I am thrilled to welcome fellow OCPress author Martha McKinley to my site today to talk about art and her new release, Get Real. Over to you Martha…
An artist friend once told me that Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, gave artists one of the lowest scores for enlightenment. Said another way, when ranking the professions according to moral conduct, artists were at the bottom. Why should that be so hard to believe, I wondered? Think about our education and training.
First of all, as painters, we are taught how to deceive people by depicting a life-like, realistic, three-dimensional representation on a two-dimensional surface. Second, we are expected to learn all the rules and then we are encouraged to break them (in the development of our own individual styles). We are shown, one day, how to apply paint with brushes so that no trace of brushstrokes can be seen, then, the next, permitted to take paint, straight from the tube, and apply it with a palette knife in thick textural smears—or to take things to the opposite extreme, thinning the colors to the point where they can be poured onto a canvas.
Finally, we are presented with the nude—an unclothed model before us—and instructed to render every aspect of him or her in exquisite detail. We have permission to stare at faces, hands, and backs for hours, not to mention breasts, arses, penises, and vulvae. We are also informed not to touch—but how many artists, famous or not, have violated that interdiction? After all, the importance of breaking rules was what we had already learned in a previous lesson!
Hence, everything I needed to know about life, I learned in my art studies: to lie, to rebel, and to indulge in the erotic.
Before I get too far into the subject of art and erotica, I wanted to make clear what I mean by art, and to describe exactly what an artist does. The word “art” is found in many contexts: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Artful Dodger; The Art of Medicine, to mention but a few. To be sure, artistry is part of many human endeavors, but what is commonly meant by the word “art” is the creative expression using visual symbols. Artists use their imagination in the creation of those symbols to communicate to others something about the beauty in the world around them or something residing within their own heads.
In my novella, Get Real: The Art of Love and Belonging, (http://www.oystersandchocolate.com/Stories/2427/GetRealTheArtofLoveandBelonging.aspx ) the main character, Cassie, a tile-making artist, describes her artistic pursuits like so:
“That’s what we artists do,” she spoke aloud, as if to emphasize her point to Sienna and Umber, rubbing their long-haired feline bodies against her denim-covered legs. “We spend our lives in the love and cultivation of sensations, relishing our emotions, searching for their clearest expression, and taking pleasure in exclaiming them to others. That’s what painter Robert Henri says, at least. And I wholly embrace that.”
Cassie had, in making this utterance, been trying to assuage her guilt for doing what most artists do: being receptive and embracing new experiences—which, in this particular instance, involved having sex with a married man and violating her ethics of sisterhood by betraying another woman. She continued, with the reflection:
Saying “Yes” to the world, was a new philosophy for her—at least in life, it was. As an artist, she was used to such “openness.”
One of the ways artists need to be open is in the process of creation: when we start an artwork, we have to be open to the fact that our original intention may be met with initial success, but accidents, unintended mistakes in shape or color, for example, will undoubtedly occur, and may need correction—or, sometimes, more importantly, we have to be aware that these so-called accidents may be a wonderful serendipities that make the artwork even better because of them, and refrain from correction of those.
Robert Henri wrote something else very helpful in understanding this openness and what artists do: “There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual—become clairvoyant…Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but… it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.
To grasp what he was trying to say about artists (those “rare few”), some can probably imagine the exhilaration in witnessing a sunset over a mountain lake. And others, the beauty of a basket of ripening peaches on a blue checked tablecloth. But can anyone not feel the artistic arousal from viewing a handsome nude model a mere three feet away? I mean, if I were becoming aroused by that sunset, I can relax my thighs hopefully, but no mountain peak is going to oblige me. However, a muscular young man with his dependent hanging fruit, needing only the slightest provocation to become ripe, is a different story. And a sure way to provide an opportunity to “continue the experience and find expression for it!”
Figurative artists get to paint their arousal. And they better. Kenneth Clark, in Civilization, writes something like this: If there is not an erotic quality about the rendering of a nude, then the fault lies with the artist. (I can’t actually quote him, as I failed to find the book on my shelf, so I trusted my memory on this very important matter).
Let’s also, in the same context, remember about “the muse”: the metaphorical inspiration for the artist. Ask Picasso about his many muses. Well, he’s dead. So ask Marcos, the other main character in Get Real, a figurative artist in love with Cassie. Or the woman narrator in another of my works, Michel’s Angel (http://www.oystersandchocolate.com/Stories/1855/MichelsAngel.aspx), a model whose posing influence was a life-changing experience for two of the characters! The muse may be a model (but need not be one to be a muse), and often is depicted as a woman, but may also be a man, (read Spending by Mary Gordon). Nevertheless, no matter whether male or female, the muse is the metaphorical source of inspiration for a creative artist.
In Get Real, Marcos and Cassie have a delightful exchange about the subject of inspiration, which reveals the complex emotions at the heart of it:
“Your paintings are so playful. They make me happy to look at them.”
“I’m a romantic at heart.”
“I love being in love.”
“I do some of my best work when I’m in love.”
“So do I.”
This little conversation encapsulates a very common phenomenon in the Arts, and provokes all sorts of questions. What is it about the power of love that leads artists (and, for that matter, composers, writers, and dancers) to doing some of their best work when under its influence? Why was the concept of inspiration represented in terms of the feminine muse and male artist? What exactly is God conferring onto the nude Adam when their fingers touch on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? It is generally felt to be the giving of life to Adam, but is “life” the creative power of The Creator himself, both the artistic force in the use of the imagination, and the procreative force embodied in sexual reproduction?
With the artistically creative potential of humans so strongly linked to the procreative one, it’s no wonder that there is something very erotic about art. It seems like a naked truth to me. So if some profession needs to sit at the bottom of the moral totem pole, I guess it might as well be us artists. There could be worse places to be situated—like at the top!
Thanks again to Martha for taking the time to put together this fascinating blog- I know a few artists, and am currently writing a novel all about erotic and sensual artists, so this is especially interesting to me right now! I can’t wait to read Get Real xx
Martha McKinley has had nearly three decades of experience in the health care field and over ten years as a visual artist. She began writing erotic love stories in the late 1990s, finding in that genre, a medium with which she could vividly render the drama of personal relationships–the connection, communion, and commitment. She has published several short stories for Oysters & Chocolate as well as a number for Clean Sheets.