous sources of so much, but nonetheless sensing them there, just behind the clothes and bras and don’t-touch psychoemotional walls. Such hunger here — and imagine now him eroticizing this completely understandable hunger (helped in large part by his growing awareness of and exposure to our cultural obsession with breasts and breast-size), and staying stuck there, and growing up wanting women to present/display the same mammary largesse. Some men flee this — like Woody Allen in one of his early films being pursued by a gigantic, milk-squirting breast, before which he finally brandishes a crucifix — but many loiter in it, hooked by their lust for large, spilling-forth breasts.

Many factors conspire to create our culture’s breast fetish — and it is a fetish, in its unrelenting object-isolation and obsession — but perhaps the key one is a thwarted, infantile nourishment-craving and longing for deep maternal communion that has been eroticized and amplified to such an extent that we are literally surrounded by it. Where the infant was faced and met/enfolded by the breast, we are surrounded by and up to our eyeballs in it, bombarded by breasts and talk of breasts. Talk about overexposure! One flash of one of Janet Jackson’s breasts at the Super Bowl a few years ago was an occasion of incredible media coverage, before which all other news, including war horrors, paled. After all, a breast — a naked breast! — had been spotted for a millisecond, spurring countless parents to cover their children’s eyes. Or so the story goes. The breast is such a primal icon: Picture McDonald’s famous Golden Arches, pointing skyward, and stick a nipple atop each, and you’ll have a rough picture of what we’re up against — a ubiquitous feeding frenzy both disguised and made palatable by our eroticizing of it.

The sexualizing of our craving for breasts or, more precisely, for what breasts represent to us, shows up bigtime in teenage males — and how could they not do this, given their common lack of access to breasts, coupled with their off-the-chart testosterone levels? Breasts, especially big unsagging breasts, inviting and lusciously photogenic, hold a central place in many adolescent male sexual fantasies — and let us not forget that adolescence as a stage extends far past the teen years for many men. In fact, the pornographic mindset of many a teenage boy easily becomes the pornographic mindset of many a man, hyperfocusing on the titillating visuals of bare-titted women in various stages of apparent arousal, women who apparently (at least in fantasy) want him. He doesn’t have to buy such women dinner, or be nice to them, or do anything in particular to have them want him, because they already clearly do. And it is this unconditional acceptance/letting in that constitutes the charge, the source of the excitement felt, prior to its being sexualized. Come home to Mommy, and Mommy will give you what you want, no matter how you look or smell and act, because Mommy, as symbolized by prominent in-your-face breasts, is wide open to you — such is the essence of much of the breast fetish that occupies so many men.

And let’s throw something else into the mix here: The imagery of big unsagging breasts with deep cleavage is reminiscent of the round, rosy-hued, jutting rear-end of rutting female baboons (and, less spectacularly and colorfully, the presenting rear-end of most female mammals in heat) — such blatantly presented double roundness and “cleavage” delivers a clear signal to any horny male baboons in the vicinity. Close in on those pink or red mounds, get in between them, and make your penile entry: such is are the operational dynamics of male baboons, and human males carry some of the same dynamics, closing in, if only in fantasy, on the round mounds of breasty heaven (a matter of “buttocks” having photogenically migrated to the chest?), made all the more appealing by deep cleavage (and think of how jaw-droppingly important cleavage is often made, and of all the efforts women make to increase their cleavage). This, of course, is only a small aspect of sexual lust, but it is greatly magnified through our cultural fetishistic fascination with breasts and breast size.

Many women have submitted to the adolescent male sexual fantasies that pervade our culture, as if their role is to somehow star in them (or at least play a supporting role), to present the kind of big-breasted allure that catalyzes and spurs masturbatory male release. But strip these fantasies of their eroticism, and what is left is but the dramatization of being fed, or being wanted, or having wide-open access to satiation-oriented pleasuring. Much of the time, small or sagging breasts just don’t get past the audition-stage in such fantasies, and so to the degree that women crave being desired by men — or crave the security or self-esteem or power that can arise from being so desired — they will try to make themselves more desirable to men, including by going under the knife for breast enlargement.

Men who are primarily me-centered typically tend to get off on breast implants (and breasts in general), for they’re usually overly focused on the visuals of sexuality, employing such imagery in their masturbatory rituals, whether alone or with a partner. Big breasts, artificial or not, are mostly a big and rapid turn-on for them. Men who are significantly we-centered are not so sure about breast implants, but may still get off on them, without, however, being particularly overt about it. They may even be critical of such artifice, scoring moral good partner points by demonstrating an obvious sensitivity to the exploitation of women, etcetera after politically correct etcetera, but underneath such psychosexual properness they still may lust for the silicone bazookas and Photoshopped melons that they publicly decry. Where me-centered men tend to indulge, we-centered men tend to repress, at least when it comes to mammary ogling.

And men who are mostly being-centered? Breast implants exert no erotic pull on them and in fact are a turn-off for them (and nor do natural breasts pull at them erotically, unless they belong to their partner/lover). When they encounter a woman who has implants, they view her breasts in the context of all that she is, including the very forces that first drove her to seek breast enlargement. Their erotic visuals are limited, without any repression, to their partner or lover; they’ve simply outgrown the need to let their attention wander into and loiter in erotic possibilities, other than with their partner or lover. (This is not to say that their sexual passion is in any way diminished — quite the opposite is true for those who are still sexually active.) They don’t lust after women who have breast implants, nor condemn them — regardless of whatever aversion or repulsion might be stirred in them — but rather feel a natural compassion for such women, perhaps sensing the girl in them, the girl who first felt that she was not enough as she was for males, be they boys or her father or men in general.

Almost all women who get breast implants already have insecurity implants. These are often pushed into the background by the breast implants, but they nonetheless remain in place, silenced for a time perhaps by the commotion and attention generated by the new breasts, but sooner or later their presence cannot be denied. But there are plenty of women who say to hell with getting bigger boobs, and to hell with silicone bra inserts and other bra stuffers, and to hell with men who want women to have bigger boobs, and I say to them: Don’t back down; don’t sell out; don’t look upon your breasts as lesser because they are smaller than average or smaller than their silicone cousins; don’t let adolescent male desires direct your course; don’t sacrifice the natural contours of your body so as to please men who are not yet really men; don’t let yourself get caught in the cultural trance of the generic skinny, big-titted airbrushed girl-women who overpopulate the covers of most women’s magazines; and don’t, don’t, don’t base your femininity on the penile imperatives of men who have not yet embodied the deep masculine.

Have compassion for the you who wants implants; take her into your heart, mother her, love her, cradle her, invite her into her deepest places. Then you won’t have to talk her out of getting breast implants, because she will start feeling so good about who she is that she won’t want them (or will get rid of them if she already has them), loving her own breasts from the deep inside, feeling them from their roots, honoring them whatever stage they are in, budding, blooming, sagging, peaceful, milk-full, lover-hungry, carrying in their unique shaping the imprint of you, the you who is already at home with all of her qualities.

And to this I bow, to the little girl, the maiden, the mother, the sister, the virgin, the lover, the warrior, the queen, the juicy elder, the daughter, the midwife, the spiritual adventuress, the true partner, all of them together weaving the reality of the full woman, the woman unbound, the woman who, finding freedom through limitation, is well on her way to becoming intimate with all that she is.

Copyright © 2010 Robert Augustus Masters

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thoughts on swimming nude in the Blue Danube

Here's the other response I got to my thoughts about doing a nude self-portrait.  They are a fascinating contrast to Adele's comments yesterday and her feelings about nudist colonies. This one is from an Austrian friend of mine who has been going to the Nude Bathing Beach in Vienna, Austria for many years.  I'm translating from the German, so please excuse any strange language I may not notice!

Dear Susan,
I read your blog today after spending the day in the Gaensehaeufl - the FKK (Freie Koerper Klub - "free body club") (!) part of the gorgeous little island in the Old Danube in the Kaisermuehlen part of Vienna.

... I spent almost the entire day naked (!) with other naked people whom I don't know -
and I felt really, really, really comfortable.  I read and slept under the shade of old poplar trees, sat at a table in the cafe of the FKK Bathing Club naked with naked people (I had a sarong around my hips, many other people did as well, but many were just naked and sat on towels on the chairs) and ate, looked at people, and read... then returned to my chaise lounge - I swam in the Old Danube and later slept on my towel.

It was simply a wonderful, wonderfully beautiful summer day!!!  Just like I love it!

I love feeling free and comfortable around other nude people who are simply being themselves: beautiful, fat, thin, tall, short, tan, completely pale, with a big belly and big breasts, or men with a big belly, or thin and fit, with penises in all shapes and colors -
I like being naked -
of course particularly if no one is looking at me judgmentally or is comparing me negatively with others!
In addition I often go to the public sauna where people are nude, and to a friend's house where we sit in the sauna nude or swim in the nude - just me and them and their two kids who are 5 and 9 years old.

I find it very comfortable to be naked,
today for example, at Ganensehaeufl I ran into a former work colleague.  We spoke very comfortably with each other..., and last Wednesday I saw a married couple, whom I knew from a trip we went on together, naked for the first time there - she's a teacher; he is a famous surgeon...

Today I spent a lot of time comparing myself - with younger, more attractive women, and also with women my age whose bellies are flatter, or who weigh less, or have prettier breasts, or fluffier hair...

I compare myself to others often, I fine myself not as attractive as other women..., but I find the comparisons less painful when I'm naked than when I'm at a party or an art opening where other women have taken the time to get all dressed up and made up.

Susan, I think it's great that you're thinking about doing a self portrait in which you're nude!!!
and I already like the picture that you put in your blog a lot!!!

You are beautiful!
and that you are beautiful - rather, just how beautiful you are - will become even more evident when your face is in the picture also!

Overall my belief is that the person isn't really visible until the face is visible anyway -
with it, of course, comes the vulnerability.  (I think I've already mentioned to you that that's my only (!) criticism of your work - that you don't/can't show the faces of the women you paint -
I think I'm more interested in the whole person - not just in the female body.)

One final note:
Did you get a chance to look at the website I sent you about Paula Modersohn-Becker?  She was the first woman (!) who painted a nude woman (! it was a scandalous thing to do at the time!)  She was also the first female painter who painted herself!   I loved the exhibit of her work - it moved me deeply - and made  me think of you the whole time.

So - I am delighted about the courage and verve with which you take on your artistic work
and especially about the work which you're making public - we'll see what else is to come!  :-)))

With love and hugs,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Response #1 to nude self-portrait thoughts

I've gotten a couple of wonderful responses from my post about doing a nude self-portrait.  I'm going to post them here over the next couple of days.

My son, Dylan, is going in for spinal surgery tomorrow morning and will be in the hospital for about 4 days then home to recover for about a month.  I'm going to write some blogs today which will be published over the next few days, because I have a feeling I might not feel like writing much while I'm with him in the hospital.  Prayers and good wishes are most welcome!  I am affirming a most excellent outcome, a speedy and painfree recovery, and lots of fun in the hospital and during recovery!

Here's the first response I got to my post:
Hi Susan

I find it's easier to just email you than go through the whole posting thing on blogspot. So here goes and feel free to use it on your blog.

I have no problems with being in my own naked body at home. Seeing other people nude doesn't generally bother me - but it's usually in an art setting or photo or film. I tend to see bodies with an artist's eye, so I really don't think about naked so much in that context. For example, I know Shelia and I've never thought twice until now about her nudity. I don't look at her and think "I've seen your boobs" you know? BUT, I do find it a little weird when I see someone I know nude, live. Like at a gym dressing room. It's just a little awkward, I think, being a stranger and seeing them unclothed. And I am not comfortable at all with being nude in front of other people. A little shyness, some insecurity, not quite sure what to do. I guess there isn't a good reason to be nude on purpose, unless posing for art, or at home. It's like it's my privacy invaded. You only get to see me naked if I let you.

We know a couple who belong to a nudist colony. The call it the Park...and they love it. These are two very imperfect bodies and sometimes thinking about seeing them nude, sitting around with other naked people is just eewww. I have no interest whatsoever and find that whole lifestyle choice, of paying to belong to be nude in front of other people, quite odd.

Ambivalence all over the place here, hmmmm?
The post I'll put up tomorrow is from an Austrian friend who wrote all about her experiences in just such a place as Adele describes, The Park. She spent a wonderfully enjoyable day there. I just love the variability of human experience!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A shift in Valley

A few days ago I had the joy of re-photographing a model, Valley Haggard.  I worked with her first in February of this year when we began the collaboration which will peak with our exhibit at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, VA in Feb 2011.  We had a great session then.  She was open, vulnerable, and perhaps a bit shy.  She brought a book with her and wore her glasses and used the book as a prop for much of the session.  We got some terrific shots, and I've already painted her twice.  We've had some great conversations about the process of being photographed and painted and how that's all been for her.  She is writing about the process as am I, and that writing will be part of the exhibit along with the paintings, drawings and photographs.  We're hoping to put together a book about our collaboration as well.
Recently I ran into her at a social event and we started talking.   I told her I'd loved doing the two paintings so far but would love some new input.  I asked her if she'd like me to photograph her again.  She delightedly agreed.  She came over Thursday evening.  She said that her life has changed since our previous session.  Some of it has to do with her personal life which has shifted tremendously since then, but she said much of it has to do with how she's feeling about her body - much of which is a direct result of the work we've done together.  I could see the difference right away when I began taking pictures.  The first two pictures here are from our first session.  The last two are from the more recent session.  I think the difference is quite evident.

This time she had no props and didn't even think about wearing her glasses.  She came out and started posing with joy and verve.  She pranced around full of herself in the most wonderful way!  She was joy-filled.  It was evident that she is really happy with herself and her body.  She said she's lost some weight this year, but I don't think that has anything to do with it.  She was simply holding herself completely differently.  Her level of comfort in her body was palpable.  It was thrilling to see.  She made me feel really happy.  Ever since our session, I, too, have felt more comfortable in my own body.  I think back to how she was and feel inspired to walk around strutting my stuff, feeling like a million bucks.  It's so beautiful, so completely fantastic, to be in the presence of someone who is so delighted to be inside her own skin.

It makes me know that the work I'm doing is important, really important.  Just imagine if every one of us felt so supremely happy with ourselves.  That is an image I'll cherish!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On painting a nude self-portrait

A week or so ago a friend of mine asked me about painting a self portrait - had I done that before?  I told her I'd done one of my torso.  I named it The Artist at Work.  I am thinking about putting it up here, but am feeling shy about it. (OK, gasp!  Here it is.  Yes, that's me.) 

My friend recommended that it might be a good idea for me to paint a self-portrait with my face showing, nude, of course.  I can feel myself having some feelings about it.  Most of you who don't know me wouldn't know it was me because you don't know what I look like, so, for you, it wouldn't be any different that any of the other pictures I paint/draw.  Others of you know me, and we see each other around town, or we're good friends - or perhaps you're one of my children.  That suddenly seems a bit different.  Awkward.  For those of you who have been my models, I imagine you know what I mean!  Would you look at me differently because you've seen what I look like under my clothes?

And then there's the thought that it just doesn't matter!  What would you learn about me from seeing my naked body that would be unsafe for me?  What exactly is the big deal?  Why would you care?  What would it matter?

I think the hardest thought is that you might judge me.  You might be surprised by how my breasts look or that I have an extra roll on my belly.  Maybe you'll notice some wrinkles you didn't see before.  Maybe you'll think to yourself that I need to work out, that I should feel embarrassed showing myself like this.  Maybe you just won't be attracted to the body I have.  I am aware there are people who feel that way about women who are not 100% fit and perfect. 

But perhaps, instead, you'll notice the slight anxiety in my eyes and feel compassion.  You might see my discomfort and my desire to be accepted and to be seen as I am.  Perhaps you'll find my body beautiful.  Perhaps you'll recognize the element of soul emanating from my painting.  Perhaps you'll feel the compassion I felt for myself as I painted it and some of that will spill over onto you.  Perhaps you'll simply find the aesthetics of the painting something which make you want to look at it.  Perhaps you'll like how I apply the paint.  Perhaps you'll like the composition.

There is so much to a painting to notice.  Some of it has to do with the subject matter, and much of it doesn't.  Abstract art is all about all the rest of it - the paint, the composition, the energy, etc.  My work is all about the subject matter, of course, but that doesn't mean that the other elements aren't there.

I've occasionally wondered if I would have the courage to be at the Opening of my exhibition au naturel.  So far I don't. 

There's an exhibit in NYC at the MOMA (I think I've mentioned it before), one element of which has two nude women standing in the doorway to it.  There is not enough space to get through the doorway into the exhibit without brushing against them.  Apparently it is causing a lot of feelings in a lot of people because I've had 5-6 people mention the show to me.  It's causing a sensation.  People don't know what to do when in the presence of nudity.  Even their own.

Think about it - how often are you nude?  How do you feel about it?  Are you comfortable with it?  Do you ever/often see other people's nude bodies?  What sort of thoughts/feelings/judgments does it bring up when you do?  I'd truly love to know your response to these questions

Til the next time...

July 6th

I just received a couple of comments from a reader who gave me some information about the exhibition I was mentioning at the MOMA.  For some reason the comments wouldn't post, so I'm pasting them here.  Thank you, anonymous reader, for taking the time to give us more information.  It's greatly appreciated!

The MOMA show you refer to was the Marina Abramović restrospective. And whereas I'm sure some were put off by the nudity of the people in the doorway, I have spoken to several individuals who are totally OK with nudity who were instead put off by having to TOUCH AND RUB AGAINST NUDE STRANGERS (in order to get through the doors you would have had to squeeze by and touch two nude individuals).
Also - in Marina Abramović restrospective, the models at the doorway were not always women!