Thursday, July 28, 2011

Allowing the Creative Life

The mystic dances in the sun,
hearing music others don't.

"Insanity," they say, those others.
If so, it's a very gentle,
nourishing sort.

We're not afraid of God's blade,
or of being chained up, or
of having our heads severed.  (Rumi)
I'm afraid instead of the ecstasy
that burns a hole in my eyelids
and keeps them wide
open to the creative spirit burning me crisp
turning me into a mystic, a fiend
and artist.

Don't I need to suffer for my calling?
Isn't martyrdom the price to pay
for ecstasy and visions and talent
and strength and courage?
Is Jesus' path the only way
to commune with God?

Can I bathe in the juice of God
without sleeping on the bed of nails
and dying on the cross with thorns?
Do I deserve to kick my heels up, all joy,
when too many around me are suffering
and pain emanates from the eys of the
sick, the ill, the
uninformed, the
delirious, the
jealous and the

Shouldn't I answer their call to fall from grace
join them in hell where all sinners belong?
Can the mere human love what she does and
do what she loves and not pay a price?
Who do I think I am
to consider creation my job?
Why would I be chosen?
There's a heavy price to pay.
Or is there?
Must I?

Or may I begin something new?  Grace and joy and
acceptance of all that's good in my life.
May I live a life of goodness and mercy
apart from guilt? 
May I allow myself that?

For I am the only one standing in my way.

Paths go from here to there,
but don't arrive from somewhere!
It's time now to live naked.  (Rumi)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Blues Woman

A week ago I began a new painting which I'm calling (so far) The Blues Woman.  It's a painting of Gaye Adegbalola, an extraordinary blues singer who was with Saffire - The Uppity Blues Woman until they disbanded after 20+ years last year.  She is an amazing performer and a very, very cool woman!  She has an attitude that I want!  She'll be performing Thursday, October 6th at Crossroads Art Center as part of Beyond Barbie.  In the meantime, I'm working on a portrait of her to include in my show, Not Barbie, opening at Crossroads Sept 16th.

Sometimes when I paint a canvas, I'll cover the whole thing in one sitting with a fairly vague layer of paint just to build up the paint and to start to give me a feel for the piece.  Other times I'll work it one little bit at a time.  The Blues Woman is done in the latter style.  The piece is quite complex because of the chair, her tattoos, her gorgeous face, and the parts of her body sticking out from between the rungs of the chair.  There are also two hands and two feet, and each of those takes almost as much time to paint as the face does!  So this one is quite a lot of work.  And such a pleasure!  I love the feeling of hanging out with my models as I paint them.  It's fun thinking about conversations we had while I was photographing them or about stories they told me.  It's like having a friend in the studio with me all day long.

Here is the progression of this piece so far:

 Sometimes when I'm working on a piece, it feels just right.  Everything is working, and the image has a power of its own.  This piece is like that for me.  I'm excited each day to get into the studio to see what will evolve that day.  I think about it during the evening and sometimes even dream about it at night.  Gaye's piece feels particularly good to me.  I can't wait to get back to it tomorrow!  I'm hoping to finish her torso and perhaps get a leg done.  She has wonderful tattoos which are going to challenge me once I get to them - it's tricky re-creating someone else's artwork, especially as it winds its way around a body, but tattoos are so special to their wearers, it would be disrespectful not to include them.

I'll post more images as I finish more!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Not Barbie: A Celebration of Real Women, and Beyond Barbie: Piecing Together Today's Woman

My goodness, but it has been difficult for me to get to the computer for writing a blog post lately!  I'm exceedingly busy preparing for my upcoming show, Not Barbie: A Celebration of Real Women, and even busier, if that's possible, getting ready for Beyond Barbie: Piecing Together Today's Woman, a performance series to be held on Thursday evenings in conjunction with and at the same venue as Not Barbie.   When I realized that most of my models are artists and/or performers in their own right, I decided it would be very cool to put together a series of performances to showcase their talents.  Eight topics rose to the top based on issues my models work with or the type of work they do.  We eliminated one when we couldn't find anyone to speak about it.  Ironically, that topic was balance!  Most of us struggle to achieve balance in our lives - too busy living them!  So we dropped that one.

Like my exhibition, the series will be held at Crossroads Art Center here in Richmond, VA.  The Opening for Not Barbie is Friday, September 16th at 6:00.  I'll be giving an artist's talk beforehand at 5:30 for anyone interested in hearing me talk about my art, my process, my models, etc. 

The show will consist of 50+ pastel drawings and oil paintings of female nudes - the very ones I've shown here on the blog the last couple of years.  It's the largest show I've put on to date.  In addition to the nudes, I'll also have several interactive exhibits which are intended to help the viewer explore his/her feelings about his/her own body and/or notice prejudices and feelings he/she may have about others'.  It promises to be a very interesting night!

The performance series, Beyond Barbie, will begin the Thursday after my opening, Sept 22 at 7 PM.  Tickets($10 for one performance, $50 for all seven) can be purchased at the door or in advance through Crossroads Art Center.  Below is a list of what each evening has to offer.  It would be lovely to see you there!

Thursday, September 22nd
Strength in Motion: To Speak without Words is an inspired evening of dance performance and discussion.  Joining us will be leaders in different styles of dance including Frances Wessels of Virginia Commonwealth University, Peggy O'Neill, Dawn Flores, and Khalima of Illumination Dance Studio. From bellydance to hoop dance, we will explore the ways women have moved across the ages to present times, and how dance can serve not only as a performance art, but as a healing, spiritual, and strengthening modality.  

Thursday, September 29th
Body of work: Finding Inspiration in a Canvas of Flesh is an event designed to take a serious look at the world of women and body modification, and the many ways that women intentionally modify the bodies that they are in, through body art, adornment, and other methods. We will be discussing personal growth and expression versus self harm. We will be joined by Rachel Easter of Onetribe, professional body piercer Kim Sikorsky, and others who will share their experiences with body modification.

Thursday, October 6th, 2011
The Blues: Liberation, Empowerment, and Joy! is an evening celebrating the life-changing power of music. Opening the evening with song will be Ana Rivera-Poland followed by a headlining performance from Gaye Adegbalola, singer, composer, storyteller and activist.  By maintaining the blues legacy, Gaye sees herself as a contemporary griot - keeping the history alive, delivering messages of empowerment, ministering to the heartbroken, and finding joy in the mundane.

Thursday, October 13, 2011 
Through the Fire: Reclaiming Lost Power After Trauma & Abuse.
When one woman on the planet is beaten, raped or otherwise abused, we all suffer.  Our compassion for each other breaks all barriers of class and ethnic separation.  That is why these stories are difficult to hear; but for healing to occur, they need to be spoken.  In a safe and sacred space award-winning storytellers, Linda Goodman and Megan Hicks, lead a cast of artists in opening a window into a world where few of us would go willingly.  Through the transformative power of art, these women show us how to process, rise above and glean wisdom from life's most unwanted and painful lessons.  The evening's performance will be followed by a question and answer period with the artists, who will be joined by experts from the community in offering resources, information and advice.

Thursday, October 20, 2011
Caught in a Funhouse Mirror: the Distorted Reflections of Eating Disorders.
Kathleen McDonald, a nationally-known speaker and Capitol Hill lobbyist on behalf of people with eating disorders will be the expert speaking that night.  She will give an informative, gripping, and thoroughly personal account of her own struggle with eating disorders.  She will also provide listeners with hope, local and national resources, and practical advice. In addition to Ms. McDonald's talk, there will also be a panel of local experts and survivors to address other questions audience members may have.  Whether you, a friend, or family member has been personally affected or you simply want to hear women talk about their lives in a way that is true and real, this will be a moving performance to attend. 

Thursday, October 27th
Listening and Observing: Women Tell Their Birth Stories  Childbirth may be one of the most powerful events that women experience in life. The sharing of women's personal experiences of giving birth provides an opportunity for greater understanding about how birth shapes and is shaped by our self-perceptions, our culture, and the trajectory of our lives. This evening will provide a safe space to experience the art of listening as we share our personal stories of birth in a way that honors the unique experience of each storyteller.

Thursday, November 3 
Life in the First Person: Women's Stories Uncovered will serve as the grand finale in the event series, Beyond Barbie. Seven reknown Richmond writers will join forces to create a night of mixed-genre storytelling, reading and performance art via poetry and prose. Come out to hear Life in the First Person with Gigi Amateau, novelist; Denise Bennett, storyteller; Tarfia Faizullah, poet; Julie Geen, freelance writer; Shelia Gray, performance artist; Valley Haggard, creative nonfiction writer and Alexandra Nelson Iwashyna, blogger.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you want to be a whale or a mermaid?

This is one of those stories that is making the rounds of the internet.  I think it's perfect for this blog!  Very cute!

Recently, in a large city in Australia, a poster featuring a young, thin and tan woman appeared in the window of a gym.  It said, "This summer,  do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?"

A middle-aged woman, whose physical characteristics did not match those of the woman on the poster, responded publicly to the question posed by the gym.

To Whom It May Concern,
Whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, sea lions, curious humans.)
They have an active sex life, get pregnant and have adorable baby whales.
They have a wonderful time with dolphins stuffing themselves with shrimp.
They play and swim in the seas, seeing wonderful places like Patagonia, the Bering Sea and the coral reefs of Polynesia.  Whales are wonderful singers and have even recorded CDs.  They are incredible creatures and virtually have no predators other than humans.  They are loved, protected and admired by almost everyone in the world.

Mermaids don't exist.  If they did exist, they would be lining up outside the offices
of Argentinean psychoanalysts due to identity crisis. Fish or human?  They don't have a sex life Just look at them ... where is IT?  Therefore, they don't have kids either..  Not to mention, who wants to get close to a girl who smells like a fish store?

The choice is perfectly clear to me:
I want to be a whale.

P..S. We are in an age when media puts into our heads the idea that only skinny people are beautiful, but I prefer to enjoy an ice cream with my kids, a good dinner with a man who makes me shiver, and a glass of wine with my friends.

With time, we gain weight because we accumulate so much information and wisdom in our heads that when there is no more room, it distributes out to the rest of our bodies. 
So we aren't heavy,
we are enormously cultured,
educated and happy.
Beginning today,
when I look at my butt in the mirror I will think, ¨Good grief, look how smart I am!¨

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Artists as World Leaders

In response to my blog posts of the last couple of days, I received this essay from Dawn Flores, a very powerful dance teacher, artist, creative woman.  I love it!  It was apparently written in 1981 at a conference on creativity and the oppression that artists experience in doing their work.

Artists as World Leaders
"Everyone is continually creative in infinite ways in their lives, but we who have chosen to dedicate parts of our lives to our creative work as artists have particular joys and difficulties to face.  The works of artists shine forth as some of the most magnificent achievements of humanity.  Artists are, however, viciously oppressed economically and in other ways, battling numerous “harmful stereotypes, damaging competition which deeps us apart, tremendous financial insecurity in most cases (or giving up altogether on being paid for what we do), and constant devaluation of our work. 

Artists have always been, are now, and will continue to be in the vanguard of social change.  We constantly have the choice, and need to be encouraged if so inclined, to see ourselves as leaders in the world, putting our and using our art as a tool for humanity’s re-emergence.  We can choose whether to be client or counselor to our audience.  We can create opportunities to do, display, perform, publish our work; systems of financial and emotional support; opportunities to grow and lead and learn from other artists.

It is important for people outside our oppression to listen thoroughly to how tough (as well as good) it has been for us as artists, and constantly hold out to us the vision of our full possibilities.  We need to see and be treated as people first, artists second.  We are under tremendous pressure to stay productive, and we, ourselves, need to be validated, as well as our work.  Don’t ask immediately “what are you doing next?” Expect change and growth in our work, and be aware when commenting on it.  Probably every artist has a frozen need for ravenous praise and applause, and at the same time, hungers for an honest response, even if negative.  Remember that art works are marvelously complex things to be thought about and measured in many, many more ways that the rigid yardstick—”Is it good?”.  Also, though we have slack in the area of creativity and are happy to encourage people, think twice before telling us (with a sigh) how you always wished you could play guitar.  It makes us feel separate and tends to reinforce the artist as superhuman/weirdo stereotype.

We are workers.  We are usually highly skilled and low paid.  Art is not a magically delivered talent that comes automatically: we have to learn what we do.  RC learning theory applies to our skills as well.  It is not a privilege to do art; it is our job (even if we have other work).  We do it because we love it and because we must work.  No one who has a challenging, creative job should be considered lucky—we all have that right.

Art is powerful.  Single songs have fired whole movements (The Marseillaise, The Internationale, We Shall Overcome).  Single works have brought into focus whole cultures and historical periods (the poems of Sappho, the Easter Island statues, Guernica).  The ability to create art has made large differences for individuals and communities.  In the context of social change, this power could be tapped much more fully.  The capitalist establishment uses art very knowledgeably towards its goals—and if art can sell toothpaste, why not socialism?  As we artists become interested in world changing, it is important to remember to use what we do best; it isn’t necessary to click envelopes for our favorite world change group when we can use our art to further our world goals.  At the same time we are not in political groups as transmitter of policy created by others—the artist as megaphone.  We are are own thinkers.  We need not do only our art.  We are fine human beings in every way and we shap our lives and environments as we see fit.

Finally, there is a great power in this fact: we are, most of us, doing the work we love best.  That can make us profoundly effective—acting on our best thinking, where our heart lies."

Report of the Artists as World Leader Support Group
Nuit, Marty P., Ed Rejuney, Roger Rosen, Vicky Rovere, Jesse Tassencourt, Cathy Winter
As Wide World Changing Workshop III, November, 1981

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Donate Profits or Pay the Artists?

Yesterday I wrote about the down side of charity auctions and being an artist.  Today I'll address an issue which has come up as I've been working on the performance series, Beyond Barbie.

In doing the work to plan the series, I've been interested to find that people sometimes ask me which non-profit we'll be giving our proceeds to.   When I tell them that the profits will be divided among the performers, they are sometimes surprised.  I think they feel that a project with this sort of emphasis on women's issues should support women's charities or other good causes.

I can understand their feelings.  I also strongly believe that artists should be supported for the work they do.  And this project is being put on primarily by artists and performers who are giving of their time and talent to entertain, inform, and engage audience members who will attend.  It's an interesting concept to think that we should donate our proceeds to non-profits instead of use that income to support ourselves and our art, much of which is helping change the world in ways non-profits typically do. 

Just to bring it into focus personally, in January I chose to quit my well-paying job so that I could pursue my art full time because I have a passion to change how people feel about women's bodies and the way the media portrays us.  I don't have anyone paying me for this work.  I have to raise my own salary through perseverance and dedication to my ideals.  I am spending 25-35 hours/week to put on this series while also preparing for my own huge art show, Not Barbie.  I don't have another source of income, so to be able to do this, I need to get compensated.  If I don't, I simply can't afford to do it.

A woman wrote me expressing her desire that we should give 50% of our profits after expenses to a [very excellent, well-respected, very deserving] local charity.  Here is what I responded to her:

I can certainly understand your desire to help make a difference to nonprofit agencies in the area.  I am aligned with that, for sure.  I also believe that artists deserve to get paid for the work they do, and the artists involved in Beyond Barbie are working very hard to make a difference just as folks in non-profits do.

 My belief is that artists are a vital part of any civilization.  Artists help others become aware of the status quo and what about it needs to change.  If you think about any era of civilization, from the ancient to the present, you probably think about the art from that time, because it is the art that shows us what we need to know about the civilization.

Artists rarely get funding from the government or from private foundations.  They work behind the scenes, often living close to the edge because their commitment to their art is strong enough that they must do it, regardless of the cost.  Artists have a vision and work to realize it.  That is really no different than what non-profits do.  For example, I want to change how women feel about their bodies - I want advertisers to change how they portray women - I want to help us all accept our differences and give up judgment of others.  Those are laudable efforts.  I could incorporate into a non-profit, come up with a mission statement, rent an office, hire workers, and work in many ways to get this message across.  Instead I am choosing to get my message across through my paintings and through this series.  Is that any less effective than what a non-profit would do?  or any less worthy of support?

The night of our series on Birth - women will be telling their stories and sharing their joys and heartaches.  Those stories, more than anything else I can think of, will effectively help women see that they have a choice in birthing options and that all can be good.  It can lead to healing for those women whose births were less than what they wished they would be.  Counseling could help them.  Support groups could help.  And I believe that this night of storytelling and sharing their own experiences will do a world of good, even without a non-profit.

The night on Abuse - we will have professional storytellers (Megan Hicks and Linda Goodman) there who have put their hearts and souls into creating stories about abuse with the intention of helping people understand what abuse is and how it affects people, and to give them hope for healing.  Yes, [the charity you're recommending] is fantastic.  It is a god-send for women living in abusive situations.  I support it wholeheartedly.  AND perhaps there will be women who attend our program that evening who will feel called to go to [that charity] because they recognize themselves in the stories we're telling.  These stories can directly prompt people to action they might not have know how to take otherwise.  We will have lists of resources for them to use, wonderful non-profits and therapists, etc., if they chose to take the next step.  My assertion is that the women who have taken the time to process their own lives to the point where they can tell their stories, or the stories of their mothers and grandmothers or friends or lovers, deserve to be honored for their services, and in our society, money is one way of honoring people.  They should get support so they can continue to tell their stories so they can continue to make a difference.

I believe each evening we've planned has a similar ability to help people.  [...] My heartfelt belief [is]  that what we're doing is as important as much of the work that non-profits do.  Beyond Barbie isn't a money-making scheme.  It's a reaching out to community to offer our stories and our hearts to others to help them understand us and heal themselves.   Non-profits are a vital part of our society because there are few other ways for the hurting in our midst to get help and support.  My husband has worked in the non-profit sector for years, and I was a teacher for 25 years, so I'm very familiar with them.  Right now I am taking direct action to make a difference, AND I am ready to monetarily honor those who help me do it, to the extent the ticket sales make that possible.

Have you personally had an experience as an artist/creative where you felt your work was undervalued or misunderstood for the contribution it is to society?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Charity Auctions - the down side and the possible solution

As an artist I often have non-profit agencies approach me to ask me to donate artwork for their worthy cause.  A "small" piece worth $350 - $400 would be lovely, they say.  I can take the donation off of my taxes, and all sorts of wealthy art collectors will be present that evening, so all the "right" people will see my work.

What they may not know is that there are some down sides to this scenario.

First, an artist is only allowed to take the cost of materials off of her taxes for donations made to charities.  On said $350 piece of art, that would be about $40 for materials to frame the piece since we do our own framing.  That would net me about $13 in tax savings at a tax rate of 30% (should I ever enter that lofty tax bracket).  

Secondly, art at such auctions generally goes for a fraction of its actual worth.  People there are looking for bargains and usually get them.  That actually undermines the value of the artist's other work.  People think, "Oh, I'll just wait til the next auction when I can get a piece for a better price."  Or, "Well, it was only worth $150 here - why pay $350 there?"  Or if it doesn't sell at all, how embarrassing is that?

Thirdly, non-profits generally don't give out the names of the people who purchase work at an auction, so it isn't even possible to add the name of the buyer to ones mailing list to try to have repeat sales.  I have had difficulty finding out if my work sold and for how much. 

There are better ways to handle this.  The best I've heard of is for the charity to find a donor to buy a piece of art from an artist.  The artist gets paid the full value of her work.  The donor gives the artwork to the charity and gets the full value of the donation off her taxes.  The charity gets the same piece of art and sells it for whatever it sells for and gets what it would have gotten anyway.  The artist still has the issues of devaluation, but at least has gotten full compensation for the art.  

That scenario seems more respectful to artists than the one which seems to imply that artists should give their work away as a matter or course.  It seems to me like society doesn't completely respect our need and drive to follow our calling to create art, nor the incredibly important part it plays in society as a whole.

More on this in the coming days.  I'd love your input and feedback.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yoplait Ad could promote eating disorders

Thanks, Karen Morris, for making me aware of this!

Yoplait Yogurt had an ad which showed a slender young woman standing in front of a refrigerator at work having an internal dialogue about whether to have a piece of cheesecake or not.  She was trying to justify it, talking about how bad it was, how she could run in place and eat it, or eat it then 8 celery sticks, or anything else just to justify it.  Then her office mate, also very slender, came up and grabbed a Yoplait from the frig.  The first young woman commented that she looked great and had lost weight then grabbed her own Yoplait.  NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, monitors advertising and contacts advertisers if they find ads they feel could be dangerous for people suffering from eating disorders.  They are not always successful in getting advertisers to pull the ads, but in this case, Yoplait responded immediately and took the ads off the market.  Well done, Yoplait!  Thanks for the respect!

If you want to see the ad, here's the link:

If you're interested in reading what NEDA said about it, or if you want to learn more about the organization, click here: