Saturday, February 7, 2009

Art Wars

My husband and I got into a fight over the drawing of the horse woman. It went something like this;

Mike: "You know, if you take a closer look at it, that woman seems to be really afraid."

Me: "No. She doesn't look afraid."

Mike: "Yes, the posture of her body. She is trying to run away."

Me: "It's an erotic posture. And I don't think she trying to run away. She is flaunting herself."

Mike: "If you take away the eroticism you have fear."

Me: "You can't take away the eroticism from that drawing."

Mike: "Yes you can."

Me: "No, you can't."

Mike: "Yes you can."

Me: "I spent two hours with that drawing. Who knows that drawing better, you or me? I see no fear in the drawing. She is relaxed. She is fierce. She is unapologetic. But she isn't afraid. I don't know how you twist your imagination. If you want to combine eroticism and fear that is your hang-up. But you are projecting onto the drawing things that really aren't there. I don't want to fight. On this we are going to have to agree to disagree.

The phrase that comes up a lot when Mike and I discuss art is "agree to disagree". That is when we still have self control left. When emotions are too hot all I can manage to say is "don't shout at me" or "I hate you" and "I'm going to sleep on the couch". The last time I spent the night sleeping on the couch was when Mike decided that he was going to critique my artwork. Notice that I do not send him out on the couch, he can fight and fall asleep just fine. It is me who seethes while he snores and feels like the places where our bodies touch under the sheets burns with fire. I like going to sleep on the couch when I'm angry with Mike, it is a relief.

I can't remember the word Mike used to describe my art. It meant that you haven't yet lived up to your best potential. But my best piece, the one that my brother is going to buy, he said suffered from the problem of not really having a story attached to it. In his opinion good art should all tell stories. Nevermind that wonderful portraits and landscapes and abstract designs exist in museums where they are revered and admired, they are all, in his opinion, boring, inferior, and worthless.

I am loath to remember what it was like visiting a museum with my father. My brother sister and I would rush through gallery after gallery, never pausing, forced at a pressured march past art that teased with fleeting glimpses, only to finally stop in the gallery that had the French Impressionists. And then we would stand for five minutes in front of a Japanese style bridge spanning a lily pond painted by Monet. "Look at the light" said my father, "bouncing off the water". If we stood in front of the Rouen Cathedral it was "look at the light bouncing off the stone", in front of a haystack covered in snow, "look at the light bouncing off the snow". I hated that my father was so narrow minded, and I hate that my husband is narrow minded as well.

I understand that obsession can be a good thing for an artist. My husband is obsessed with creating his comic book, which is perfect for him because it is art used to tell a story. But when we go out together to an art gallery, I do not want to walk near him, I do not wish to have any dialogue with him, because I am afraid how embarrassing the things he will say will sound to the strangers surrounding us. The way I see it, the first rule when looking at art in a gallery is to whisper. The second rule is to not say horrible things about the artwork until you are out of the gallery. This is because, especially at art openings, the artist himself may be present or friends or family of the artist. It is o.k to say, "this doesn't interest me" but "this person has no talent" or "you couldn't pay me to hang that in my house" is not o.k. With my husband I can't even express interest, and say, "how interesting" because most of the time what I will hear in return is "boring" or worse, "that's not art". Strangely, I am less afraid of what will come out of my husband's mouth when we are in museums, because there most of the artists are dead, the people have no personal ties to the artists, and if you express dislike, you are immediately at odds with the opinion of the educated curators of the museum, who, if they chose the art to hang, are giving their esteemed vote of confidence to the artwork. I don't mind if my husband acts like a hick and a rube and an ass in a museum because you expect, with the volume of people passing through, to have these sort, and I believe that in a museum, art ignorance is treated with tolerant humor. In a museum it is acceptable to hate art, the museum has broad enough shoulders to bear a load of enmity. But a gallery is struggling to survive on its sales of art and has slender shoulders, gallery owners have their pride at stake, and they are playing a betting game. They are betting on their ability to pick artists to represent who have skill and appeal, because these things will help favorably influence the visitor and perhaps lead to a sale. And I have noticed, that in a gallery, quite often, the owner is present. Oh they usually leave you alone to look at the art, but they try to be within close enough proximity to start a conversation, should you have any questions.

The gallery where I have the most difficult time with my husband is not singularly owned. It is a community gallery that represents artists who are all geographically local. To be a member you only need live within a so many mile radius of Brattleboro. I have a difficult time with my husband here because there is such a wide variety of talent and style hung close together, and because they don't really discriminate, you will see things here that are amateurish and clumsy. I myself have been sorely tempted to point at a painting and say, "that's really bad". And I confess I may have done exactly this. But if I did say it there was only a voluntary gallery attendant present, perhaps at the opposite end of the empty room, and I kept my voice very low when I said it.

When Mike talks about other comic creators many times I have heard him say that their artwork is really bad. I know that this might be true. But I have come to so distrust his opinion that I won't believe him, I won't take his word for it, unless I have seen the artwork myself and made my own conclusions. He will say to me, "I don't know why this comic is so popular, there is nothing special about the artwork." I looked at the comic and I saw spare elegance. Something, by the way, that his own comic usually lacks. Last night, he was talking about a comic book creator which seemed to him to be pathetic, hoping for a publisher, when his artwork is so "terrible". "He is like a child" said Mike, "who thinks that what he has created is the greatest thing in the world". And that is, I thought to myself, near what my husband thinks about himself.

I make judgments about art. I cringe when I read some of what my husband writes in his comic. The last issue he showed to me I only looked at the pictures, I was loath to read the juvenile dialogue. And yet, this is what my husband works on every single day. It is his joy, his escape, and like a precious child, gives him a feeling of immortality. He is awake at 4:30 in the morning so he can create before leaving for work at 6:30. We make few plans for Saturday and Sunday, all he wants in his free time is to be left alone to work on his comic book. The hard fact is that what he loves, I reject. Love has no place in my opinion. Kindness no place. Respect no place. The girl who whispers in art galleries because she fears to offend holds in her hand a knife that instinct tells her she should use to shred and destroy her husband's happy dream. I'm no lamb. I'm a wolf. Oh yes, I make judgments about art. When I am indifferent to art I am so cold that my humanity cannot be touched. My husband, in his innocence, when faced with art that he doesn't like says, I hate it. He reacts with heat and warmth. When I am faced with art that I don't like I usually don't spare an emotion to form an opinion. My husband's comic does stir emotions in me. He has a following of supporters, regular readers, and they are loyal to him because no doubt the comic stirs positive emotions in them. But the emotions that the comic triggers in me are mostly negative.

I will not reject my husband, so I will not reject his art, no matter what my visceral response is to it. I listen to him talk about it every day and I am an attentive, supportive listener. I will not hurt my husband's feelings so I will not say what I think when I look at his comic. I hold my wicked tongue. I wish, with most art that I don't care for, to be only indifferent. I wish I could claim such higher ground. What keeps me safe is not to look in the first place. I'm grateful for the people who follow my husband's comic and give him emotional support because I know I can't give him what they give him.

Mike is such a pretty thing. When God created him, he left him long in childhood, and made a smile the quickest thing to grace his face. I don't go around breaking pretty things.

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