Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The Bookbinder’s Daughters

Here is some pretty cool art, though its beauty can’t really captured on an iphone: “The Bookbinder’s Daughters” by Chris Dorosz from a show at the Scott Richards gallery in San Francisco.

I love Dorosz’s art because the images seem so alive, almost moving. When you see this piece and you walk around it, it looks different from every angle. Every figure conveys her own personality.

Here is how the press release describes Dorosz’s work:

Using the two-dimensional images as a guide, Dorosz then creates three-dimensional models, which he arranges in a group. To make the works, the artist employs a technique he has developed over the years: he fabricates a grid of clear nylon rods suspended vertically within a Plexiglas stage; he then applies drops of paint to the rods, and the images materialize.

The resulting figures seem to move, fracture apart, and reform—almost like holograms—as the viewer walks around them, bringing to mind digital pixels or even DNA.  The moment of action is suspended in time and space, as indicated by the show title and the titles of all of the works in this series: Stasis, a state of equilibrium.

“Out of material discovery,” Dorosz says, “I began to regard the primacy of the paint drop, a form that takes shape not from a brush or any human-made implement or gesture, but purely from its own viscosity and the air it falls through.”  Editing all the way down to a drop of color, the smallest element of a painting, Dorosz is pushing the medium, and the creation of image, to its very limits.

Of course, every artist needs inspiration. Here are the models: that’s me in the middle, my sister Kim on the left and my sister Hilary on the right. Dorosz made this piece from a photograph taken by my mother, a bookbinder.

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Ever heard of Lee Miller?

She was an artist, photographer, war correspondent, model, and girlfriend of the famous surrealist Man Ray.

There’s an exhibition right now at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor “Man Ray/ Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism.” It was fascinating for me to see this show the day after I went to the Cindy Sherman retrospective at the SF MOMA. In many ways, Miller seems like a precursor to Sherman. Like Sherman, Miller was obsessed with depicting females and female body parts in a way these subjects, though done so many times before, hadn’t yet been presented.

Miller’s photographs show heads that appear to be severed by using lighting techniques or positioning them over cloaks, and one that I loved of a hand that appears to be floating, fiercely clutching an elaborate hair do. The creepiest and most Shermanesque image– or I suppose Sherman is Milleresque: the photographer stole severed breasts from a hospital (where a patient had a radical mastectomy)  and photographed them on dinner plates. It amazes me that Miller had the guts to create this photograph, in 1930 no less. Miller has many more fascinating shots in the show including a female head suffocating under a  bell jar (before the more famous Sylvia Path used that image) and a model pinned against the wall by knives thrown by another woman.

The next gallery documents Miller and Man Ray’s break-up. When she left him, he was tormented, writing pages of her name: “Elizabeth.” There are also framed love letters and a series of art works of Miller’s body parts by the obsessive Man Ray: giant lips floating through the air, an eye attached a  metronome, severed legs. You can see why Miller experienced herself as so fragmented and disembodied. Her career as a model obviously contributed to this experience.

In one fascinating pairing in the exhibition, there is nude portrait of Miller by Man Ray next to Miller’s nude self-portrait. While Man Ray’s photograph has Miller in a typical seductive pose with typical soft lighting, Miller’s joyful art in a powerful pose is far more unusual and striking. When I looked at Miller’s photograph, the highlighted biceps and subtle smile– it also reminds me of poses made famous so many years later by Madonna.

Another gallery shows Miller’s war correspondent work, she was one of the few females to photograph war time– still not a profession that many women venture into.

This show is a beautiful and fascinating documentation of how a passionate relationship creates great art.

Reel Girl rates “Man Ray/ Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism” ***HH***

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If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at entering yet another museum gallery full of Carvaggios or Della Francescas, bare-breasted Madonnas gazing lovingly at their chubby, man-faced babies; or any bare-breasted women gazing at any baby; or seen one too many portraits of important looking old men with bald heads and big noses, the Cindy Sherman show at the SF Moma is for you. When I walked into the room of her Old Master parodies, featuring stiff poses, prosthetic breasts, giant noses, and garish bald caps, Sherman in all of them, I felt like getting on my knees and giving thanks. It was like she was saying, “Fuck you, Old Masters. You’re all the same. How do you think women feel when they’re stuck in gallery after gallery of the same old thing? You know what it looks like to us? Check this out.”

Sherman doesn’t only mock Old Masters. If you’ve ever been grossed out looking at a portrait of a possy of TV housewives in Us Weekly, if you’ve ever thought those women looked more alien than human, you will love Sherman’s art. With garish make-up and enormously scaled photographs, Sherman shows the grotesque in images we find normal, or are supposed to find normal. Or fun. Or cute. Or titillating. The way the show text describes the themes is that Sherman uses “images embedded in our imagination.” I love that description because that is also what Reel Girl is all about. A lot of what I find seriously creepy, Sherman does as well, and it’s all in this show: clowns, society women, hardcore porn, fairy tales and aging movie stars. (Now, if I could just get her take on My Little Pony and Polly Pocket.)

What is so great about this exhibition is that Sherman is in all of her own photos. She is subject and object. By taking on both of these roles, she shows how fucked up it is that women exist in a world that is so male dominated that we actually experience ourselves through male eyes and male narratives. As John Berger wrote: Men watch. Women watch themselves being watched. I’ve read about that idea, thought about that idea, written about it, but I’ve never seen it presented so brilliantly as in this show.

One thing that is kind of a bummer: everything is grotesque and ugly. By the time I was through the rooms, I was desperate for some beauty. I started to wonder what Sherman found beautiful, if anything. Of course, she must see beauty. This show was not the place where she wanted to present that particular aspect of existence. Maybe her art isn’t focused on showing beauty at all. Which is fine, of course, she’s the artist, but I found myself hopeful to see a show where she was doing more acting and less reacting.

Reel Girl rates Cindy Sherman retrospective ***HHH***

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Miss Representation posted this collage of GQ’s men and woman of the year.

You know what these absurdly sexist covers remind me of?

“Picnic in the Grass” by Edouard Manet.

I just saw this painting at the Musee D’Orsay in July when I was visiting Paris with my eight year old daughter. She asked me why the men were dressed and the woman was naked.

Here’s Miss Representation’s answer:

On the multiple covers of their latest issue, all of GQ’s “men of the year” are dressed exactly the same, while their singular “woman of the year” – singer Lana Del Rey – is not dressed at all. The implication is that the men here are valuable for something beyond what they look like (since they are all presented almost identically), but that the woman is valuable only for what she looks like (since she is visually presented so differently from the others).

Manet’s painting was completed in 1863. We’ve been looking at this same old image of dressed men and naked women for years before and years since. We’ve been looking at it for so long, it seems normal to everyone except for crazy feminists or little kids.

It’s only “normal” because throughout history, there haven’t been enough recognized women artists. In 2012, there aren’t enough women on magazine covers who are celebrated for their achievements and not “beauty.” Lana Del Rey, by the way, is a singer. Do you think that if she’d refused to pose naked, GQ would let her on the cover? Or would GQ’s response be more like Vanity Fair’s when Rachel McAdams wouldn’t shed her clothes for that magazine’s cover? There’s Scarlett Johanssen and Keira Knightley, but McAdams went missing.

That naked woman in Manet’s painting? Her name is Victorine Louise Meurent. Besides being Manet’s favorite model, she was also an artist. She had a self-portrait at the 1876 Salon when Manet’s submission was rejected. Ever heard of her? She died an alcoholic, in poverty.

And Manet? We’re still imitating him on the cover of GQ. It’s time for a change, a little more originality, please. Isn’t that what art is supposed to celebrate, after all?

The year is 2012. Women shouldn’t have to get naked in order to get acclaim. Please Tweet GQ Magazine that you’re NotBuyingIt. Do it for your daughters.

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The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

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I got this comment in response to my post: Are there imaginary worlds where sexism doesn’t exist? It made my day, and it’s the reason I created Reel Girl.

I’m so glad I found your blog! I have known there was something wrong with the media’s portrayal of women for as long as I remember. When I was little I always played Batman or Superman or just boys in general because the only thing I saw girls doing on TV was being rescued, then getting married off, then…
And because of this I think I may have actually thought I was a boy at one point.

As a beginner writer I would love to write an imaginary world without sexism! I’m trying to do it now.
The appalling lack of female characters in movies and such is so aggressively brainwashed into us that I didn’t even notice it until I read it in your blog. It is so bad, that it wasn’t until I read your blog that I realised my first wannabe-feminist-and-spiritual-soapbox novel has a male main character and a mostly male cast :(

Your blog has inspired me even more to write more and better females! For some reason my characters just ‘look’ and ‘feel’ male when they come into my head. Even the genderless ones. And now I am trying to figure out why.
Do you think it might have something to do with how I have seen women portrayed in the media?

Women, write! And if you need a push, read my post: Why aren’t there more women artists?

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I’m reading The Golden Compass and I absolutely love it. The main character is Lyra. She is fierce, smart, and brave. The villain is also female: Mrs. Coulter. She’s brilliant, beautiful, and wicked.

There are several indirect references to sexism in the book. When Lyra first meets Mrs. Coulter she is shocked that the woman is a scholar because female scholars are few and dowdy. Lyra notes many times that the male scholars get access to special rooms. Just like in the real world, right? We all know real life Oxford is sexist as hell. So what’s wrong with referencing that sexism in the story?

There are further parts of the story that make note of sexism. Only the male gyptians are allowed on the boat to recover the children. The female gyptians argue they should be included, not to battle, but because someone will need to be there to look after the children once they are rescued.

Of course Lyra, just a child, goes and battles and is the heroine of the story. But I’m wondering as I read, are there imaginary worlds where there is no sexism? I would love girls and boys to be exposed to this fantasy much more than they currently are. Before we can realize it, we’ve got to be able to imagine it. We get to that surprisingly little if at all.

Obviously, the challenge is that writers exist in real life sexist worlds so as Luce Irigaray wrote, even creating a “female imaginary” can be practically impossible to fantasize about. Though, honestly, it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. Remember, battles are symbolic and metaphorical as are magical powers.

Just put a female front and center. Have some other females helping her out, they don’t have to be human, just female. That’s a start. Maybe the Oz series would fit? It had Glinda but a lot of makes around Dorothy. Alice in Wonderland? Same thing, but I think that would fit, at least the movie version with the White Queen. Is she in the book? There is the Red Queen, though she’s evil. I like evil female characters but I like good ones as well.  The only thing that bums me out about Tim Burton’s Alice, which I loved, was that the story was bookended with a wedding scene. Like so many modern day feminist heroines, Alice’s independent act is that she refuses to marry who she is supposed to. But why mention marriage at all?

Update: Commenters and  I agree on these: Oz, Wonderland, and Miyazaki’s imagination

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The more I blog about the lack of females front and center in kids’ media, it all seems to come down to this: Why aren’t there more women artists?

The obvious answer is that so many women lack access to money and power as Virginia Woolf told us years ago. In order to create, you need a room of your own.

I read another great theory in a book I love called Goddesses in Every Woman. I first read this book in a feminist theory class in college. I re-read it every few years and can’t wait to give it to my daughters when they are old enough. The  author, Jean Shinoda Bolen, writes that artists need someone to hold their dream, to believe in them. Many men get this faith and support from the women in their lives, but how many women get the same from men? Partners can give lip service to supporting art, but how many allow for the time and mental obsession it actually requires? Or are secure enough to tolerate the exposure art can result in?

I have a theory as well. I think that the whole “tortured artist” archetype doesn’t apply to most women. This is not to say that women don’t experience pain and despair. But rather, if women are going to create, especially mothers, it’s fairly impossible to get stuck in those emotions. And getting stuck is the closest definition I’ve come to sickness. I think in health, you experience the same range of emotions, just as intensely if not more so, but there is movement instead of stagnation. That movement is key to creating.

Please read my blog post on the book Against Depression titled: What if van Gogh took Prozac? The author, Peter Kramer, shares his fascinating theory on how the origin of our standards for measuring great art came from the depressed Greeks. We’ve been stuck in that warped and limited model ever since. I love this theory because, as a former philosophy major, I am no fan of how those guys screwed up our views on reality and women.

Update: The Guerilla Grrls suggest that a better question would be: Why aren’t more women artists noticed? While I understand this sentiment and agree that much more art by women needs to be recognized and celebrated, so much of art has to do with communication; it’s challenging for it to exist in isolation. I believe that more women need to dedicate themselves to creating.

Women, please write, make art, and change the world.

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Here’s what reviewer Cullen Murphy writes in today’s New York Times about the new book Herge, Son of Tintin by Benoit Peters:

Yet Peeters squarely faces two issues that hang over Hergé’s career: his resort to ethnic and racial stereotypes, mainly in the early stories, and his record of accommodation in German-occupied Belgium.

The issues can’t be avoided. In both word and picture, the depiction of Africans in “Tintin in the Congo” makes your jaw drop. (“It’s very nice of these blacks to bear us triumphantly to our hotel!”) The villainous financier in “The Shooting Star” has a hooked nose and has been given the name Blumenstein. Some of this work was later revised, imperfectly. And “Tintin in the Congo” has been gingerly treated by publishers and libraries. As for accommodation, Hergé published “Tintin” throughout the war in the collaborationist newspaper Le Soir. Peeters doesn’t excuse any of this (who would?), though he does try to put it in context. He observes that Hergé’s prejudices were those of his time and place, and notes that the cartoonist, as he matured, acquired a more enlightened sensibility. In “The Blue Lotus,” Chinese ideograms on signs in the background say things like “Abolish unfair treaties!” and “Down with imperialism!” (These were drawn by an influential assistant, a French-speaking native of Shanghai named Zhang Chong Ren.) Hergé was not in essence a political man, publishing in Le Soir because collaborationist newspapers were the only ones allowed to exist.

I haven’t read the book, and I hope Peeters explores Herge’s misogyny in it, but if he does, why would Cullen leave that out of his review? Why does Peeters “squarely face two issues” but not that one? If Herge’s sexism is indeed left out, why doesn’t the reviewer ask the reason for the omission? Are women as unimportant in this story to the reviewer and biographer as they were to Herge?

Read more about the creator of Tintin’s disturbing thought on women.

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My sister has a story in the Indiana Review. You can find it here.

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