Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Honoring the Female Form in Art

Throughout the ages and across cultures art has been inundated with depictions of the nude female form. From stone age sculptures of fertility goddesses to Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, all the way into twentieth century photographers like Julian Mandel, femininity has been a powerful theme that has consistently inspired creativity in artists. But what is considered a respectful artistic presentation of a woman, and what is considered an offensive one? I believe that there are as many answers to that question as there are people on the planet! This is because the way we each interpret art is so very unique. The diverse reactions people have to nude females in art never ceases to amaze me! What one culture may consider a most sacred depiction of the goddess, another culture may call indecent and exploitive. Is the nudity itself a cause for shame?

I grew up on a hill overlooking the sea. A short walk through a canyon behind our home led down to a nude beach, which I frequented as a teenager. I was introduced to nude sunbathing by my aunt when I was a young girl. My aunt was also a student of photography who created beautiful nude self-portraits. My mother, however, though a lover of art, became visibly uncomfortable around nudity.

For some, the depiction of a nude, or semi-nude female, seems to elicit a type of nervousness. Even if the female is presented outside of a sexual context, her mere nudity seems to trigger discomfort in certain audiences, perhaps stemming from fear that such exposure of the female form might be exploitive of women, or encouraging of such exploitation. Others cheer at the sight of the same work of art, because they see it as countering the exploitation of women! And then we find the multitude of varying views that rest between those two extremes.

As an artist who engages her own female form in her artwork, I can personally attest to the wide variety of reactions observers have to art which focuses on femininity. It swiftly becomes obvious to me how reacting to a work of art is a very personal experience indeed, into which we each import our own individual sets of beliefs, cultural influences, conditionings, emotional associations, etc. Is it, therefore, the role of the artist to anticipate how others will react to their work and share their work accordingly? I don’t believe anyone can predict with 100% accuracy how another person will react to their art. How do we know if our artistic creations will become objects of admiration or scorn? We can never really know until we share them. I will always give great value to uninhibitedly sharing art.

In sharing art and receiving feedback, I believe an artist can potentially learn as much about his or her own works of art, as they can about their audience. If a person is offended by the way a woman is depicted in art, that might give us more insight into the offended viewer than into the work of art itself. It opens up a dialogue that could hold potential meaning. Maybe it assists the viewer in coming in touch with why they hold particular perspectives. Does an artist still create art in the knowledge that it may offend the perspectives of others? As the nude female form continues to grace works of art today with as much zeal as it did in the past, we can surmise that history tells us that they do. Artists create whatever art they are inspired to! So what responsibility does an artist have to their audience?

To me, an artist’s responsibility lies in being loyal to their own artistic visions and inspirations regardless of what reactions they may elicit from others. When it comes to making an artistic contribution to the ever growing celebration of feminine beauty and sensuality in art, it appears that the only prerequisite is the artist’s sincere eagerness to do so. I have been reflecting on this, as I embark on my first artistic collaboration with my very thoughtful friend and colleague, photographer Michael Messina, with whom I have been pondering the age-old inspiration of presenting the female form in art. May the feminine always be honored in art without restrictions or shame.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lost and Found in Art

I think I engage my art as a means to finding parts of myself that had become lost, or temporarily misplaced, or forgotten about. Maybe they are parts of myself that were alive when I was a child, and then lost their vitality somewhere between growing pains and adulthood. Maybe they are parts of me that were suffocated by challenging circumstances or relationships. Maybe they are just new sides of me that spontaneously appeared as a result of expressing myself through art, and are looking for their first outlet. Or maybe they are old parts that are being resuscitated, and the photograph is acting as a medic, bringing them back to life.

In creating a photograph I feel as if I am creating a safe space in which to express myself as freely as I’d like to. It is an arena into which any parts of my being can feel welcomed into, and find a voice. Yes, my photographs are like my voice! It is a voice that has a lot to say, and is grateful for the opportunity to do that that through my art. I am most grateful, also, for those who hear my voice; those encouraging others who have appreciated my photography and thus inspired me to create more. This is especially meaningful to me, as I contrast it to times in my life in which I did not feel the expression of my voice was that supported. Through making and sharing a photograph, my voice is found, my voice is expressed, and it is heard. We all need to feel heard in life.

To me, sharing art is a way in which human beings openly hear each another. Existentialist philosopher, Paul Tillich once wrote that “the first duty of love is to listen”. I believe that in creating and sharing art, we come in touch with the parts of our selves, and others, that are most desirous of participating in a loving relationship. At least for myself, I experience the creating of a photograph as my traversing a path that aims at reaching my very core. I believe everyone’s core is love.

Maybe I engage my art to explore this belief that we are all made of love. To reach a part of myself that is unshakable. In attempting to do so, I inevitably encounter other parts of me that aren’t as solid: fleeting emotions, changing perspectives, temporary wounds. And I offer each and every one of them a release through the images I create. Once expressed, I find they are much more peaceful, and move out of the way so I can connect with something deeper. It is almost as if some parts of me need to be lost, so that others can be found.

In a single photo session then, I can potentially both loose and find myself. Sometimes over and over again. This is the creative process I am so addicted to! And what I find when making art is truly unlimited! I think this holds true for every artist: our creations are like doorways that open into an endless world of discoveries. Perhaps we just need to remember to loosen our holds on those parts of us that relate to limits, so that we can experience the boundlessness before us, each time we make art. In this context loosing takes on a positive meaning. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” It is this deeper understanding of self that I find each time I lose myself in my art.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hearing a Painting or Photograph?

What does it mean when a painting or photograph speaks to us? It is a common expression engaged in the English language that indicates when something impacts us in a deep and meaningful way. When a person tells me that a photographic creation of mine has spoken to them, I take it as a great compliment! The expression itself suggests that one’s experience of a visual work of art was so overwhelming that it seems to have engaged all their senses, and not merely the sense of sight.

What does it mean then to hear a photograph, or a painting? I think it means that one’s perception of it is so profound, it deepens the ways we interact with it, moving us beyond the visual and into subtle auditory, and emotional levels. When we see a dramatic image of a waterfall, it might trigger sonorous memories of what a waterfall sounds like. Suddenly, we are not only seeing the waterfall we are hearing it as well. Or a pastoral scene of flowers and trees rouses the melodies of bird calls in our mind, the reflected trees in the ripples of a lake cause us to hear their leaves rustling in the wind. This happens to me quite often!

Visual stimulation is so potent, it can instantly act as a key to a variety of sensations within us. It is interesting to note, however, that the expression which describes a meaningful connection with a visual work of art includes, (of all senses) the sense of sound! When a photograph or painting speaks to us, it is understood that it has really moved us and touched our hearts. I think this might speak to the fact (no pun intended), that sounds greatly intensify our experience of art. As when we watch a film with the mute button on, it tends not to have as great an impact on us. Sounds certainly add a whole other dimension! When the sounds are not externally provided, the audience will often add them, in a most spontaneous, nearly unconscious manner, and suddenly, a photograph is being heard, in addition to being seen!

So what does art say to us? What does a painting, or photograph sound like? There are, of course, as many responses to these questions as there are humans on this planet! When the sounds are internally generated, they are as varied as our DNA stands! I most enjoy when others give me feedback, and translate for me the specific ways in which my photographs speak to them. Perhaps nothing could be more enjoyable to an artist than to hear about how their work has moved the hearts of others. I aim to move hearts with my art, and create photographs that not only speak, but sing!