Thursday, April 7, 2011
I have just started a class in African American female writers from last mid-century to contemporary times. It is a terrific class. Of course one of my most preferred Prof.’s is teaching this class. Haley Haugen is an inspiration to me. She teaches, writes, blogs, takes personal time to help all of her students and dept. at school, not to mention her role as a mother, wife, den mother for scouts, and that’s just the stuff that I know about. She is working on several projects in getting published; she is married to a dynamic highly intellectual husband; her children are way above their grade level in comprehension and IQ; she is a brilliant writer; and she deserves to be looked up to as a mentor. That is how I see her—as a mentor. The irony is that we were born in the same town and same hospital about a year apart. I was born about a year after she was in the same hospital in Torrance, CA (a suburb of L.A. California).
I digress— this literature class thus far has a huge payoff. We just finished “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. This dynamic book is a powerful read. Hurston uses the Southern “Negro” dialect of southern Floridians of the Thirties and slightly earlier, but even more so, this was a very touching romantic tale of what true love in the worst of circumstances can look like. It took a photograph of what life was like for the African American woman at the turn of the century to mid-century one hundred years ago. It was disturbing to say the least. Moreover, Hurston was a quasi-feminist of her time, and her main character, Janie, found that liberation that so many women hope for, and were not finding during that time. It is a beautiful poetic book with brilliant lines that capture the height of a lust for life that one can have, regardless of circumstances.
But that is not today’s topic. I think that creatively, we MUST embrace OUR experience. We must embrace OUR world and OUR reality…how do we bring our reality to the world? We the talented and gifted—how do we bring our experience to others. Right now, today I am reading Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and she is powerfully sharing with ME personally what her world, her reality, her existence, her essence and doing it well. She is generous in her personal experiences and her feelings and her outlook of what it was to be her.
This must be the artistic experience for those of us who have such talents. We help others understand the world in a better way. We allow them to be a voyure into lives they would otherwise never know. Where is the meaning in a painting, poem, or prose? Where is the life in art? How many people writing rhymes and meter should be looking more to what life is in their work. Whitman v. Frost. Although Frost was deep, and deeply disturbed and depressed, Whitman grabbed life by the hair on his head and brought us into a world that we would have never known. Poe is a master, and truly I value his work…I mean, my middle name was named after his middle name, but there is little depth to what he is trying to convey. He isn’t bringing us into HIS reality, other than his warped mind…much like Stephen King. Hmmm, King v. Angelou? King v. Steinbeck? Well that is obvious. We can also look at Jeff Koons v. say…Roy Lichtenstein. Who is sharing their world…even Warhol versus his apprentice Basquiat. Warhol as a pop artist put our own worlds in our faces… he fed back to us our own experience and made art out of everyday stuff…much like Koons. But Basquiat shared his world with us. He lived a twisted life, and shared his reality with us. He brings is along with HIS ride in the world. I’m sure there are more modern examples out there, but I’m not in touch.
I know from my own life, and the small group of artists’ that I associate myself with, of whom is all in the Tom Suter way of looking at art. Art for art sake? Art just because its pretty? It goes back to the question of, “What is art?” Art for art sake must be defined by what art is. Art must be expression. So, should we say, “Expression for expression sake?” True art must have meaning…tell a story…be a way of bringing us along with a journey, or even finding ourselves in the humanity of others. So do we, “Bring us on a journey for the journey sake?” Yes, if that is your understanding. But, is there something wrong with just making a picture because it looks cool? Should we paint a flower or the leaves of fall reflected on a lake? Should we try to capture a still life just because it is pretty? Maybe, but most of the still life’s in the Flemish school of the baroque period had deep meaning and representation’s in each object in the painting. There is a way to capture a still life photograph and still say something powerful. Even a portrait photograph can have much to say.
So, I wrap by simply stating that I appreciate a good book that expands our horizons, and helps us understand the human experience. I’ll go further and say I appreciate any piece of art that helps us understand the human experience. I tell you one thing though, reading these women writers, white people can really be horrible. I see the white experience through the eyes of little girls of color and how awful we can be. I don’t share the white guilt, simply because I am not those people. Ignorance is a horrible thing. These things will have to wait for another day. I have a book to read.