Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Direct Orgiastic Art vs not-quite-on-the-spot Art

Sometimes when I look at other artists' work, I find it complex, multi-faceted, layered, and sometimes a bit dense and difficult to understand.  Shakespeare's poetry is like that for me.  Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot are like that.  Jackson Pollack and Picasso can be like that.  When I take the time to look and read carefully and have a skillful guide to help me, I learn much from deciphering their meaning and usually feel rewarded for my efforts.  Sometimes, though, I am not interested in working so hard for the payoff.

I love to slip into the soulfulness of VanGogh's colors and brushstrokes.  I don't think there's very much there to understand intellectually.  I find looking at his paintings to be an emotional experience.  I have stood transfixed in front of his canvases, drinking in the heady rush of colors, the wild orgiastic headlong splashes of energy, the emotions vibrating off the air around me.

Standing surrounded by Monet's Waterlilies, larger than life size, I stutter across the surface of his canvas as his brush did, steep in the murky pond water, feel graceful with the lilies and pads.

In front of Mark Rothko's powerful color studies, I am aware of the intellectual machinations he went through to produce them, the artistic suffering he experienced, the self doubt and torture and his ultimate suicide, but it is the Spirit in the paintings which moves me.  I feel the vibrations of the paint; the subtle gradations between colors activate neurons in my brain which didn't have awareness before then.  It's not an exaggeration to say that I feel God's presence in his paintings.

These experiences remain with me more powerfully than all the intellectually complex paintings ever could. 

I spent the last twenty-three years tutoring students in all their academic subjects.  That often involved helping them decipher complicated authors and artists.  Or helping them understand the logic and beauty of Geometry or Algebra.  Or understanding the structure underneath foreign languages so they could learn the patterns more easily.  In other words, it was my job to simplify and find patterns in information so that my students could understand it and learn it with ease and joy.

I think this and my natural inclinations have influenced the type of art I make.  It tends to be simple and straightforward.  I paint women's bodies.  Not multi-layered tracts about women's bodies.  Not words and graphs and charts laid overtop the flesh.  Not slashes and dashes and marks above and below the paint.  Not collaged references to others' works.  No, I paint very simple renderings of authentic women.  I want to honor each individual and to give the viewer the experience of seeing that woman's body clearly, naked, without interference so that they can drink in the beauty of her flesh, her form, her face.

I am overwhelmed by watching the News on TV these days - I can't absorb everything that is presented - the broadcaster's story along with the headlines running under the spoken words, along with the box in the upper right which is showing yet another story.  My brain revolts and simply does not want to have to work so hard to get the information.  Give me simple and straightforward, and let me process it how I will.

I was talking to Valley Haggard about this today.  She was saying that someone had once told her that her writing is very straightforward and direct and honest.  She doesn't hide what she's trying to say.  She lays it out there very clearly.  She used to feel a bit inadequate when she thought about that description, as if obscure and obtuse were somehow better.  Now, however, she owns that description and feels good about it.  I went through a similar journey in thinking about my own art.  I came up with the following analogy when talking to Valley about it:  (It's graphic and sexual, so please don't read it if you think you might be disturbed by it)

Complicated, layered, obscurely referential art to me is like very frustrating sex - lots of titillation, lots of leading towards orgasm, but never quite getting there.  Straightforward art (like her writing), to me, is like great sex - I know she's going to hit the spot.  I'm going to have a great orgasm, and I might even have several.  It's direct, clear, and right on the spot.

My husband describes my art as populist - of the people.  I winced the first time I heard that, but now I embrace it - I am trying to reach "the people" - the more, the better!  I don't need my message to be veiled in obscure references which only well-educated people can understand.  I want to help people love their bodies and to appreciate the beauty in everyone.  That's pretty darn simple.  I would much rather someone have an emotional experience in front of my work than an intellectual one.

I think people love Van Gogh's work because it's emotionally powerful.  It is full of soul.  He allowed his emotions to spill out onto his canvas.  Valley does this in her writing.  She is naked in what she writes.  I am naked in what I write and in what I paint.

A reader expressed concern that I might be laying myself out there too bare.  That led me to ask the question that I asked before I chose to show my nude self portrait, "So what?  So what if someone sees me naked?"  Shifted slightly for the written word, "So what if someone knows my inner thoughts?  Reads about my intimate feelings?  Knows how I feel about my body?"  I don't know what harm that can cause.  It's not as if they can hurt me by making fun of me.  I'm already an open book.  Derision only works if a person is ashamed of something and the attacker senses that and goes for that jugular.  If I have come to terms with my feelings and thoughts, then what harm can be done in sharing them?  Cruel and unkind people may try to hurt me, but hopefully I would have enough consciousness to recognize whose issues those are.  Not mine.

I think the world becomes a better place when people share openly and fully.  I learn so much from reading other's works which come from the heart.  It helps me understand myself better when others share their journeys and struggles with me.  I get insights I might not have had without their sharing.  I hope that readers of this blog occasionally experience a flash of insight or self-understanding when they read about my journey.  I know I learn from each of you who choose to share with me.

Thank you.


  1. Susan,
    To stand naked to the world can mean the blessing of self-acceptance. Alternatively, it might simply be narcissism. The latter says "look at me...I am hot." The former says "Here I am. What you see is what you get." No doubt where you, your writing and your art fit in here!

    I can't put myself in a woman's body, but, when it comes to "hitting the spot " I s'pect that is far easier for the former than for the latter.

  2. I think a good mix is the cerebral and "from the heart." It can't and shouldn't be one or the other. It's too limiting. There's enough room for all us, luckily! Keep up the good work over there.