Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jane Gottlieb -> Andy Warhol -> Madeleine L'Engle -> Communism -> Individuality -> Gay Marriage? -> Gottlieb again

So, Jane Gottlieb's prints are on display in the building where I work. The colors are sort of flat and bright and I don't find the subject matter interesting. I'm not even sure what medium was used to create them--I assume they're computer-manipulated and printed on some kind of photograph-quality paper. The subject matter is kind of random but stays within a certain box--a golf course, a cemetery, a famous monument or building. Taxis and cars and houses. You know, man-made things. Things we have created.

They're very Andy Warholish, in a variety of ways. You know what I mean--very empty and decorative, what you might expect to see hanging in a posh hotel or in some expensive apartment overlooking Wall Street.

What is her message? Why does she spend her time on these pieces? Are they supposed to be cheerful, or garish? Are these pieces about finding fantasy in everyday life? About the notable lack of fantasy in every day life? What is she trying to say with this work? How do these color choices support her message?

Actually, her pieces are so reminiscent of Andy Warhol to me, that it's hard to imagine she doesn't have a similar sort of point to make. Something about decorative emptiness and the flattening out of reality and becoming less ourselves and more two-dimensional. Although, Gottlieb portrays it in a way that makes it look like it's supposed to be some happy thing, like the world we live in should be one long music video--neon everywhere! Cars! Rainbow colors! Flat, computer manipulated garbage as far as the eye can see!

And then--oh dear, this is a quote from her website: "I create images that surprise and intrigue, drawing the viewer into my idyllic vision, ultimately uplifting them with vibrant color and evocative beauty."

So I guess that settles that--she's actually producing art that is like...the opposite of Warhol's work, because if I remember correctly, he was famous for making these grim, scary statements that made his art seem kind of ominous and illustrative of something much larger that was going on culturally at the time.

From his interview with Art News in 1963*:

"Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It's happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it's working without trying, why can't it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we're getting more and more that way. I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody."

That quote about people becoming machines comes back to me from time to time. Actually, it ties together nicely with the book I'm reading now, A Wrinkle In Time. My daughter is reading this book for school and I am reading it with her, and it turns out that this book is basically about the 1950's/1960's fears about communism. When I started this book, I had no idea what it was about. I guess I knew her books were about science and in some way about religion and the weird gray area where religion and science can hold hands and be friends. But there was obviously a big political and social component to her writing as well. The kids in Wrinkle In Time are on this planet where everyone has submitted to IT, and IT controls their minds and actions and those who don't submit to IT must be reprogrammed and reprocessed in a way that's very mentally painful. It's actually very creepy and dated at the same time.

Why don't I worry about losing my individuality and creativity, whereas in the 1950's and 60's this was obviously something that haunted the minds of normal people? The quote above from Andy Warhol, "Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we're getting more and more that way," has some small grain of truth but strikes me as the sort of thing someone says to sound profound, but that lacks the nuance that could actually make it true. I am an individual. I don't like all the same crap as everybody else, although I do like some of the same crap, but I am aware of the ways in which I am the same and am different from the people around me. I fall into some categories, and some labels can be applied to me: "democrat" and "gay" and "middle class" are all examples of these. But I'm not like all the gay middle class democrats. For one, I am not pro-choice. I mean, I sort of am pro-choice. I believe abortion clinics should stay open. And I believe abortions should be rare and that for the most part, women should stop having them. I'm also not, like, obsessed with the topic of gay marriage, a very hot topic in the gay community right now that many people feel very strongly about. I think there should be gay marriage, but if the government wants to say I can't get legally married, I don't really care as much as you would think, because I don't care about marriage and even if I did care about marriage, I believe I could be happily married without the government declaring me married.** What does annoy the shit out of me is that the government is taxing me really heavily for the privilege of putting my family on my health insurance because of the no gay marriage thing, and I want my damn $300 a month back***. But that's neither here nor there. To be honest, I don't even really consider myself to be gay so much as flexible, and if my partner died tomorrow, there might be a man that took her place someday (after a long period of grief and you know, drama). Or another woman. Or I might stay single because having a partner isn't everything in life and I'm a busy girl with a lot of hobbies. So, my point is, I'm not like all the gay middle class democrats. I'm just me and I have no fear that I am becoming assimilated by cans of Campbell's soup and billboards that tell me what movies to like.

Back to Jane Gottlieb's pieces; I find myself thinking about them quite a bit, because I walk the halls where they hang. I'm a little disappointed after reading that statement from her website--the one above. "images that surprise and intrigue, drawing the viewer into my idyllic vision, ultimately uplifting them with vibrant color and evocative beauty." bleh. Andy Warhol told a much cooler, more intelligent story with his art.

But I think what you can take away from this post is that one doesn't really need to like art or an artist to affected by that art. It turns out, I have a lot to say and I'm saying it because of Jane Gottlieb's art, and it's art I don't even especially like. I suppose that's the point of any art--whether good or bad, art is supposed to provoke thought.

On a side note, there is one piece she did that I like very much. It's this one, which seems to have been plucked from a dream I had once. In this dream, I was a 19th century middle aged man living in a large house in Romania. Dracula came to my house and would not leave, and the villagers were rioting. My dream had a lot of purple, like this, and a lot of space. This is a space from that dream, I'm certain of it.

* I plucked that quote randomly from this website:, and I take no responsibility for the accuracy of the transcript. I say this because I recently found out that the quote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" is not a quote from Benjamin Franklin, it's just a distortion of a quote of his about wine. Or at least, there are websites out there that claim this. And there are websites out there that claim he did say that thing about beer. All bets are off about who said what and what's true and what's not. About everything. I thought for ages that Benjamin Franklin said that thing about beer, about how it's proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. I had this picture in my mind of Benjamin standing in a smoky pub, raising his beer high and, you know, saying the thing about beer. Guys cheering around him and yelling hear-hear! and maybe he buys them all a round. And it turns out, maybe he didn't say this. My point is that information is hard to verify and even things that you know to be true might not be true. So maybe Warhol did or didn't say this thing I am quoting; I'm not going to dig through old issues of Art News just to find out if they said that he did. I just don't have that kind of time.

**I do realize that gay marriage isn't really just about marriage, it's about civil rights. So while I don't care about gay marriage exactly, I do care about inequality, and I realize that gay marriage isn't legal because of inequality. Inequalities shouldn't persist, and so while I don't care about marriage, I'm still supportive of the gay marriage cause. The government shouldn't be able to say that I'm not allowed to get married just because some Christians think that homosexuality is wrong. So that statement about me not caring about the gay marriage cause is sort of misleading.

***Do you hear me, supreme court? this is a huge burden and my family is just like all the other families in all the ways that count--my commitment to them is very real and binding--so if everybody else gets to put their families on their health insurances tax-free, then I should too--my partner and I own a house together and we've lived together for the last 15 years and we have a kid together and this isn't fair, but more than that, it's doing some serious damage to financial situation. If you legalize gay marriage I will marry her because I want them on my health insurance tax free and I'll jump through whatever legal hoops you have established that will allow me to do so.

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