The year we moved into this huge house, I decided to take full advantage of the room we christened “the atelier”. I had every intention of picking up expressive practices that I’d abandoned over the years – for oh-so-many-reasons.
But I stopped attending the local croquis group after only a few months. All of the models were thin, 20-something women in “pretty” poses. Straight lines, and little movement.
It was both boring and demoralising.
I packed away my sketchbooks.
As an undergrad I studied studio art for a couple of years before switching majors. I remember one model from life drawing class who was tall, slim and in her twenties. She posed with a great deal of confidence. And though she was nude, her poses were always discreet.
During breaks, she would slip on her robe and make a round talking specifically to the young men in the class. She inspected the work on their easels to see how how they interpreted her body in charcoal. Sometimes she would put her hand on their shoulders and lean in, breathing in their ears. Her little ritual made many of them visibly uncomfortable.
It made me feel uncomfortable for – what I must presume were – entirely different reasons.
The power-play of subject/object is much more complex than we tend to consider. I suppose in part because our culture is quick to conflate beauty with sex appeal, and sex appeal with power.
Thinking now: Maybe it was fortunate that I was accustomed early to being invisible among the tall, slim beauties in the room. I never considered myself the subject, nor the object (or ornament) – but an observer. It makes aging that much easier.
However, as an observer I have not always been kind in my interpretations.
And I’ve often shamed myself into the corners of the world – for oh-so-many-reasons.
I remember another model who also posed for us in that life drawing class. She would would always wear a floppy sun hat, and she’d wink at us. Sometimes, she’d stand on her head during the 2-minute sketches. She was – I’m thinking now – probably in her 50s. Thinking then? She was “an old lady”.
And truth be told, her unabashed comfort with her own body made the majority of us visibly uncomfortable. Her poses were in no way discreet. Sometimes I would move my easel to another spot just to avoid having to confront her sex full-on.
Now? How I wish I’d asked her out for coffee.
It is a beautiful thought: lessons can be learned long after the teacher has left our lives.
The artistry in any medium lies in the work’s ability to evoke synesthesia. Each work is dependent upon each viewer’s subjective experiences – and the meanings we assign to them – for its claim as a work of art. We are each ultimately responsible for giving it life from our own lives.
And if – at any point in time – we think we see an objective reflection of the world as it is: a true work of art? Well, … there is no such thing as the world-as-it-is. There is no such thing as a point-in-time, because time exists in memory, so neither travels in a straight line. The world curves back on itself, folding over and over – always indiscreet in exposing the accumulation of what has come before – coming closer and closer to the wholeness of life, to Beauty.
Ornamentation is not substance.
And the world will always shake off ornamentation.
It will distort the straight lines we work so hard to impose on it.
There is power in rejecting the consensual idea of beauty.
Rejecting it unabashedly.
Because that is acknowledging the substance of one’s own experience.
This is my ars poetica.