Songs for the Struggling Artist


I Am a Genius
August 26, 2020, 12:11 am
Filed under: art, feminism | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Does it make you uncomfortable when I say I am a genius? I can see why it might. Women aren’t supposed to be geniuses, for one thing, and they should be modest, as well, so even if women COULD be geniuses, they shouldn’t go around declaring themselves such. We learn very early that we should hide our intelligence, that we should be quiet about what we’re good at and that we are never going to be seen as brilliant. Because being brilliant, and being a genius, is for boys.

Think that’s all in the past? Well, you’d be thinking wrong. Forbes just published a piece about a study that shows that there is an unconscious bias in both men and women that associates men with things like genius and brilliance and not women. Forbes declares that women tend to not apply for jobs that list a brilliant mind as a qualification. Their solution? Stop putting “brilliant mind” as a qualification.

That’s one way. Another way that I see is to purposefully cultivate an immodest attitude of brilliance. To practice calling girls brilliant and genius. Changing the language on job listings is only a change in semantics – changing how we talk about the brilliance, the genius of women and girls is another.

The culture we’ve been swimming in loves a genius. We are a culture that believes in genius and will excuse all sorts of bad behavior when a genius does it. Picasso! What a genius! It doesn’t matter that he abused the women in his life, neglected his children and made a seventeen-year-old girl his lover when he was 45. The genius effect is powerful and will overshadow any wrong doing.

Here’s his granddaughter describing his genius: ”His brilliant oeuvre demanded human sacrifices. He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius. He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him — people who thought they loved a human being, whereas they really loved Picasso.”

And here she is describing his relationships with women: ”He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”

Nice genius right there. That’s genius built from the blood of women. That’s not just a really sharp, smart, cool artist. He was that, sure. I like his artwork very much. But he was pretty awful to the people around him. We excuse it though, because of that genius effect.

But no matter how brilliant a woman may be, no matter how prolific and original, it is highly unlikely that she will be called a genius or even brilliant – and if she made even the smallest of errors, she will be pilloried for it. There’s no genius effect for her.

I am so incredibly tired of this and have made it my practice to call myself a genius and to tell myself I’m brilliant at every opportunity. When the silly video game calls me a genius after I string together a long line of dots, I say to it, “Thank you. I know.” Sometimes I don’t even say thank you because of course my genius is obvious and I don’t have to be polite about it.

Is this immodest? Yep. I’m done waiting for the world to recognize my genius. If the orange dumpster-fire-in-chief can call himself “ a very stable genius,” there is literally no reason in the world I should not declare my own genius. I may not be as brilliant as Einstein but I am for sure more brilliant than the fascist meme machine in charge. He got pretty far by declaring himself a genius. Can I do worse?

But most importantly, I am trying to normalize women being seen as geniuses, as brilliant. I want the next generation of girls to know they are brilliant and geniuses and to apply for and get all the jobs for brilliant minds out there. (By the way, what are these jobs? I’ve never seen a job listing that asked for a brilliant mind ever. Was it because I was looking at theatre and education listings? No one would ask for a brilliant mind in those fields, I don’t think. Not the way they’re currently administered. A brilliant mind would only make trouble. As I often did.)

Anyway – I’m a brilliant genius. I hope you’ll agree. And make it a practice to call other women and girls geniuses, too. Start your practice with me, if you want – because I will, for sure, accept it. If you call me a genius, I will say, “Thank you, I know” just like I say to my game and then you can move on to your next genius, who may have been taught to be modest and deny it. They may be embarrassed and uncomfortable to hear it but call them a genius anyway. One day it will stick.

The only reason I got comfortable calling myself a genius is that I have a handful of people who have called me brilliant, who have called me a genius. It didn’t come from nowhere. You can help me spread it. 

Here’s me with my genius rainbow brain just geniusing it up out here.

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Advice for Artists

If I could offer one piece of advice for artists, it would be to be skeptical of all advice for artists.

After so many years of dedication to making art, I think I’ve heard most of it. Some of it might be useful. A lot of it isn’t. I started to think about this after receiving my copy of New York magazine featuring a cover story of advice for artists. I found myself confused about what it was doing there on the cover. Why should advice for artists be a front page story? I read the advice – hoping to uncover some clues as to what made this front page material but there was very little in the thirty three tips that I haven’t read before.

I discussed this article with another lifelong artist and realized that its presence on the front page probably mostly was a result of the author’s recent Pulitzer prize win. He won a Pulitzer so he gave some advice so they took some funny arty photos of him and put him on the cover. And when I received this magazine, I felt weird about it. Not because his advice is bad – some of it does accurately reflect my experience of making art – but because I don’t understand who this advice is really for. On one hand, it seems to be for “the young who want to” – and on the other, it’s for the veteran and also the one about to have the New York Times come to their first gallery show in Soho. Who is that? An arty preteen with super fancy connections and an old soul?

That’s when I realized how bound by our own experience any advice is. Jerry Saltz, the guy who wrote this advice, is a critic who just won a Pulitzer prize for writing. He’s a hotshot. He may feel like he has his finger on the pulse of the art world – that he’s seen the range of the super star artists and the strugglers. But the fact is, Jerry Saltz only sees artists who are in the mix. For some artists, Saltz coming to their show is their one big shot. If he doesn’t respond positively to their work, it will become the story of the time they almost made it. But the art scene also includes artists who will not only never get Saltz at their art show but will also never get a show. They’re not in the mix. The artists Saltz is seeing, and therefore advising, are in the mix – which means they have already experienced a level of success or privilege. This doesn’t negate this particular critic’s advice – it’s just to contextualize it.

Likewise, any advice I’d have to offer anyone is going to come from my particular point of view. To me, the most salient bit of information in Saltz’s advice, was his perspective that it only takes 12 people to create a successful career. That’s something he’s seen happen a few times I’d wager and probably seems relatively easy to accomplish from where he’s sitting. Why, he knows at least 12 well connected people! And he knows a lot of people who know 12 well connected people. No problem.

But the good news about this guy is that he also understands that not everyone has access to well connected people. And that is one of the things that makes him a valuable voice for the arts. Sure, he may have used a photo of (notoriously terrible family-man) Pablo Picasso to demonstrate that being an artist parent is possible but his advocacy for museum space and artists is incredibly important for the cultural life of New York City so I’m glad he’s out here fighting.

But if you’re an artist looking for useful advice, I regret to inform you that no one has the answers. There isn’t a right way to do this. Living with that sort of ambiguity is sort of what it’s all about.

If you find little bursts of information inspiring for your art, yes, please read them and make your work. If Saltz’s article encouraged just one artist to dig deeper into her work, then it was worth it, in my view.

But if this sort of thing left you a little cold and confused as it did me, take my advice and forget all advice. When it comes to making art, yours is the only advice to follow. Not your teachers, not your parents, not some guy in a magazine and not some struggling artist on the internet either.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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“She’s a female, so that’s interesting.”
August 30, 2018, 4:45 pm
Filed under: feminism | Tags: , , , , , ,

National Geographic has a TV series called Genius and I read an interview with Ron Howard, who produced it. He was asked why their next subject was going to be Mary Shelley and he said, “She’s a female, so that’s interesting.”
And damned if I didn’t have a little hurricane of a reaction to this sentiment.

Let me begin by saying that unfortunately he’s right about the rareness of women who are recognized as geniuses. Genius tends to mean “man” to most. Genius is rarely attributed to women so, yes, it is “interesting” to focus on a woman in a series about genius. I think, more accurately though, it is a nice change of pace, rather than interesting. It is not her being female that is interesting. Mary Shelley’s femaleness is not actually unique. Over 50% of the population shares that particular trait with her. What is actually interesting is that somehow the world has been convinced that genius is a thing for men so that it has become unique to see a woman on a show about genius. That’s the interesting part. That and the fact that it has taken this long to bring a woman into a story about a genius.

Also – the use of “female” in this context uniformly makes me crazy. I didn’t know why people calling women “females” was so infuriating for so long until I read some articles about it (like this one from Jezebel) and now I can tolerate it even less than I could before. So there’s that, too.

I mean – I do not deny that having a woman on a show about geniuses is much more interesting to me than any previous subjects they explored but ultimately the whole structure of the sentence made me real mad at Ron Howard. I got so mad I found myself saying, “Take a flying leap, Richie Cunningham!”
“Take your ‘interesting female’ ideas and shove ‘em, Opie!”
Which is not very nice to Ron Howard and I’m sorry. (Please hire all my friends who make films, Ron Howard. Make all their movies immediately. Pretend I didn’t say anything.)

But – let’s imagine this sentence reversed. We’re reading an interview with Ron Howard about his subject, Picasso.

INTERVIEWER: Your next Genius is Picasso. Why him?

HOWARD: He’s a male, so that’s interesting.

Mmmm. Is it though?

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



No More Muses
October 20, 2016, 9:29 pm
Filed under: art, feminism, Visual Art | Tags: , , , , , ,

Warning: Sweary Feminist Rant Ahead. If you object to swears, hold your ears.

Fuck muses. I’m done with reading about fucking muses. Not the Actual Muses, not Terpsichore or Erato. I could read about them all day. But the goddamn muses who inspired the Great Painters and Giants of Literature and whatnot.

I have not always felt this way. It used to be my fantasy to have some dude paint me or write a song about me. But no more. I grew up. And now I say: fuck that. Fuck being a damn muse.

See, this is how it went down, see? I’m at the gorgeous, peaceful, beautiful, intelligent Picasso Museum and I keep reading title cards and each one is about a new goddamn muse. His cubist muse. His ceramic muse. His last muse. Fuck that noise. Fuck it. Here we are celebrating the glorification of an intense objectification that allows generations to fetishize the women Picasso found attractive. I’m just done with this.

I mean Picasso found women’s bodies attractive. Cool. I’m cool with that. But he also found goats attractive and we don’t call them his muses. They’re the SAME in this context. So fuck muses. I never want to read about another goddamn muse again. Unless, it’s something like: “Here we have Frida Kahlo’s muse. It’s herself, okay? She’s her own goddamn muse. She doesn’t need a fucking muse because she’s a badass who can come up with her shit all by herself.“

No more muses. My new manifesto.

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You can help me be my own damn muse

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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