A terrific blog post
Gail Rieke at her finest:
I recently attended a lecture on women in the arts and was quite surprised when the speaker said: “I never wanted to be married or have children, so I never felt conflict about being an artist.”
I was dumbstruck (although not totally—because now I’m responding!). Perhaps I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Of course I started to list women writers and artists and rock and rollers who were married with children. Feel free to go ahead and do the same. Then I listed other kinds of conflict: money, first and foremost, societal expectations, family expectations, class, race, temperament, madness, illness, lack of inspiration, grandiosity, aesthetics, nationality, war, dislocation, and sure—gender, etc. etc.
So—I’ll agree being an artist is full of conflict. But marriage—post 1950’s Feminine Mystique? And children? Now that’s tricky—children beguile and they take time. They inspire, unleash creativity, and grow up to support your art. They also get strep throat and cause you to spend hours at Urgent Care. So I’d say—have them if you want and don’t if you don’t. But in my experience they aren’t really that central to the conflicts of art.
When I was a teenager, at the height of what I think of as second wave feminism in the US, it’s ideas helped me. They helped me to attempt to be a free person. The excavation of women writers as important really supported my efforts. However, I wanted only two things:
1. To have a boyfriend and
2. To be a writer
Probably the first has had more lifelong importance. These were not really connected. Boyfriends—yes, husbands too—take up time, inspire, etc. I’m just not the kind of artist who has wanted to be separated from ordinary life.
Of course I do know many women who found family life to be in conflict with their art. Most of us need some kind of solitude or container to create. Any kind of work you hate is going to be draining and distracting. But so is any kind of suffering. I guess I’m not totally at ease with the heroic male model of artist as separate from the concerns of daily life. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and was eternally tortured. Is that my kind of heroism? Maybe I’d just rather toast a bagel and write when I can.
Should I say: “I always just really wanted a boyfriend and to be a writer so I never felt any conflict”? Maybe!
1.What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the artistic line in drawing and painting? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
Manet famously said that ‘there are no lines in nature, only areas of color, one against the other.’ As a young artist I loved the ideas of Kandinsky, setting his lines free from his shapes, letting his color roam. The surrealist vision that I am pursuing now requires some of the methods of realism, however.
When I paint in gouache the media lends itself to linear qualities. The old tempera painters like Botticelli are known for their beautiful line. Less than a generation later Leonardo’s oil paint evaporated line like smoke, sfmato, in his words, “without lines or borders…” It looked real.
I draw with line, of course, but its at the service of the image I’m envisioning. Sometimes I transfer a drawing onto a panel, sometimes I rough in the design with paint, no line, massing darks and lights, refining it as I go along. I like dissolving flat, wet oil lines out into form, watching another dimension (or the illusion of another dimension) come into being. It gets me every time.
Do you find a relationship between painting and art and the human body? Or between your art and your body?
I am a body who paints the illusion of the body, if mainly the portrait. Studying the human form is a life long pursuit. There is so much to learn. We are endlessly expressive. I love good figurative art, there are many, many fine contemporary artists depicting the human form. I’m awed and humbled at their mastery. I even like mediocre figurative art. I adored the ‘bad’ painting of the 80’s, as long as there were figures involved. Wherever there is a human form there is a story, a narrative implied. I love a story.
Nature repeats all good functional forms, cross species, cross plant and animal kingdoms. I used to riff on the fractal similarities between human vascular forms and trees, roots and branches – consider the pulmonary system, two great trees within the lungs, respirating. (In one painting I used that theme as a big skirt) As within so with out, one could say.
A few days ago another artist told me that there seems to be evidence that the universe is furrowed, like a brain. (Do you remember “A Wrinkle in Time”?) The forms and functions that comprise the body may well be everywhere.
Since I only get to paint as long as I have a body I have a lot of incentive to care for it. Standing and moving is good while painting, later in the afternoon I’ll sit and work on some detailed section. I don’t need to pull back to see the whole effect then. While standing (or sitting) I try to employ the principles I’ve learned from yoga and tai chi, tuck the tail bone, pull up and in on the two lower energy centers, breathe, balance, unfurl the spine. If things are going poorly I check these principles, sure enough, I’m slumping, clutching, holding my breath, locking my joints. Returning to my body returns me to the moment.
Is there anything you dislike about being an artist
I can get a bit isolated, quite inward, a studio cave woman. I almost never feel lonely, tho. It is necessary to leave words behind while drawing or painting and exist in the visual moment. I have an extrovert within that is very verbal, however. It has recently occurred to me that I need to allow the verbal extrovert more time and attention. Writing is very satisfying, and again, a solitary pursuit, so I am thinking of ways to be creatively social and interactive. Except I typically won’t take time of from painting to do so….
Remember when the sight of a fallen sparrow
Broke your heart? You vowed to tell its story
As if storytelling would save the lost and broken
Remember when you marched down Fifth Avenue
Swore to end the war, so many wars ago?
Remember when you came to town, fell in love with
Desert sunlight, Indian drums, the discovery itself
Placed a pawned turquoise ring on your finger
Promised you’d never leave, and you haven’t
But today you left the museum
Walked downtown Central Avenue
Behind the toothless beggar in torn black lace
You handed her your last ten dollar bill.
“What for?” she asked,
Then looked you in the eye
For the first time.
I thought the work of these two women artists felt complimentary. I’ll always remember the 7 types of ambiguity in the lit crit tome MIMESIS–not all 7 but the idea that good art has ambiguity. Ambiguity is layers of meaning. It isn’t ambivalence or vagueness, but rather levels of theme and feeling.