Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Seeing Art vs. Being Art

It's an unusual feeling to have a stranger ask to take your picture.

Sometimes it's expected, like at Comic Con when everyone is dressed in costume and taking pictures of everyone else. Or when I'm dressed to the nines (or in rather less than the nines) for a pole or burlesque show.

But when I'm walking around Art on the Square with my boyfriend and his daughter, wearing my favorite pair of jeggings and a vintage top?  It's not usually something I'm expecting.

Yet, there she was, an adorable little newspaper photographer from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, telling me she just loved my outfit and asking if she could take picture of me looking at the various art vendors.

Obviously, my vanity knows no bounds, so getting gushing compliments on my outfit from a  photographer and a request for essentially a mini-photoshoot went straight to my head.  And made me incredibly self-conscious.  I couldn't pose in my usual stance of hand on hip/one knee bent, after all.  How do I look natural?  Was I standing up straight?  Should I smile?  I wish I had lipstick on. What the hell do I do with my hands?

A few days later, there I was online, looking not-too-shabby and pensively considering some appropriately modern art that I wouldn't mind one bit actually owning. (I definitely want the piece behind me in the photo!)

It's not the first time my world has crossed over into art.  A few years ago, during a particularly chaotic time of our lives, Mark and I spent the day at the St Louis Art Museum.  It was one of several turning points in our lives and, even though we didn't know what to do, we knew we wanted to spend the day together.  So we ended up at the Art Museum, wandering around looking at art and holding onto each other.

At one point, we were sitting on a bench in the modern art wing, silently entangled with each other for so long that a group of women came up and told us that they had thought we were art.

All this makes me wonder... what does it take to be art?  If I qualify, then it certainly isn't being flawless, since I can never at any point claim to be that.  In the photo above, my hair is windblown, I don't have lipstick on, and I'm nervously touching my hair because I know I'm being photographed.  In everyday life, my hair is usually falling out of its curls before the day is halfway over.  Sometimes my makeup is smeared, my lipstick is worn off, my shoes are scuffed, or I'm in desperate need of my hair being dyed.

In the first season of Mad Men, Betty Draper imparts some of her mother's insane words of wisdom on how to present yourself to the world.  "You're painting a masterpiece," she says. "Make sure to hide the brushstrokes."  In other words: be flawless.  Don't make a mistake.  Don't have a hair out of place.  Don't let anyone know something is wrong.

This is not my motto.  (At least, not anymore.)

I don't spend hours every day on my appearance.  While I rarely leave the house without makeup, I have the application down to a five-minute science.  I don't touch it up throughout the day.  I don't stare at myself in my compact when I'm out at a bar with friends to make sure each detail is perfect.  I have better things to do, really.  Like living.

Do I get a lot of comments and compliments on how I look?  Yes.  Usually several a day.  But I think that's because I wear things that make me happy and not because I'm as perfect as a pin-up.  I usually dress to please myself, not others.  (This has, as I've discussed, taken many forms over the years.)  And maybe the fact that I'm happy in what I'm wearing makes other happy as well.

Maybe that's what being art is.  Maybe that's what art is.   It's getting a reaction, whether it's making others happy or triggering another emotion. It's reminding others of how they or their parents used to dress or look.  It's standing out from the crowd.  With this hair, that's hard not to do.

My favorite art has always made me feel, or reminded me of something.  Mark and I talk a lot about art we see and how some of it is simply flat and doesn't make us feel anything at all.  But then there is the art that I'm physically drawn to, the stuff that makes me want to reach out and touch it, be a part of it.  It's not always the perfect art, either.  But there's something to it that pings at my subconscious and makes me react.

That's the kind of art I want to be, the kind of life I want to live.

I'm not painting a masterpiece.  Maybe from a distance, or to the untrained observer, it looks perfect.  But close up? There are brushstrokes everywhere.  There's rookie mistakes and smudges and wrong color choices.  There's whole sections I'd like to whitewash over.  Most artists would toss out the canvas and start over.

But I'm enjoying the hell out of my life, mistakes and all.  It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and it makes me feel more emotions than I ever thought possible.

So I guess that's art, in a way.  And I, for one, think it's beautiful.

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