Monday, March 3, 2008

On Art (and Poetry): Women & the Voice of Innocence

On Saturday, March 1, I took advantage of the current show at the High. I was very pleased with my experience.

I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot of the history of the Stieglitz Circle, because although I've visited O'Keeffe's art when I was in New Mexico several years back, I did not become too versed in her background, except that I remembered her saying in a video at the museum, "I don't know why people say there are all these sexual references in my art. I didn't put it there." One of my favorite paintings of hers is one of the desert paintings with a view of the moon through a cow bone. Initially, I thought, "Wow! How symbolic to be looking up at the moon through the eye socket of this dead animal!" Then, I read the title--something about a pelvis! Definitely nothing sexual about a view of the moon through a pelvis! That doesn't even get to the sensuality and sexuality that's present in her paintings of flowers.

One of the things I read in the show at the High is that Stieglitz saw women as "pure, innocent, and childlike," and he chose to promote the women he did for these supposed qualities in their work. I was particularly taken by the photographs of Anne Brigman, where nude women posed in ways that imitated nature. For me, these "natural" poses were far more sensual than they were "pure" or "innocent" or "childlike." I guess I'd have to admit that I'm insulted by Stieglitz's demeaning notions about women and wanting to showcase their work under such an umbrella. I'm trying to keep my feminist sensibilities aside, but I'm having a difficult time with it, especially since these women seemed to help him perpetuate these ideas, and enjoyed the roles of innocence that he cast them in. Taking the time period into consideration, I shouldn't be as jolted by this expression of feminine artistry.

Then again, artist Ana Mendieta (albeit a contemporary artist), whose work was a part of the TRANSactions show of Latin American work on the same floor of the museum used the female figure--her own--in the sand on the beach, then took successive pictures of the water dissolving the imprint of her body in the sand. Her work was described as combining "body art, performance art,...multiculturalism, and feminism" among some other important aspects. The work is sensual and powerful, just as the other work is, but not hidden under a cloak of woman as the voice of innocence and purity. Dare I say that her work is political? How could it not be? It seems to me that Anne Brigman's photography could be perceived as political if not for the tags by her work that fill viewers in on what was happening. I think that I would have been happier to enjoy the art without the commentary that accompanied it.

Looking at my own poetry, I'd be hard pressed to find innocence in there. Comments have been made about the childlike qualities of specific poems, but even in my poems where there are childlike qualities (which I feel I can't ignore due to my own imagination, and my history of working with children, and my own love of sounds and playing with them), innocence and purity, in terms that I'm assuming belong to Stieglitz based on the work that I saw at the High, cannot be seen. As a woman, and as an artist, I know that women have a lot to say, and we have more to say than that which is portrayed in the figure of woman in her "ultimate" role of mother. We have more to share than silly, childlike notions as seems to be Stieglitz's idea of what women have to present to the world.

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