I recently had the opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and as I wandered through the numerous galleries and halls, amazed at the breadth and precision of the collection, I had a realization. Or rather, I was reassured of the reasoning behind my love of contemporary art. Contemporary art is messy and complicated, and it often has many interpretations. There is a complexity to it that invites the viewer to think about the meaning, rather than handing forth a simple, pretty picture.
Yet, the paint drips, smudges, texture, and chaos that is frequently found in the art I am so fond of gives me an internal sense of calm. As I wandered the Met I had the epiphany that contemporary art aptly represents the life I have survived, also messy and complicated but with a beautiful patina. I am not a simple, pretty option. I am textured, layered, sometimes complicated, yet beautiful and interesting for the struggles I have survived. Contemporary art reminds me of this.
Today my life has morphed into what can only be defined as a dichotomy. Looking back while moving forward, my experiences are steeped in contradictions. This could explain my love of Basquiat, whose work was based on dichotomies, specifically wealth vs. poverty and integration vs. segregation. It is through the representation of those oppositions that highlights the depth and intrigue of Basquiat's art. Life is such a beautiful, experimental mess, and like contemporary art, layered in complexity.
We are concerned with the relationship between art and life. Contemporary art is only intelligible in terms of its relationship to our life. -David Elliot
When dealing with stress, any type of outlet is a (mostly) positive thing. For creative beings, like myself, expressing feelings, stress, joy and pure emotions can turn lemons into lemonade. As I worked in the studio today I had two visions in my head. Beyonce taking a baseball bat to car windows in her Hold Up video and the other of Elizabeth Shue in Adventures in Babysitting. When pushed to the brink I often find myself stating "Don't fuck with the babysitter." Somewhere in the outer gray matter of my brain I had a memory of this line, if not immediately remembering where the phrase came from, I knew it was an appropriate response to being pushed to my limit. Thanks to Google I tracked down the original source and it still applies.
The gift that comes from this angst is in the creation of beautiful, and always expressive, art. I'm not one who likes to have things handed to me. I want to think, examine and interpret. I want to look at work that is multidimensional and challenges me to analyze my own experience while questioning what the artist is trying to convey. Every art piece changes based on the interpretation of the viewer, which is the nugget that makes art richer and more interesting with each passing participant.
While I'm uncertain of the tortured artist analogy, I do know that as creators we are deeply feeling beings who are expressive and show our love, anger and emotions by creating. Every ounce of what we are experiencing comes out in our work and for that the world in a better place. Without it the galleries would be filled with gray.
One of my favorite pieces at 21c was by South African artist Walter Oltmann entitled Child Skull, 2013. There was something beautiful and poetic that came forth from Oltmann's haunting combination of delicately weaved wire of a child's skull.
The other provocative artwork at the museum hotel was Raise Up by Hank Willis Thomas. In Raise Up, Thomas depicts the heads and arms of ten black miners, inspired by a photograph by Ernest Cole, who underwent a humiliating medical examination, in the nude. The sculptures are also reflective of the recent Black Lives Matter movement "Hands Up, Don't Shoot."
After receiving word that my flight was delayed, thrice times over, I headed next door to the Contemporary Arts Center. I got so swept up by the beauty of the building and the ingenious and stunning material sculptures by Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh that I managed to miss my flight all together. "Each abode becomes manifest in an ongoing series of life-sized fabric replicas that float gently, but vividly in space- hovering like constructions of the mind." The translucent structures evoked a quiet, reflective experience that felt akin to the romance of rain on an autumn day.
Bouncing between New York and San Francisco, I was not prepared for such exquisite creativity within a city I knew so little about. If you ever find yourself in the town Mark Twain, perhaps erroneously thinks is always 20 years behind, make sure to stop down on Walnut and 6th for a glorious drink of inspiration.
As an artist I immediately had a deep sense of appreciation for the environment that is being offered, an open space, a quiet retreat from the backdrop of the city while creating a cross-pollinating opportunity as residents come together each evening for a communal dinner and artistic share. Not having been in the studio for sometime I am finding myself experiencing a creative pull. Experiencing new territory while witnessing the balance of hard work and play amongst fellow artists has lit a previously dim spark. Each day provides a new opportunity to create. Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow. I am ready. "I think it is in collaboration that the nature of art is revealed."
Creating art can be a very egocentric exploration. As an artist I find myself drinking in the world around me, contemplating the landscape while metabolizing whatever experiences are served to me moment to moment. My joys, frustrations, sorrows and curiosities get channeled into a mixed media amalgamation, coming together to tell a story. My reality. The reality of the environment in which I live. The influence of society around me. But does it even matter. If I specifically set out to make an impact does it make my art more important? Deeper? Will the viewer appreciate it more? This is a question that stays with me and causes me to look inward as I approach new work.
There are obviously those who love art simply for arts sake, yet as artists we have an opportunity to teach, to enlighten and to soften the reality that many do not always want to face head on. Most recently artist Nona Faustine called attention to the historical practice of slave trading in Manhattan by posing nude at former New York city slave trade sites.
Artists have an opportunity to be cultural documentarians reflecting the current trends and patterns within the community and world around us. Race and equality have become an especially necessary focus and Faustine's work supports this urgency. I am finding myself following this same path as I contemplate the racial injustice that continues to plague our country, gun control, gender parity, innocent black men being gunned down again and again. These issues are far too heavy on my mind to not eventually show up in my work.
Once in that zone of creating I find that I am merely the messenger in bringing forth the story. I look forward to seeing what awaits (hopefully) as much as you. Stay tuned.
Today, as a woman and an artist, I am blessed to freely express my views through a creative voice. I honor those who have lost their lives working to entertain us through thought provoking, intellectual exposition. Whether we agree with one another, or not, it is my hope that this intolerance will one day be a quizzical afterthought that is painted across the sky and etched upon the earth.
One of the crucial functions, personally and socially, is to propose new worlds, different from the ones you know; and this is unsettling enough in itself. But perhaps even more crucially, and potentially more important for society, art can make you pay attention to things you take for granted, make what you think you know to be strange to you, and thereby change your relation to life's actualities and its possibilities. Part of growth is to recognize the profound ways in which your learned feelings for what at first seems alien and beyond you, and your transformed understanding of what has always been at your feet and all around you, can become the most satisfying, intimate parts of your relation to the world, empower you and give the greatest texture and depth to your life. Otherwise you may remain deaf to music that might resonate with you, blind to forms that might become the touchstones of your vision, and pass through your life without living it. -Kurt Varnedal
a. A guiding spirit.
b. A source of inspiration.
Historically the term referred to men describing the women they loved and made the subject of their creative endeavors. Today we live in a gender neutral age where a muse can be described as a particular individual, or even inanimate object, who enlivens the creative process.
I have found that the well of my muse is a place I can continue to drink from. Often a sampling of inspiration, passion, drama or gut wrenching pain. Rarely does an experience not get absorbed and push me to create. It becomes an organic part of my journey, a part of my DNA that needs to be expressed. Without that process I lose the beauty of the moment, be it pain or joy. It is only by surrendering to these extremes do we grow. As explained by Julia Cameron, "the creative process is a process of surrender, not control."
If one is as fortunate as I have been the relationship between muse and experience will intersect. Distinctiveness defined. Artistic expression and original thoughts by their very nature are iconoclastic and at the core it is the muse that makes it all happen.
5 reasons you need a muse:
- Removing Performance Pressure. Having a muse allows us to transfer the awful, paralyzing burden of responsibility for the outcome of the creative efforts.
- Inspire Gratitude and More Creativity. Julia Cameron recommends the practice of gratitude as overcoming creative blocks and maintaining a state of flow.
- Avoiding Workaholism and Laziness. There are two basic errors you can fall into in creative work. One is workaholism: exerting yourself so frantically on a project that you use yourself up and burn yourself out. The other is laziness: doing nothing and hoping you'll magically feel motivated and inspired to get it done eventually.
- Enhancing the Stages of the Creative Process. Creativity involves a fallow period or an incubation period, an interval of surface inactivity during which our unconscious self is doing the deep formative work that is its forte.
- Opening You to Your Deep Intelligence. As a matter of incontrovertible, self-evident truth, each of us experiences himself or herself as at least two selves, two centers or levels of identity; a conscious ego and an unconscious companion. Your unconscious mind truly is your genius. Befriending it as such in the classical manner puts you in a position to receive its gifts, and it in the position to give them to you.
I experienced this same revelation with my dear friend and playwright Adam Bock when asking how one of his plays might end. His response was one of uncertainty as he guessed what the outcome might be. I was corrected in my assumption that every writer knows how the story ends, and later realized how similar writing is to painting. I understood the astonishment they each experienced.
There is this horizon where the arts intersect. Where creation, exploration and discovery come together in an organic way while the artist, writer, actor, creator falls into a hypnotic, zen-like space. It is through this quietly introspective place that the story or the painting finds it's own voice. As if the piece and the creator are working together.
Many times I begin a painting with a vision, an overall sense of what I'm wanting to achieve, yet through the layers a new image appears. A new story is told. It is through this process that some of my best work is born. And perhaps for McLean and Bock the best story told.
"The creative process is a process of surrender, not control." -Julia Cameron
Art does this. And when it does it well it makes us stop, take inventory, and think. Whether it's Thicke's sexually charged lyrics with accompany video, Mapplethorpe's nudes or Marina Abromovic's performance pieces we are provided with a starting point for discussion. Controversial art is not a contemporary theme. Manet nudes were considered "vulgar and immoral" in the 1800's, followed by Picasso depicting prostitutes in a "disconcerting manner" and today we have artists such as Andres Serrano and Ai Weiwei. Each generation, each century, pushes the lines to societal standards, or lack thereof, and hopefully, if anything is to come of it, the theoretical pot is stirred.
According to the National Art Education Association "The freedom to create and to experience works of art is essential to our democracy. At present this freedom is under attack." I think that it's only under attack if we allow it to be. As an artist I believe it to imperative that we continue to push the limits, blur the lines, question authority and societal standards. And yet we must also be thoughtful and responsible which Thicke failed to do with his statement "[w]hat a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I've never gotten to do that before."
We clearly have a long way to go, but the dialogue continues and it is that discourse that makes life such an interesting journey to experience.
- You're penning an autobiography. What's the title? Textured Incantations, of course!
- Your idea of perfection? A quiet day in the studio followed by a visit with someone special.
- The greatest lesson you ever learned from a child? No inhibitions! Think outside the box.
- What talent do you wish you had? To be invisible. Oh the fun you could have!
- Greatest fear? Heights
- If not your current occupation, what would you like to be? I'd be the lead singer for Psycho Kitty... my imaginary Patsy Cline grunge band.
- Cat/Dog/Bird/Fish? Chicken. Oh! Is that to be or to own?!
- If you could be any one person for a day, who would it be? I'm content being me.
- What puts you in a creative mood? Music. And engaging in the visual world around me.
- What is your most treasured possession? My friends. Although I don't actually possess them.
- What is something about you that nobody would guess? That I'm actually an introvert.
- Favorite indulgence? New York.
- If you could write your history, what one thing would you change? My twenties.
- Which artist do you most admire? Fine art: Basquiat. Theater: Ian McKellen. Musical: REM
- What would you do with one extra hour in your day? Read
- Your most annoying habit? Over analyzing. I'm sure there are others...
- Which single piece of art do you wish you'd created? Starry Night or anything by Basquiat.
- How would you like to be remembered? As someone who embraced life!
- Secret junk food vice? Peanut M&Ms
- If you had to pick your theme song, what would it be? Plain Jane... "She falls somewhere in-between Levi's and Vogue Magazine / She doesn't paint on her face / But what she does she does with taste."