Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gosh, What Beautiful Art!

I just received a veritable packet in the mail, from the Smack Mellon studio program. Here is the stack of invitational postcards contained therein:

Man, how inspiring, and humbling at the same time. I just can't wait to see the shows. They're bound to be both aesthetically compelling and intellectually challenging, in ways I literally can't imagine.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Feminine Mind

'fifth seed,' collage and etching on wood
Susan Constanse and Stephanie Lee Jackson

People are still wringing their hands over the radically unequal representation of women in the blue-chip end of the Art World. All the possible, political explanations for this fact have been discussed ad nauseam; frankly, I'm not interested in them anymore.

On my last visit to MoMA, I caught the Martin Puryear retrospective, which most of my friends found to be staggeringly wonderful. I thought it was fine. It was playful, whimsical, relatively broad in scope, and the pieces were well-executed.

What struck me was the essential singularity of each piece. The sculptor would think, "I think I'll make a circular piece that hangs on the wall," and boom! he'd do it. There was no second-guessing about any of these sculptures; what you saw was what you got. "I think I'll make a horn shape that points this way." "This time the circle goes on the floor."

This show, in fact, was as relaxing as having a male roommate. There was no Subtext, nothing Implied, no shades of emotional complexity to unravel, just a nice, straightforward guy in the living room, drinking beer and messing with his tools.

I went through the show fairly quickly.

Suspended sculpture, Lee Bontecou

As I perused the rest of the museum, I found myself looking for works by women; I suppose I was in a Mood. What I found, when I found them, were works that tended to have a greater number of layers of complexity. Julie Mehretu's work, for example; and an enigmatic and unwieldy installation by Louise Bourgeois. Some of them I liked, some of them not so much. They took a lot of time to apprehend, and some of them were downright creepy.

Rather like some of my female roommates, in fact.

I have, in the past, made the case that women's brains actually work differently than men's. Not better or worse, just differently--in a more holistic, non-linear, relational way. This theory is borne out by recent brain scan studies on how men and women handle stress:
Increased corpus callosum in women—the connective tissue between the left and right side of the brain—was the first big discovery about how men and women's brains work differently. It was extremely controversial at first. The corpus callosum allows both sides of the brain to be in conversation. Her brain is, to much greater extent than his, multitasking due to all of this communication that goes on in different parts of the brain. There's a tendency for men to sort of stay focused, using one part of the brain. In a woman's brain, when the thinking part of the brain is in use, the feeling part is involved. In the middle of a crisis, men will go sit down and watch TV. And women are going, "How can you do that?" When a woman is using the right side of the brain doing recreational activity, the left side of the brain is still pumping her messages that there are important problems that have to be addressed.
Perhaps part of the reason that art by women still goes underrecognized, particularly in the Big Leagues, is that we still define Great Art from a masculine perspective--as a Monolith, as a Big Statement. Women tend not to make grandiose statements, so much as an intricate web of conjecture, which points to many levels of being, of consciousness, and relation. So much so that I don't think we can get to the top of the tree by faking a masculine attitude; we're simply not pushing with our whole minds when we do that.