One of the hardest parts about being a female artist is any type of softness easily comes across as sentimental to a male thinker. Women are basically considered sentimental until proven otherwise. I have the physicality of "cute" and my mind is fed by experiences from all six senses (drat to that sixth one!), so I am constantly fighting this battle.
This Halloween I dressed in black with large plastic rats attached to my black slacks so that they appeared to crawl up my legs. I represented the dark crawl space under a derelict house. (My husband was dressed the same, rats attached to his shoulders. He was the attic.)
Across the party floor sat a man dressed as Hugh Hefner, with male limp genital mask hanging down as a nose. My first instinct was to look the other way, as any sane person would who wasn't into orgy-with-stranger behavior. Then I decided I'd make sure to talk to this person sometime during the night.
I did approach the man, and he did speak macho sexism talk for the first part of our conversation. But after a while, and maybe it was because I didn't laugh but acted like he authentically did have a penis nose, he started asking me questions about myself and found out I was an artist. What ensued then was a very careful bombardment of questions at trying to get me to prove I had little depth as a thinking, practicing artist. I had learned from him that he was friends with a Choral Director so I decided that the questions might be derived from more educational background than your regular Dick. In fact, they sounded quite similar to those that might be asked of a masters student of the arts. I decided to answer him with completely sincerity.
I spent most of my time answering the questions by describing the little drawings you see here, trying to explain that each card was a unique person with a unique life and we all live differently, and sometimes with great difficulty. He wanted to know how I portrayed people as being different from one another and I explained it was with symbolism, ink line thickness, abstract shape making, gradations in gracefulness of line and in grey tones. I talked about how in order to portray a clumsy person as growing into a person of immense grace by the end of their story I needed the atmospheric help of graceful music playing on my radio.
I also explained that the economic fall with so many people going through hard times is what inspired me. I talked about how at the end of every life line I tried to put a positive thought, resolution, sense of well-being. He asked (firm chastising voice) if I thought it was right for me to tell people what to think. I responded that many of my drawings are vague enough that people can think whatever they want. It is up to them to see the healthy resolution or not. We are all participants in the perception of art and of the larger world around us.
His eyes brightened, the frown on his brow cleared, and he admitted he had also been a University Professor of Choral Music and that leading the audience to a positive resolution was at the essence of his work.
Phew. I passed the class.
Looking back I appreciate that conversation. Those were great questions and they might have been asked of a male artist in a spur of the moment manner like that. Maybe. But the female in me who is always fighting against being seen as sentimental couldn't help but notice that throughout the whole conversation the guy was unaware he was sweating, in essence dripping, out of his nose mask.