(I might make this a regular thing? Idk.)
Here are the interesting things I’ve hyper-focused on over the last few weeks:
GuerillaGirls.com – From their About section: “The Guerrilla Girls are anonymous artist activists who use disruptive headlines, outrageous visuals and killer statistics to expose gender and ethnic bias and corruption in art, film, politics and pop culture.” Research for my next book led from one thing to another and I stumbled upon the existence of these badass ladies. I’m annoyed I had never heard of them before.
Of particular interest is their project: TheMaleGraze.com. On that site they have a section called BAD MALE BEHAVIOR that goes into the shitty behavior of famous male artists, one of which is Edward Hopper, who I had independently gone down a rabbit hole on last week because a friend posted a picture of one of his paintings on Instagram. I do appreciate Edward Hopper’s artwork, but did you know he was an absolute d-bag of the highest order? His wife, Jo, who was also a talented artist, used her influence at the time to launch his career. Then, once Hopper was successful, he denigrated Jo’s work (and the work of all women artists) and discouraged her painting at all.
This got me thinking, as things like this often do, about how our patriarchal culture determines so much about how we perceive the world. Jo was having some success on her own before Hopper ever did; if she hadn’t influenced a friend who owned a gallery to feature some of his work, where would we be? So why, if she was successful herself at the time, do we know none of her paintings now? Because men like Hopper became the influencers of that time, and her work (like many women’s work) was literally tossed aside (The Whitney discarded a lot of Jo Hopper’s work). So how many excellent women artists are lost to time? And if we were to see their work now, would we not going to judge it through the lens of what the patriarchy has told us is excellent artwork? We’ve been conditioned, generation upon generation, to appreciate the “masters” who were 99% male, and 99% chosen by men. Even Jo Hopper was the product of thousands of years of men making all the decisions.
We probably cannot scrape away all the stinking layers of the patriarchy and discover any sort of pure, unbiased perspective on any subject—especially not Art as the Western world has come to know it, and along with that, Literature—but it does make you wonder. What would the art world look like if it was stripped of the patriarchal influence? Would the “art world” even be a thing? Or maybe art would be so common and universal there would hardly be any gatekeepers at all? Would that be a good thing? Can we even form an unbiased judgment about that from where we are standing, the latest distillation of thousands of years of patriarchal refinement?
That subject, like many subjects, leads me back to my critical thesis from grad school which is a version of: what we think is great storytelling might be deeply skewed by living in a society that values men over women, therefore masculinity over femininity, therefore the things we associate with masculinity (action) over the things we associate with femininity (passivity). And the stories we love inform who we are and where we fit in the world–that’s why representation and diversity matter. So maybe stories that hurl their plot like a projectile aren’t the only stories we need to tell? Maybe we need more passive stories? Maybe we need more stories that make us bask within them rather than eagerly turn the page? (A page-slow-burner rather than a page-turner? Is that a thing?)
Which is all well and good as a thought experiment, but is there any way to write a “good story” that eschews the patriarchal definition of quality if you live in a world where we’re all influenced by said definition?
I don’t know. And to be honest, I’m nervous to try, because the wide, predominantly unexamined (I mean that in the kindest way) world wants what it wants. And what I want is to be a successful author, so…I should give them what they want, right?
Anyway, that’s my most recent network of rabbit holes. A rabbit warren, maybe?
For VCFA alum interested in my thesis paper, it’s called Tell Them True Stories: How Stories That Reflect the Narrative Shape of Life Can Help Us Find Ourselves, Summer/Fall 2017—two years before the craft book Meander, Spiral, Explode came out, might I add! (No hate to the author, we were just grokking the same stuff at the same time, I think.) But I actually haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know how much the works have in common, I just know several people have said, “Oh! Like Meander, Spiral, Explode” when I’ve tried to explain my thesis recently. That and the author and I both imply popular western plots are made to resemble male orgasms.
UPDATE: In a fun twist, as I’ve been putting this post together, I’ve been asked to do a lil’ presentation on just this topic! So I’m going to try to actually read Meander, Spiral, Explode this week to see how much our theses have in common.
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