mandag den 26. november 2012

Reflections on female artists in art history and the right to create

I’ve never really been a huge fan of impressionism. Meaning the paintings rarely come under my skin and leave me speechless, curious, sad or just wondering, when I see them at museums. They are beautiful, definitely, but I guess I’m looking for more than beauty in art.
But a recent visit to an inspiring exhibition at the Danish museum Ordrupgaard with the female impressionist painter Berthe Morisot changed something in me and opened my eyes. Not only regarding her, but regarding female artists in art history and in the end myself as an aspiring artist.

There weren’t many female artists 130 years ago. And they weren’t that well-connected at that time. It was decades before digital networking.
The art-scene was dominated by men. How many know Berthe Morisot for example? I had never heard of her but I know other impressionist names like: Manet, Monet, Degas and Renoir. All men. All great names in art history.

Berthe Morisot was part of that group of impressionists. She was part of a group that went from depicting the world as perfection to the world as they saw and felt it. 

Berthe Morisot loved painting her daughter Julie.
Unlike her fellow impressionist artists Berthe Morisot didn’t have ambitions about being remembered after her death as a great artist. She just wanted to paint. She painted life at home, her daughter, family life etc. But most of her paintings still have some kind of loneliness about them, I think. Women were not allowed to sit and paint in public so she painted where she could. And that became her challenge in life, I guess, as a female artist. The right to paint. Her work was part of the independent 'Impressionist paintings' exhibitions at that time and she became wellrespected but never a real success. 

By Berthe Morisot

Some of the paintings that made the biggest impression on me at Ordrupgaard was created at a place outside Nice that she and her family visited for a couple of years, as a summer vacation. Paintings depicting her husband and daughter in the garden, her daughter and the nanny etc. It seems to me that it was what Berthe Morisot wanted most of all: quiet family time and time to paint.
I left the exhibition thinking she was a quiet feminist. She led the way for future female artists, women who took their art to a new level.

By Berthe Morisot

The Danish Museum of modern art Louisiana had an exhibition earlier this year with a group of female avantgarde artists from 1920-1940 such as; Hannah Höch, Dora Maar, Claude Cahun etc. I loved that exhibition. I did not know these women prior to my visit but I loved how they were connected despite living in different countries and doing different things artwise. I loved how they challenged themselves and the art-world, creating selfportraits, collages, puppets, textiles for clothes, film etc. I loved the curiosity, the seriousness, the obvious struggles as female artists claiming their right to be part of society.
I felt connected to these women even after all these years. Just like I felt connected to Berthe Morisot. I feel grateful for what they achieved.

Selfportrait by Claude Cahun. Not a typical photo of a woman in 1927.

A lot has happend since the 1940’s regarding female artists in Europe and The States. We’ve seen female artists depicting inner struggles, political struggles, gender struggles, etc. We’ve seen the most, really, haven’t we? And I’m starting to wonder if we as women are on our way back to the struggles Berthe Morisot had: we’re trying to find (inner) peace and time to be artisticly creative again. We are trying to find our way back to what’s important for us as individuals, trying to reconnect with our feelings which is all Berthe Morisot wanted in her paintings: paint her feelings. But today we’re coming from the opposite position of where women in the 1880’ came from. From having basically no rights at all to not knowing how to handle the rights we’ve got today? It will be good for society if we become leaders of some kind, if we continue the fight for female rights that previous generations started. If not locally, then globally. But as modern women we’re exhausted. We’re running so fast. Coming from having only one role – being a good mother – we now have tons of roles; being a mom, having a professional life (or struggling to get one in these times of a crisis), being a good partner not to mention an attractive woman. We’ve heard this and over and over again and again. We want it all as women. 

And so my guess is that a lot of us try to find our way back to what Berthe Morisot managed to create for herself. Reconnect with what we feel. Reconnect with our hearts. Because so many of us do no longer know how we feel. We just hang in to get through the day.

In this perspective my own drawings make a lot of sense to me. (not that art has to make sense). I fell apart emotionally and physically a year ago, I started drawing and now I see that my drawings evolve around my need for inner peace, for dealing with my inner monsters: my ambitions, my sorrows, my desire. And eventhough I have close friends and a loving family I somehow feel lonely with these feelings I manage to get out in my drawings. I wish I could be just a little bit more like the avantgarde female artists that challenged the womans role in society, less focused on their feelings (one of the artists, Sonia Delauney, even said she wished she had given herself more attention but there wasn’t time for it having a family too). 

Illustration: Monica Langelund 2012

I feel selfish in a way for creating and prefering to stay in such an introvert drawing world because I know there’s still so much to fight for in the world that I’m part of. But I’ve completely run out of energy. I’ve tried so hard to change the world around me; I did not succeed in my own opinion. All I have left at the moment is a way of expressing what I feel. It’s my contribution to the world at the moment, I guess. And I don’t feel that it’s enough. It’s my ongoing struggle now. I should be 'out there' fighting for something bigger than my right to draw.

Illustration: Monica Langelund 2012

I’m grateful for those Museums that choose to create these exhibitions focusing on female artists throughout time. We need it, I think, more than ever. We need to know our history through art history, we need to know that our struggles today is part of an ongoing struggle, as women as well as human beings. 

We need to know we're not alone.

søndag den 18. november 2012

Living with monsters...

I’ve been drawing non-stop throughout 2012 with a special love for monsters. Not horror like monster, but monsters as symbols of the challenges in my life.
A specific drawing recently became a bit of a wake-up call for me. I was playing with fluid black ink, not really aware of what I was drawing. That's how I draw. When I liftet the brush from the paper the shape of what could be Death looking down at a person hiding in a pot got my attention. The style in the drawing wasn’t scary in itself. There wasn’t even a monster in it. But to me that drawing was the most horrifying I’ve ever done because I saw myself in the drawing as a living dead, hiding in a pot, not knowing how to get out. And obviously it wasn’t how I wanted – or want - my life to be. 
Am I afraid of dying? No, not really. But that drawing made me realise that I am afraid of not living and feeling alive while I’m alive.

I took up drawing again in the beginning of 2012, after a decade of not drawing. Lots of snakes and monsters appeared in my drawings. Illustration: Monica Langelund

I’m currently a walking pharmacy. I get medication for a depression, anxiety and an unstable sleep cycle. Not to mention a kemo-like product for Crohn’s disease.

I’ve had my share of struggle in life but I don’t want to identify myself as a victim of cronic illness and tons of medication. It’s not who I want to be. But obviously it's an ongoing conflict for me. 

Illustration: Monica Langelund

My current condition has not only given me a look into my own darkness. It’s given me an understanding of mental illness in generel. And I think it’s unbearable that mental illness is becoming one of our biggest health challenges of our time. I’m surrounded by people that love me and still this condition feels incredibly lonely. What about those who have noone who loves them?

Personally, I feel more split than ever. I’m by heart passionate like a curious child, but I’m also tired like an old, heavy elephant. How can those two become friends in the same body? 
Slow seems to be a keyword of our time but slow hasn’t been a friend of mine for years. And now the weight of that old heavy elephant literally makes me unable to breathe, so there’s only one option: I need to slow down. In my thoughts and in my actions. I have to accept the kindness of that elephant. The elephant is not the monster. The monster lives inside me. And in the society I’m surrounded by.

Meditate. Find your inner peace. This seems to be global mantras of our time and it does sound good. But I don’t know how to meditate in a traditional way. Maybe I’m not there yet. Maybe I’ll never get there. What I do know is that I create moments of inner peace through my drawing. While I’m drawing I’m lost for the world, the real world that is. I get lost in an inner, subconscious world of never ending stories. It’s a wonderful place to be, but there’s only room for me in that world. It’s not a very social world and I used to live a life so opposite to this. I used to put all my attention to the world around me, not the world inside me.
That was until I was forced to slow down.

Illustration: Monica Langelund

Slowing down in itself doesn’t seem to help me though. Slow does not necessarily rhyme with inner peace. It’s almost like the opposite. Because what I discover about myself when I slow down is frightening. I have a far more introvert, selfish and artistic mind than I ever knew. And a darker mind. My mind constantly tries to kickstart itself and start running again. Away from the darkness. Away from my inner monsters. It's exhausting.

A body therapist recently told me that I shouldn’t expect to become the Monica again I was prior to my depression. That Monica is part of what caused my depression. This therapist told me I should welcome a more sensitive Monica in the future. I’m thinking vulnerable too. Not to mention dark.
On one hand I’m still scared of this newfound me. Who is this (slow) person? On the other hand I’m scared of going back to the Monica I was before. I feel in-between identities. And it makes me feel that I don’t belong anywhere. Except in my world of drawings which is full of both monsters and flowers. It may sound romantic, but it’s not.

This blog will be about the faculty of imagining. I believe our imagination is what creates both our passion and our monsters. ‘Living with monsters’ could have been another title for this blog, the darker title. It is my intention to blog about my reflections on art, culture, mental illness, identity, play, my own drawings, picturebooks, kind and peaceful elephants, disturbing monsters etc.

10 years ago this would have been my personal journal. 
But I am – despite my new/refound introvertness – a sharing kind of person and I believe that if I struggle with some of these issues above, others do too. We’re going through a global crisis. It’s not only a financial crisis. It’s a crisis that challenges and changes our beliefs and behaviour. Not necesarily for the better. It’s a crisis that brings out our monsters from deep within. Some are demanding, some are selfdestructive, some are agressive and cause a lot of harm and grief to others. But some are also really wise.
Learning to live with our monsters seems like the best option if we want to feel alive, inspired and connected to society. It’s my plan anyway, but no one said it would be easy learning it...

NB. I'm keeping my private life private in this blog. So I will not be blogging about my family and friends, specific details and history about my illness, medication etc.