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The Meaning of Art - ever changing

I finished a piece that, from concept to creation, took me a little over a month. Ideas are generally floating in my head for a long time, years sometimes. I write things down in various notebooks I have laying around the house. Sometimes, these notebooks go missing, or they are somewhere super safe that I will find months later. The odd thing is, I generally know exactly where I wrote a specific idea because the pages in these notebooks look different from each other. So I know which notebook I need to find and if I can't find it, I know more or less what I was thinking and I figure it out again.

Now, I have conflicting ideas about art because I am not particularly fond of art that should sit on a wall and just look pretty. Or a piece that should cause absolutely no emotion, but to fill a blank space on a wall, like... a ghost... or a wallflower. I find that sort of art absolutely pointless. Although I have seen houses that have a gigantic painting of poppies because, well, they must really love poppies, but it is just... unpleasant, to sit there, facing this... thing. It's not something you get up to look at closely because it's a print. It is definitely not a talking point because it simply goes like this.

Me: "So... poppies, eh?"

Them: "Yes, I love poppies."

Me: "Hmmm, I couldn't tell...."

Imagine my facial expression any way you like. Pursed lips, raised eyebrows, looking mega impressed...

I mentioned a few blogs ago that like authors, painters paint what they wish to see in the world. The kind of art they enjoy, or haven't seen enough of. For instance, I scroll past thousands of portraits on Instagram on a daily basis - my fault entirely as it was most likely dictated by the artists and art pages I chose to follow. These portraits are painted differently, titled differently, but nonetheless, portraits. I love some of the techniques used and they can be quite original. Some might present a tiny bit of symbolism, but generally, not. And then the title is something lofty which the artist probably came across in the dictionary and thought, "cool, let's call it that because Untitled 324234 is too boring". My eyes have started glazing over whenever I see something like that because with that lofty title, they could have painted something so much more meaningful. If you just wanted to paint a pretty face, own up and call it Pretty Face 2, or whatever, not "Spiritual Awakening" or, I don't know.... "Catharsis". Unless it's how the artist felt, but I will never know, all I will know, is what I see. That is not to say that I don't fall in love with some of the portraits I have seen, but it is usually because it has captured a certain emotion, or there is a certain glint there. They are not perfectly posed and defy perfection. I also love being able to paint portraits as a starting point, for practice. And there is obviously the fact that portraits can be commissions, and there are a gazillion trillion reasons as to why portraits are so popular. And because they are so popular, I, contrarian as usual, only paint them as practice and for my own ego so as to tell myself, "yes, I can do this! I am not incompetent!"

So, art... what it means, to me. Initially, I just wanted to be able to paint something and make it look good. I wanted to paint something that looked like art, whatever that meant at the time. I go to galleries, museums, Instagram (oh my lord, the things I have seen) and look at art books and that, somehow, seems to be how art is defined. So, by comparison (the one thing one should never do) is what I am painting looking remotely like art, as defined by galleries, museums, Instagram, books, art critics? Yes? No? Maybe? I usually look at something I have done, either happy, because I succeeded, or irritated because I failed and it looks like garbage and everything is garbage.

Yup, exactly like that, clearly rubbish. But then I had a friend say that maybe what I think is garbage, is actually exactly what somebody else wants and loves. Art is all subjective! Hence, my rant above the my Instagram feed's over-saturation of portraits and wallflower art. Because this is subjective and to me, it is art, but I want art to be much more than that. I want it to spark conversations, I want someone to see it from across a room and just stare at it as they slowly walk towards it - I have done that many times and it is the most incredible experience and I want people to feel that way when they see what I have painted. But, if I can't feel that way when I look at something I have painted, I want to burn it. Art should move and presently, I feel am better equipped to start painting what I want to and one of the things that helped me open my eyes a little further was participating in Toward - where participants chose one of the topics related to global awareness such as reduced inequalities, clean water and sanitation, gender equality, no poverty, quality education, and so on and so forth. So many themes that art could touch upon which opened my eyes to a world of even more possibilities. After exploring aging and decay, I have now started to explore further themes like feminism, gender equality and similar topics. I believe art should enlighten, start conversations, move and disturb, it shouldn't sit prettily on a wall and be something you rarely notice or that your eyes just slide over as if not there.

Let me share with you one of my favourite pieces. Augustus John's "Woman Smiling".

Tate Britain, Woman Smiling, Augustus John OM
"Woman Smiling" by Augustus John OM, 1908-09.

The first time I saw this painting, which takes up almost the entire height of the Tate Britain wall making her larger than life, I just stared for ages. What was she thinking, why does she look like she is up to no good, or just played a prank on someone? It's a portrait, but look at the expression on her face, the pose, there is so much more going on that it's a delight to watch. Whenever I am feeling grumpy, I look at this painting and smile. Whenever I walk past it, I want to hi-5 the sitter because, she has definitely done something in the evil-genius category and I love how proud she is and how she's about to give it away by doubling over in laughter. This is feel good art, but also says a lot because a woman, not sitting like a lady, top buttons undone, who is she within that society? What is her standing within the Edwardian society? I can work with this. There is a lot to explore. It is, to me, a conversation starter.

All this to say that I recently, and by recently I mean last week, finished a piece I thought would be mind-blowing. Brilliant. Genius. Unfortunately, it was a failed experiment where I wanted to try some new elements out and ended up messing up the composition etc etc etc, I could point out so many mistakes. So all I want to do is burn it. Or repaint, or fix.... but for now, it stays as it is because although I don't like how the pictures turned out, it has many self- redeeming qualities in person.

Eve, Lilith, Yaldabaoth, Garden of Eden, Angel Wings, High Art
"And Now I Am Free/And Now You are Free" (2020)

"And Now I Am Free/And Now You're Free" combines many mythologies where I then created my own. At this point, Lilith, who was Adam's first wife, has already tricked YHWH into revealing his true name and obtained wings. Before flying off to the West, she returns to the Garden of Eden to free Eve, Adam's second wife. Behind the tree, the demiurge Yaldabaoth is watching the scene unfold with envy as according to some myths, he is the one who wanted to prevent humans from eating the fruit of knowledge. Why? Because he was the one who created man; yet, YHWH filled man with the ray of light that became his soul. This made Yaldabaoth jealous. You can read more about him here as it quite interesting, but like many stories, has several variations. I believe people should have the right to follow their own path in life, and to do this, feel free and feel supported as they grow in knowledge about who they are and what they want in life. Depending on the culture and family life, some people feel confined within what is permissible and what isn't, a set of rules that is man made. Religion is man made and it becomes more and more clear the more you read about myths and how they overlap with each other. Unfortunately, being man made, it is also used to manipulate people into a certain pattern of behaviour through fear of being condemned for an afterlife of damnation. Lilith, by offering Eve a bit of the fruit of knowledge hopes to set her free from all constraints, to be who she knows deep deep down that she is. Life is already full of rules, does and don'ts, must and musn'ts, and if you can't be who you are meant to be be, it can be truly suffocating. You are dead even before you have started living. This piece is also a homage to all LGBTQIA, the oppressed minorities, women living under the patriarchy and truly suffer because they are treated as lesser beings, anyone who can't be their true selves for cultural, societal reasons. I know of artists who leave the interpretation of their work to the observer, I know artists who will happily tell you what they were thinking and have a discussion about what they were thinking when creating their work of art. It is a back and forth dialogue and I love talking to people about it, especially when they see beyond what I painted and start creating their own stories. But I, personally, enjoy knowing what the artist had in mind when painting a piece because it also tells me a lot about the artist themselves.

Art should uplift, spark one's imagination, start a conversation, be a hero to those who can't protect themselves and let them know they are not alone, it should expose societies' darkest secrets, it should emerge from passion and love, it should make one feel fired up and alive... it should... make your fingers tingle with creativity and energy... I am sure there's a lot more. If you are an artist, or a creative spirit, feel free to add more shoulds!

Recommended reading:

Encyclopedia of Goddesss & Heroines, Monaghan, Patricia Phd.; New World Library 2014 (revised edition)

Great Goddesses: Life lessons from myths and monsters, Gill, Nikita; Penguin Random House UK, 2019


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