Friday, May 28, 2010

in response to good art

you may have noticed i haven't been updating much lately. i've been completely preoccupied. yes i had the big #2 birthday and the sewing and creating and preparing surrounding that, but i had that under control. i know... i surprised myself too considering i leave much to be desired in the susie homemaker department, but i realized it comes from usually having the birthday preparations AND the holiday preparations all coming at me at once. just one birthday...well, it seemed kind of like... cake. ok i digress that's not why i'm here. yes i have a post in my head showing all the birthday creating and celebrating, but first this.

this is where i've been. amy's blog, a commonplace life. she did this amazing project; during the whole month of may. each day she posted a portrait of a woman in her life who is amazing in her own right but also a mother. it's called in celebration of mothers. and i can't say enough good things about this project. i also can't say enough about how much her introspection into the lives of these women, and her self, has affected me. it has given me a path to contemplate the relationships in my life, my path, my journey, who the people i meet are, who i am.

each post i found myself wanting to write a dissertation on the effect of the 'portrait' on me. amy says in the very first post that portrait photography, as an art medium, is outside of her comfort zone. well i don't think it is anymore. she did an amazing job. i told her this, and i'll tell you here, i believe good art needs emotional power. i do. i think some people get trendy or crafty or argue this is craft, this is art. but really i ask myself, does this make me feel? does it make me think? does it leave me in a different place then where i started. yes? then i think it's art. that's kind of how i define art. thing is i've believed this for a long time. but i forgt that's exactly what i believed. i hadn't given it focus, words. not until amy started this project and i started seeing myself sitting down every morning to see the next portrait and getting up different. all through my day i was thinking about what this person was to her, to the world to herself. and most days the person in my life who most mirrored this person came up. i thought of them, of us, of our relationship. this happened everyday. or something about this person that amy revealed made me realize, i think that, but do i? or why do i?

it changed me. it's good art. i'm not a critic, but i am an artist, a woman, a mother, a human being and i know what i like and i make things others sometimes like and; i like this. if you want to see my thoughts about some of the photographs go look at the comments. i couldn't help myself. i couldn't even comment on some of them because i barely had the time to read it, between diapers and food and life but i was there everyday and even when i was reading it holding 2 squirming kids on my lap it affected the rest of my day. i used every second of "me" time on these portraits. and i don't get a lot of that. i am lucky to get 15 min a day to myself. i took even less showers. it was the thing i choose to do to feed my soul. i went back more then once some days because i wanted to see the other comments, i felt like i was at an opening, holding a glass of wine, discussing the effect the pieces had on me. some days i couldn't comment because i knew i'd write too much. and i knew that the comment section wasn't the place to look at myself and my choices and why this particular woman was bringing this out in me. that's why i'm writing this. something this powerful deserves it's own space in "my" world too.

i started thinking about art in terms i hadn't used for years. amy and i even exchanged a few emails, longer emails then i've written in a long time, words flooded from me that i hadn't used in years, ideas...i felt elated, electrified... comfortable. i've been journeying to come back to my creating roots. i had been lost. motherhood is one seriously strange trip that has thrown me for a loop. this project has helped remind me to see myself as the artist i am and need to be. it has also shown me the wonder of the universe and how you find the people you need to find, somehow.

that brings me to how i even came upon amy's blog. well my cousin tonya. she lives in seattle. she has 2 daughters that are very close in age to my 2 kids. we are 9 months apart in birth. she started a blog to keep in touch with family and then another to share her sewing and quilting. i felt like we had a "visit" each time i read it. i wrote more about this here when i began blogging. anyway she had amy redesign her blog. i clicked over to amy's site. i liked her style. i thought "if i met this woman, i think i would like her" i saw some of myself in her, i felt comfortable, like i just showed up to a party with friends. and in this journey i was taking, trying to find my creativity again in a more fundamental sense, i found myself being inspired by amy. she was writing about things i could only think about sometimes for a few minutes. i was thankful to be going deeper. to be sharing a perspective, to have someone who was wondering and seeing kind of on the plane i was on. i was hooked. it was like being back in college where i could be surrounded by contemporaries discussing ideas. it was the creative jolt i was craving. it was part of the village i was searching for.

to make things even more mystical. amy's first portrait is of nikki. ok ready for this? tonya is in seattle, amy lives in ny, about an hour from me, nikki i met at a playground in nj, 1 town away, when both of us were pregnant with our daughters. they are 9 days apart. it was like my belly was pulling me to her belly. the girls were magnetic. nikki has known amy for years. i can't deny that i needed to be here.

so the portraits. that's what i'm talking about right? when i started this post in my head about 2 weeks ago i had all these things i wanted to say. now amy is done posting and i could be here for years writing about each one. if you know me, you know i could go on and on. i won't. or at least i'll try not to.

i'll start with the purely artistic. i love the portraits for what they are. very well composed, well lit, beautiful, saturated colors used right, textures, the backgrounds support the subject, the true nature of these women bursting out. eve and cousin jen are 2 awesome examples of the energy of these women coming through the medium. then i'll move to the language. amy is not only an artist with a camera, a computer, a sewing machine, and who knows what else, but with words too. the writing about these women is straightforward, beautiful, daring, deep and truthful. she weaves what she says about them together with how she photographs them and it makes a beautiful piece of art. titi kelly and auntie jill, i thought amy's heart might be at risk to the weather after these two women's portraits.

personally i think that the more intimate she got with her writing the better the whole portrait came out. but i also believe this to be true about all art. if you lined these portraits up without the writing, they would all be wonderfully graphic and maybe i wouldn't be as drawn to the "deeper" ones without the writing? doesn't matter. art is in the eye of the beholder right? and this beholder thinks the addition of the writing adds something beautiful and special, a dimension the camera has trouble capturing. i also think it's the observations amy makes that i am drawn to. i am often told by people, "i would never have noticed that?" really? that's my life, noticing stuff no one does. it took me years to realize all people don't see in shadow and light, positive and negative space, colors where feelings are concerned. so when amy says about jeanne, "i know that her back yard gate has a door built into it which leads to her neighbor's back yard..." that makes me love this portrait with it's red and blue and white even more. i love the wide planks on jeanne's front porch. i love her simple quiet. i love that amy notices things i notice. i love that amy is honest. ok that isn't so much about art, the honesty, but i think the person making the art has to be honest and heartfelt or the art lacks soul.

the soul in the posts about her ex husband's girlfriend, laurie, her mother in law, and grandmom betty, was staggering. really. first, if you look at all these portraits in the series you see that amy sees the bright side of people. now ok, i know she's human, i'm sure she has her days but here she's doing a series about celebrating women and she includes women who others in her position could consider "the people on the other side of the room". i know this because i'm no stranger to the dynamics of having divorced parents, divorced grandparents, divorced aunts and uncles, divorced inlaws, a second marriage with half twin sisters in law.... i get it. i do. these portraits made me not feel alone in wanting to see the good in everyone and not have to choose "sides". i've worked hard to be switzerland. it's not easy. and it's too bad there is no ocean because i'd probably be better at it if i could sail around the coast of switzerland... i have little to compare to the hurt in the moments when i watched my father ostracized from a family he gave so much to.... it hurt, in more then one dimension. in those moments the true colors of people i had revered were colors i couldn't look at. and i love color.

so you see what i mean? these portraits were digging deep into me. amy says that one of the prime directives of this project was to look at what women choose to do in addition to mothering. i've been ransacked. i've chosen to eat and occasionally bathe in addition to mothering. i know stop being dramatic. but really. i don't think i even read a book for the first year or two that wasn't about breastfeeding, cosleeping, baby health.... so here i am trying to gain some buoyancy in this sea of motherhood. i feel lost, like the me i remember is slipping away. i've been searching for the past 2 years to bring myself back. it's working. it helped that baby #2 showed me that baby #1 took more then usual, that he is here for a reason, he chose me for a reason, that he is part of the lessons i am to learn in this life and he is one of my teachers. they both are. it helped that the actual process of birthing gave me confidence to be the woman i knew i could be. i mean seriously if you can do that you can do anything. i'd always had confidence but now... geeze. and it helped that i could see how you could get sucked down this hole of motherhood of giving and giving and not ever filling up again. i could see how 15 or more years could go by and you wake up and you have no idea who you are anymore or who your husband is. and that couldn't be me. i'd spent too much of my life knowing i didn't want that to be me. i didn't even want kids. i didn't even want to get married. but i was running from what i thought were restraints when really they could be liberators if i let them.

and i did, i let them. marriage is one of the most liberating things i've ever done. it didn't complete me as much as complement me. but who is me? am i still that me? becoming a mother has changed me, yes. has it changed me into what i was running from? no. but motherhood has made me see the women in my family differently. in high school i cut out a nike add and hung it on my bedroom wall. it was in big letters "you are not your mother" and it went on to list all these things, these characteristics that this woman was running from. i'm sure my mom loved that. it was no secret i wasn't like her. and well, teenage girls fighting for their individuality can be harsh... especially the ones in strict italian households with big ideas of opposite natures...the cahterine portrait brought all this and more flooding back. especially the part about putting your "face" on. the women in my family are big on that. especially my gram. whom despite loving very much, i never understood the "face" thing. i have spent my life opposing the 'face'. mostly because putting on this "face" seemed to become more important then who the "face" was going to see. or do. or be. there was always this "what will people think" and showing this "face" to the world with who was underneath not mattering. this "face" was late to birthday parties, this "face" brought lots of waiting in hot cars. i wasn't sure why how i looked mattered so much? especially since what people had to say seemed so much more interesting to me. i wanted to be on time. i wanted to show people they mattered to me by not making them wait. i wasn't even late to my own wedding. but this portrait of this smart, beautiful, well spoken woman, well it made me reconsider my view of how i feel about this. i read catherine's letter from the editor, she talks about fashion as "a tool for self-expression". it made me realize that maybe my gram, who really if i'm being honest was very glam and could have been mistaken for a character on dallas, was just trying to spice up suburbia's view of her?maybe it's how she saw herself and all of her giving to her kids and husband was sucking the life out of her. i mean that was back when most women didn't get to go after their passions, most women got married and had immaculate houses and a fridigidaire. my house is not immaculate, i'm not even sure you can call it clean. seriously i am a terrible housekeeper. but i think it's because i have these things that drive my passion, these things like writing this. i'm on the second day of writing this and it's 1:28am. i haven't slept in 2 nights more then 2 hours at a time and the 2 weeks before last week were the same because of molars, or the moon? or just because my kids don't sleep. i have a pile of laundry up to my belly button. i don't fold underwear when i put it in the drawer. my gram is rolling over in her grave that i'm telling you this. her house, my mom's house, they were impeccable, but their souls were not free. my gram died regretting that. i know she did. the only thing maybe she had that showed her uniqueness was her glamour. i get that now. i also get that all women that look great aren't necessarily putting that first. and aren't necessarily making others feel that they have to live up. catherine reminded me that i am a woman. and women get to put on flow-y dresses and spin around if they want to. and that wearing jeans, and shoes i can always run in, and a baseball hat doesn't hide the woman in me if that's how i want to be perceived. i think i just didn't want to be seen. or judged, but by not wanting to be judged did i judge? perhaps. i didn't want to be seen as pretty, i wanted to be smart. i wanted to be listened to. i still do. being 5'6" with boobs at the age of 11... maybe i just go off on the wrong foot. amy's portrait of catherine has me re-evaluating.

it's a path, it's a journey, who am i. my friend nicole told me i was the most confident pregnant person she'd ever met. this is after i was pregnant with my second and i told her that the difference was the pure joy i'd felt. the first time i was petrified. she was shocked. but i was, i was petrified. i was petrified that after all those years of wanting to be a mother, the joy was going to be swept from me. maybe i didn't think i deserved it after all those years of saying i'd never get married or have kids and then i did, or i tried to. maybe i just wasn't sure i was meant to be a mother in this lifetime? maybe it was just the logistics. my husband says all the time that our perspective is different about our kids because it took so long for them to come to us. but the moment i became a mother everything changed. amy's self portrait could be mine, well i mean we don't look the same, but what she writes about herself, that could be me. it could. even the part about wanting to be an artist. that was always my answer too. and especially the part about creation and creativity bringing joy. it does. it really, really does. the part i'm working on is the part about being complete and well rounded as an individual to bring that to my mothering. because i believe in that. i just am not succeeding at that. not well. what i choose to do in addition to mothering has to be done more. but when it's done more i feel my family suffers. i need to find the balance of filling myself up and giving to the ones i love. but i think that's part of what this whole project is about; finding that balance and celebrating it.

i am on my third day now of writing this book, um blog post, and today, while contemplating my reactions and amy's lessons learned i realized that i am really doing ok. i do need to feed my soul more, yes. but my husband put it really well. i was telling him about how affected i was by this project and how i was writing about it. and he said, "you never stopped making stuff, you just have new mediums now". right. he's always so spot on. really, he is. and he's right. i did two huge projects using my kids as part of the medium, i did a weekly photograph of them for the first year of each of their lives. i called it 'kid's name 52ish' i didn't get every week. i got about 46. it came from an idea that my long time friend, artist, photographer, artichoke cooker, general awesome girl, beth gave me. she sent me a link when i was pregnant with rowan to this project a photographer did where she took a photo of her friend's kid in the same spot each week. it was called johnny 52 or something. i can't find the site, i'm sorry i can't give her the credit she deserves... but a quick google is showing me she may not have been the first! anyway i did this. i went out i found a beautiful pillow with red in it big enough to lay a baby on with room to grow. i got a red one because my pregnancy with rowan felt red, the whole time. and i laid him on it and took his photo. i hung them up for his first birthday, (they're still on the wall...with painters tape... he's 4 1/2). i even touched them up the week before, gave him a fig leaf for his jewels... it felt like a huge project a culmination of something i worked really hard on, in more ways then one. i did it for hazel too. i had a better camera by then, some lights, her pillow is greenish. her pregnancy felt green. hers got hung on a string outside. i made their birth announcements even hand carved a stamp for each, anyway that's not all. i made my midwife a glass sculpture, it took 3 years, but i did it. i designed my aunts logo and letterhead and business card for her new business, during canines erupting... that was stressful, but i did it. i entered mothering's breast feeding logo contest, i got voted among the most artistic, and i didn't even get to spend half the time i needed..i designed a logo for my friends personal chef services, and i did it for her amazing prepared food instead of money, that was awesome. then i started sewing. there was other stuff too. he's right i didn't stop. i was just derailed a bit, and deprived of sleep, which no one will argue is a torture device the military uses. but i'm still here. and i realized that the kids are kind of this new medium. it's like someone was all "hey here's some plutonium, make me something" and i'd be like "plutonium? how the hay do you work with plutonium? that stuff can kill you!" kids can too. and there's probably a bigger learning curve.

so i'm learning. i'm loving my new mediums, even if somedays i have no idea how to work with them. i feel pretty happy to have figured out that i'm still here and always was. and i'm really glad to be focusing a little more energy on me. because who i am directly affects who my kids will turn out to be. because if "portrait photography isn't just about taking pictures", motherhood for sure isn't just about getting the kids to adulthood.

thanks for the journey amy, thanks for sharing the joy.


  1. Wow!! I am sure I will have more comments in the coming days. But, for now I will just say that I am amazed that Amy's series could have such a similar effect on both of us. I think we are different people, but we are so alike in many ways.

  2. amazing... love love love love... Love you

  3. Thank you Tara. For your support and encouragement. For giving my art a home and justifying my work.

    There's so much more. I'm at a place now where I can write about the (endless) journey to becoming whole and doing more than wiping tushies and breastfeeding but please please don't be mistaken. For years after the birth of my first child I couldn't even figure out how to read a newspaper article, let alone a book. I didn't create anything other than a mess and a divorce and a whole bunch of debt. These things take time and you may be at the beginning of your journey, but you're surely on it.