Welcome to another week of #tbt content revolving around the themes of Coming of Age and Growing Up. This week we’re picking fine art/performance art pieces! Listen to us talk about how we are a bit pretentious and oh wow more about crying, but this time over paintings. Enjoy!
Email us your favorite coming of age content to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may feature it later this month in our Monthly Audience Picks.
Las Meninas (Collection) - Pablo Picasso
All of the pieces I talk about today are about perception and how my perception of these artists changed over the course of my life. Picasso was one of the first artists I learnt about in school and I remember him being one of the first artists whose paintings I actually got to see in person. Through traveling around the U.S. and visiting museums with my family at a young age, I was always attracted to the bright colors and thought the insanity was exciting--compared to the more “technical” pieces I was seeing.
As I grew older and started wanting to become an artist myself, I had more conflicting feelings about his work. Not just because he himself had such a strange, complicated past (he was a total fucboi--figures), but because I started to question “what art was?” I thought about how other artists viewed his work and were offended by the simplicity of it and the way it poked fun at their own hard work. That made me angry because what was the difference between their work and his--other than a difference in style.
In my own art classes in High School and College, I met a lot of artists who I thought were lazy and put little effort into their pieces and somehow I associated these two ideas together. I thought perhaps Picasso could have been like these people I knew, making art without meaning. Putting little to no effort into something and calling it “art.”
This picture is from the Las Meninas (Collection) fully preserved at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona that a friend of mine and I went to see on a study abroad trip in college. It is a collection of many different versions of the same painting Picasso was trying to make. As soon as I saw this collection, I knew I shouldn’t have doubted my feelings towards his work. This collection proved that he did create with intention. Even this one painting, although strange and different, was made in his own particular style and took him days, months, years to perfect.
I still meet artists everyday who try to get away with making art that is all about spectacle and less about meaning. But I love the absurd and this was a great reminder to keep making weird art--as long as I never forget the importance of intention.
Cut Piece - Yoko Ono
Anyone who knows me is used to me constantly bringing up Yoko Ono, so of course I had to talk about one of my favorite performance art pieces by her, “Cut Piece.” I was one of the many who while growing up was told, “oh you know who broke up the Beatles? Yoko Ono.” Until two years ago, I had no idea that this woman was a hugely influential performance artist--way more important than some famous guy’s wife.
For “Cut Piece,” Ono let complete strangers cut off pieces of her clothing until she was left almost completely naked, holding what remained of her clothes close to her body. Total and complete vulnerability. For me it represented the hopelessness women and people of color, like myself have felt in the presence of our oppressors. It could also be interpreted as an experiment on human nature and what people will do if they think it's allowed. It also taught me about letting go and giving yourself up to your art. In a piece I made in my performance art class soon after learning of this piece, I let people paint my nearly naked body and than wash it away, giving up control of the outcome. It was one of the most freeing moments I have felt since starting my artistic career.
Learning that Ono was so much more than my original perception of her made me angry. It made me think of all the other influential women whose ideas were shrunk down and hidden from history--until they were only remembered for being someone’s wife. It also made me love her even more and want to spread my knowledge of her work to everyone I know! So please go check out more of her work!!
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Johannes Vermeer
Finally I want to talk about possibly my favorite painting of all time: Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Speaking of men with questionable morals, Vermeer is pretty high up there on the list (and the history books don't mention any of it/still speak so highly about him. Maybe this is why I’ve had crushes on so many questionable art boys.) Like Picasso, I read about him in school, although when I was a bit older. I’d seen his paintings in textbooks and online and also was recommended to read the fictional book “Girl With a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier (thanks Mom.) The book is fascinating as it is a fictional speculation of what the author thought the painting could be based off of. It’s all about a girl who thinks she knows what she wants and discovers a much more devastating truth than she originally thought--relatable content.
Things that I heard about the painting itself--that it was breathtaking, that it evoked such a strong emotion that it drove people to tears (or to write an entire book about its creation.) I had trouble believing these comments or at least I believed it was beautiful just not to the same extent as the rave reviews made it out to be. When I was 12, I had gone to the Louvre and been a little unimpressed by the Mona Lisa--partially because we were shoved in with a huge crowd and were so far away from the painting itself.
On the same study abroad trip that I went to the Museu Picasso, I traveled to Bologna and it just so happened that on that very weekend the Girl with a Pearl Earring was touring at a local venue. We decided to buy tickets. The day of, I remember being ushered into a few dimly lit rooms with spotlights on each of Vermeer’s work that were part of the same collection. They were all stunning and seeing paintings in this intimate, well-lit setting was a lot better than any exhibit I'd been to before--but there still wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. Then we entered the last room.
It's hard to describe in words what I saw. Just like I didn’t believe the others you probably wouldn’t believe my description. But there was something about that painting. It made me feel calm, it made me feel sad, it made me feel. A painting had never moved me in that way. Perhaps it was because of the sentimental value of having read that fictional story or the fact that I was studying abroad and everything feels magical in a foreign country--but I cried. The way the colors were so pronounced and smooth, the slight curve of her mouth, the glint in her eye. A painting made me cry!! What is wrong with me. Whatever, its still one of my favorite memories.
A Chair for My Mother, Vera B. Williams
My first notions of visual art, as with many children, came from picture books. And who’s to say that book illustration isn’t fine art? Not me! Not today! One of my favorite books as a kid that really made me conscious of art was Vera B. Williams’ A Chair for My Mother. It tells the story of a girl, her mom, and grandmother, who are all saving up their change to buy a new comfy chair after losing their belongings in a fire. Part of me liked the book because the lead character was named Rosa, like my sister, but a larger part of me couldn’t care less about the story, and mostly returned to the book time and time again to look at the beautiful watercolors by Williams.
They told a story on their own, suggesting the constant movement and vibrancy of life in a bustling city.The bright colors (I was a big fan of their yellow kitchen), the way people seemed to kind of bend and melt into their surroundings, I can’t think of any way to describe it other than visually tasty. Williams conveys such a warmth and love between grandmother, mother, and daughter in her paintings, it serves as visual comfort food. I wanted to be an illustrator for a time when I was a child, and I credit this book for fostering that desire. The image of that red chair dotted with roses will be burned into my skull forever.
Cindy Sherman (as an artist in general)
While I don’t associate her with literally growing up, I do associate Cindy Sherman with my move to LA, and therefore a transitional point in my life. When I got here, one of my first explorations of the city, was to visit The Broad, an art museum downtown. During that trip, some of Sherman’s mannequin pieces were on display, and I found them quite disturbing, which obviously prompted me to go home and research more of her work. I now find myself going back to her photographs for inspiration and contemplation frequently since that day.
Her pieces are reflexive portraits of herself, but are not self-portraits. She is the subject of almost every piece, yet with costumes and makeup, she is always portraying some other character (clowns, society women, leading ladies, the list goes on). She is her own mannequin, playing dress up and creating scenes that often feel familiar even when they’re not specifically referencing anything.
Poignant, but often with a current of humor, her photographs force us to consider the identities and roles women play in society. By not giving titles to her photographs, it’s up to the viewer to add their own context, leading us to confront our own assumptions and first impressions. My words don’t really do it justice, just check her stuff out!