My Artist Residency in Puebla, Part 4: That Time I Told Everyone They Were Ugly, Too.
Last time we left off with this: The feeling that my body and me were separate came back during my time in Mexico as I looked at these photos of myself and chose which ones I would paint. I appraised it with a critical eye, emotionlessly. As I painted myself I focused on the photo for its shadows, highlights, and outlines. You would think that this process was extremely personal, but it actually felt quite impersonal. Cold, even.
That Time I Told Everyone They Were Ugly, Too.
A lot of concepts are about to come together in this post, so buckle up!
Remember when I talked about the question that my art was asking? Click here for Part 2 if you need reminding. Up until now my art had been asking "Am I ugly?" I was obsessed with making my paintings beautiful, whether or not people really understood them. And more honestly, despite their utter lack of meaning.
I liked to say that my paintings were intuitive, but they really were not. I had been in denial. Sure, I had learned the motions of intuitive paintings through art therapy, but mentally I was completely in control of the process. I couldn’t let go because the risk of "ugly" was way too high.
Now, as you read last entry, I had embraced my belief that I was ugly, used photos of myself and new color palettes to create self-portraits of my body. I was pretty damn pleased with myself, thinking that when Francisco gave me feedback he would be so impressed by my cleverness (approval still mattered so much).
"No." He literally said.
First of all, my art no longer asked a question - it made a statement. Instead of asking "Am I Ugly?" it boldly, undoubtedly screamed, "I am ugly." Ok, well, that's what I believed, so yeah mission accomplished, right? Wrong. But I didn't understand why this was a problem until Francisco elaborated.
You see, when we put art into the world it becomes text. Those of you who are teachers know this well, but "text" doesn't just apply to books anymore. Text can be anything that provides us with knowledge about the world. So when we publish a piece of art, say on Instagram, it becomes knowledge. So in that case, when I publish these pieces, I am telling the world how to see me. And, I'm presenting it as truth.
See how asking if I'm ugly and telling everyone that I am are two different things?
That's not all. What about the viewers of my paintings? Picture a 15 year old viewing this in a gallery with her parents. She sees the violent red colors, the harsh, broken brush strokes. It's clear that this artist is making a statement. And that statement? "You, viewer who is also female, are ugly. Women are ugly."
That is not at all what I want my art to say.
This is a lesson in intention. I know what my art means to me, but can I control what it will mean to others? I know the questions that my art asked before - but did I consider what I WANT my art to ask?
I understand now that artists have a huge responsibility in the world. We publish our paintings, and they become text in the world, and it is extremely irresponsible to publish one without thinking about intention.
Isn't that utterly paralyzing?
Why do I believe that I'm ugly? It's because of things people said as I grew up. I've struggling from about 10 years old with an eating disorder. I remember my grandmother having a lock on the fridge door. My aunt asking if I was going to eat that WHOLE bag of chips. My sister telling me that I would be fat one day. That boy in school calling me a dyke. My friend telling me that I could stand to lose 5 lbs.
And those are my experiences, but if I go around proclaiming with my artwork that I am indeed ugly, aren't I just passing on the social conventions that have lead us all up until now, where women feel like their worth is calculated according to their appearance? I'm reinforcing that horrible narrative, not challenging it - let alone changing it.
Is that really the world I want to live in? Hell fucking no.
I'm going to end today with a quote from Oprah Winfrey, who said it better than I can say here.