Friday, January 04, 2008

I'm Still Here, but Wondering if I am Sexist.....

I apologize for the spotty blogging. I have been feeling burnt and in need of recuperation to an unprecedented degree. I am beginning to come to the conclusion that something has to change in the way that I make art. The focus on my work is so tight towards the end of each project that the rest of my life falls by the wayside, which leads to exhaustion and the need to pick up the wreckage after each project is completed. The "life balance" that so many people seek feels so far away and impossible to me whenever a project is getting close to its realization: I become myopic. Then, in the aftermath, I am left to tend to 2-3 month's worth of middle-to-low-priority mail, back issues of art magazines and New York Times, piles of stuff in my studio that were thrown in a corner in the heat of making and now have to be organized, resume and website updates, catching up on the art world online, hanging up the clothes thrown over the rocking chair, and paying back my husband who covered a bunch of my household chores in the final weeks of the project. I have applied for a few grants to hire a studio assistant in order that I might work more efficiently. I also am hoping that the next paintings that need to be made might not need to be so large.

A new friend from Germany that I met in Miami (still haven't told Miami stories.... I know) invited me to join an art networking site, and I just spent some time filling out the profile. The first essay question starts out "I am...."

"I am..... a product of a large, poor, highly dysfunctional but creative family. I lived in France for a year when I was nine, attending French public schools. I returned to Paris when I was eighteen, working as an au pair and attending the Sorbonne. I put myself through undergraduate and graduate school, working 30 hours a week as a framer while attending school full-time. I had a brief stint as an Art Director at an advertising agency: I hated the job and it made me physically ill. I was an Associate Professor at Florida International University for ten years, teaching drawing, painting, and visual thinking. I was also BFA Director, getting BFA students ready for life in the real world and helping them mount their final exhibitions.

The hardest thing that I ever did was leaving the tenured position that I worked so hard for to try and make art as a full-time career. The decision involved moving from Miami to rural North Carolina, where there are very few distractions, and very little culture: I have been able to focus almost completely on my work. I travel quite a bit for exhibitions and visiting artist gigs, and see as many exhibitions and films as I can when I am away from home. I really miss my large community of art friends in Miami. I spend the days working in my studio with my dog, blogging about my current projects, and keeping up with the art world through the internet, podcasts, The New York Times and The Guardian. Despite my isolation, it seems that I have made the right decision, as things are finally starting to happen after 20 years of making and exhibiting my work.

Last year, I made a painting of Angelina Jolie as the Virgin Mary hovering over a Wal-Mart, entitled "Blessed Art Thou". It became quite controversial, and proved to me that I did not have to fall off the face of the earth just because I live in the middle of nowhere. The obsessive nature of my work is my "ism": without it, I would surely fall prey to one of the other "isms" present in my family. My work keeps me sane, but I frequently fear that, sustained at this pace, it will eventually kill me."

Then we were supposed to list our favorite artists. Granted, it was late at night when I filled out this part, but I started my list.....

"Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Ann Hamilton, Anne Wilson, Tracy Emin, Marilyn Minter, Stella Vine, Miranda July, Tilleke Schwarz, Annette Messager, Kathe Kollwitz, Doris Salcedo, Lisa Yuskavage, Helen Chadwick, Cornelia Parker, Yayoi Kusama, Marina Abramovic, Julie Heffernan......."

and it occured to me that they were all women. I had to get into a different mindest this morning to round out the list with some men:

"Chris Verene, Brian Ulrich, Anselm Kiefer, Llyn Foulkes, Ed Keinholz, Jim Goldberg, Banksy, Andres Serrano, Ivan Albright, David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Peter Greenaway, Michael Snow (who, I understand, is FINALLY getting some recognition)"

I have an acquaintance who runs a fairly well-known art blog. I enjoy checking in on it from time to time, and I think that the author is a brilliant thinker and writer, but the blog itself tends to be a closed circle of (mostly male) artists steeped and stuck in a rather traditional Modernist and Formalist philosophy. They were once discussing Louise Bourgeois, and none of them seemed to think much of her, wondering what all the fuss was about.

I immediately jumped in and told the story of how, when I was in graduate school, I volunteered to run the slide projector while the faculty was reviewing applicants for the graduate program. The faculty at that time was about 75 - 80% male, and , at this particular screening, for whatever reason, none of the 3 female faculty members showed up. The process involved looking at slides first, and only if they were interested would they inquire about resume and/or recommendations. I remember quite distinctly that there was one (female) applicant who I thought was amazing, and the 10 second consideration of that candidate went something like this:

- "great painter...."
- "yeah, but I don't really 'get' the subject matter..."
- "right, me neither"
- "next"

(Impulsive and self-righteous as I am, I put an anonymous letter in the female faculty mailboxes, not realizing, of course, that there were only two grad students present at the screening, and they could easily determine my identity.)

Anyway, after I told this story to the guys on the art blog and suggested that something similar might be at work in their current discussion of Louise Bourgeois, I was admonished with a referral to a pre-written blog guideline suggesting that it was lame and unacceptable to accuse anyone on the blog of sexism. But the fact that the first 15 artists that I could think of were female has me thinking about my own framework and biases, or at least my sensibilities...

Time to embroider while watching a movie I have had in my collection for a year but not yet consumed: "The Saddest Music in the World". Oh, and at 2:00, Patricia Malarcher, the editor of Surface Design magazine, fellow New York Textile Study group member, and a wonderful lady, will be speaking at nearby Elon University. So we aren't SO culturally bereft here after all....


Blogger ec said...

I remember that thread on the blog you speak of. There is a strong idea amongst the bloggers there about external factors, such as sexism or even correspondence, let's say, not impacting an encounter with the object. In an absolute sense that's probably true. But, like seeks like. Not to sound essentialist: but aren't there correspondences amongst like-minded people; images, or structures that arise more quickly. I'll never forget looking at a pile of cushions and suddenly finding the text "don't abandon me" within it.
It's not straight ahead fabricated work, nor is it modernist, but I never forgot it, and it meant something beyond what she intended it to. So it expanded out of itself.
Thank you for these coments, this is an interesting situation.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Hi ec, thanks for visiting!

I was being a bit flippant in calling myself sexist, but I agree with your comment about like-minded people (speaking of which, did you see those cushions you spoke of in the film "Female Perversions"? Love that movie!)

I was just telling someone today that I have also discovered that many of the artists I love were raised Catholic. Their imagery is not overtly identifiable as such, but once I decipher what I am drawn to in the work, it makes perfect sense when I find out that they share a similar early influence.

12:17 AM  
Blogger ec said...

I was thinking of Louise Bourgeois' sculpture, but didn't make that clear...
I've always envied Catholic artists, for the embellishments, the built-in issues. But now I am the flippant one.

11:06 AM  

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