Sunday, August 12, 2007

I'll give you trite!

Several years ago I was looking at a Rothko painting with my then boyfriend. I like Rothko. He's not my favorite color field artist (that would be Morris Louis) but seeing the evolution of his paintings in order and you see his life in the most basic, wordless sense. See, he committed suicide and you can see the darkness and heaviness evolve from the bright lightness in his later works.

So then boyfriend looks at the piece and says "I hate modern art- it's so obvious these guys were just doing it for the money!" My fabulous retort was "You're a fucking graphic artist for christ's sake- all you do is make art for money!"

Then there was another not-quite boyfriend who was trying to get me to listen to yet another insufferable angsty white boy band. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of angsty white boy bands in my repertoire and I don't rock the indy-pop queen title for no reason, but this band was a hair's breadth away from being Creed. I wasn't into being all worshipful of the tormented band, so I was told my music (at the time I was heavy into the reemergence of disco punk like Franz Ferdinand and Gang of Four) was "trite". Uhm Hello! They may be tongue in cheek, up beat and danceable but that's just to make the subversive bits go down easier.

"Trite" is a fabulous way of minimizing the importance of art that bugs you, and though the references I made above were to things made by men, trite is usually used for art made by women. Sonia Delunay and her textile designs were "trite". Judy Chicago and her dinner plates were "trite". I am sure someone probably even thought that Frida Kahlo's iconic paintings were "trite" little pieces next to her husband's much larger and simpler political murals.*

So then I saw this piece on Pandagon- A woman artist, Amber Hawk Swanson, buys herself a real doll modeled after herself and experiments with the idea of what it's like to own in every possible way a submissive female. I think the idea is brilliant, the photos I've seen are disturbing and awesome and I hope that someday I can see the results in person.

But of course, someone has to get all "I'm the bigger critic than you" and call it "predictable and trite". But predictable and trite wouldn't garner the kinds of serious and interesting questions that this piece has raised- would it? I mean trite is usually something that lacks "the freshness that evokes attention or interest" (thank you Merriam Webster- though I prefer the OED, your online dictionary is free). I would think that if this piece were really "trite" then there wouldn't be all this questioning about what it means to appear to be subjugating your own image or if the brainless, opinionless, impossible to achieve in real life body of a real doll is what men really want. The questions, the thousands of questions that this piece of art evokes should be enough to prove that this is by no means a "trite" piece but a thought-provoking thing of interest.

Things made by women are not automatically "trite". But they get called that in order to minimize their importance and to silence their creators. Trite things are obvious- hummels are trite, Cathy cartoons are trite, most Hallmark cards are trite. Every fat guy, hot wife sitcom is trite (and those I'm sure were produced by guys). Most romantic comedies, every Adam Sandler movie except Punch Drunk Love, Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kincaid paintings, and every single commercial ever made for a household cleaning product are both trite and predictable. A woman showing images of herself in dominant, sexual positions over a doll of herself is not trite. It's disturbing, and that is why it is successful as a piece of art. It conveys what the artist wanted it to convey.

*I also once a had potential suitor, a fabulously wealthy art collector, call my own work "primitive" as if it were a good thing. I use a lot of the line styles that made men like Matisse and Leger and Klee famous, though I doubt any collector worth their salt would call works by those with penises "primative" unless they also happened to be brown. Which this guy did- he was comparing my work to some of the paintings he had picked up cheap on his last art buying trip to Cuba.