THE SYMBOLS IN MY ATLANTA ARTWORK
When I tried to come up with ideas for my art while an undergrad, I was very literal. The issues I dealt with in my art were all negative, from life experiences: being female, societal pressures on appearance, feelings of anxiety, unhappiness.
I spent so many years feeling lost. I felt overwhelmed by life and ill-prepared for it. I had no idea how to go after what I wanted. I thought I had to wait for (as Martha Beck puts it) an “External Authority Figure” to discover me and then bestow success. I kept wishing for something to come along and completely change my life. A lottery winning. A chance meeting. An epiphany. A “Fresh Start” as I always read about in women’s magazines.
I look at my BFA paintings and I can see what I was trying to say. I felt trapped. Afraid. Unable to express myself. Unable to make things happen in my life. Feeling the pressure of time. Feeling the pressure of untapped potential. My shushed upbringing strangling me. My leaping figures were trying to express something, but they were so small and insignificant.
I was always trying to represent chaos. My mind was a mess of chaos. I had no idea how to relax. I had no idea how to be at peace. It wasn’t chaos, but unchecked anxiety, and I didn’t learn how to deal with it and quiet my mind until Martha Beck explained Lizard Brain.
PERIODS **Warning: Discussion of Menstruation**
I also spent my 20s enduring long heavy periods. This is why there is so much red paint in my BFA paintings, as well as calendars. Sometimes it felt like I was always on my period. My cycles were 35-40 days long and the periods lasted from a week to 11 days, with a few light days at the beginning and end and very heavy bleeding in the middle. My doctors all said, “Well, this is normal for you.” I felt like I was always bleeding my guts out and being reminded that I was a woman. My 30s and 40s were blissful by comparison, being on The Pill.
***End Period Discussion***
Interesting that I recently saw something on Tumblr about how attractive children are loved more by their parents, have higher expectations, grades, paying jobs, etc. than unattractive children/people. And I was thinking about how expectations for me were set so very low by my parents. I don’t think they expected much out of me at all. Get married, get a pathetic crap job, have children, what else would I do? And yet at the same time my Dad expected that everything I did had to be perfect, or I was deemed a failure. If I couldn't be the best then I shouldn't even try at all.
Sometime around the time I graduated high school the Indianapolis paper ran an article that math teachers were in demand, so my Dad suggested I become a math teacher. Never mind that I was no good at math, didn’t particularly like math or have an interest in math. My parents had such a 1950s factory worker mentality. Oh, a profession is in demand, why don’t you do that?
This lack of belief in me weighed down my self-esteem quite a bit. I painted figures that were despondent and sad.
I felt the heavy burden of time passing while I wasn’t accomplishing much – hence all the clocks. The moon shining through a window, awake at night and full of worry. The daily grind got to me, the monotony of doing meaningless office work, as did the years passing by.
I was so clunky, trying to match images to feelings.
Time = Clock
Blood = Red
Happy = Dancing
Sad = Crying
Chaotic = Messy
Orderly = Grids
LITERAL vs. METAPHORICAL
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I was so literal until I read this blog post by Amanda Palmer: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (A Book & Marriage Review)
She tells the story, from her perspective, of how Neil Gaiman’s book and her Theatre Is Evil album came about. But the interesting part, for me, was where she talked about metaphor and being literal. It’s a small part of the blog post where she writes:
“maybe i *have* become too literal. that idea terrifies me.
i grew up in an atmosphere with no metaphor, and i can now, as an adult, cast my whole life in a perspective where i see my craving to escape that literalness as if it were the plague.” -AFP
When I read that part, suddenly I saw something about my own life that I had never seen before. I have been strangled in ‘literalness,’ trying so hard to put my feelings into literal images. Rather than stepping back and imagining something…more. I have been craving the more but I haven’t figured out the how or the what yet.
I also grew up in an atmosphere with no metaphor, no creativity, no poetry, nothing other than what was in front of us. Any expression out of the ordinary - dreams, beliefs, what-ifs, was tamped down, shouted down, made fun of or ignored. I craved a creative life and it still physically hurts to do such meaningless work in a shit office job. It’s why I was and am driven to create, even if I still can’t make a living from it. Even if nobody wants my art or hardly anyone sees it, I need to create in order to fill a need inside myself. I need to access that not-literal part of myself and give it a physical form out in the world.
I have struggled to make my artwork more than just: I feel this –*. I am still working on that part. I don’t have any solutions yet. For a few years I tried the mixed-media route, trying to express through texture and materials, but that wasn’t it. That was too much and not enough at the same time – too much stuff, materials and messy chaos and not enough expression. I am still searching for my solution, but having unloaded an awful lot of mental baggage, I feel like I am in a better position now to solve these problems than ever before. I am steering a lighter ship. As always, stay tuned.