Women, art, voices, ownership

This is from my blog Somewhere in Transition at http://julialeebarclay.blogspot.com

After a marathon session yesterday (hence no blog post), I did no unpacking today, but instead went with a friend who had extra tickets to Relatively Speaking a Broadway show of one-acts by Ethan Cohen, Elaine May and Woody Allen. The real writer of the three playwrights - by a mile - is Elaine May. The other two pieces by Cohen and Allen were sophomoric (as in: if Cohen had written it at 14 it might be considered semi-precocious, clever comedy but for an adult - meh) and a series of one-liners justifying in retrospect his marrying of his step-daughter (Allen). Ha ha ha. OK, so...was glad to see the Elaine May play. Also really glad the tickets were free and my friend Tamara and I agreed in our assessments of each piece. Marlo Thomas, btw, can still act (she was in the May play). The surprise was later tonight after watching Downton Abbey (don't hate me - it's just weirdly compelling watching it now that I've left the UK - has a whole other feel to it - but more on that whole thing later in another post), was a documentary called The Woodmans, about the photographer Francesca Woodman, who killed herself at age 22 in 1981 and her parents and brother who are also all well-known artists. I was so struck by the documentary for a number of reasons - the honesty of her parents, the whole family's devotion to art, but more than that, the way people talked about Francesca's work as if she would inevitably become famous when one of the many reasons she killed herself by walking off the top of a building in Soho was that she didn't get a stupid NEA grant. Obviously, that was not the only reason, but my point is it is obvious watching the film that her photos were/are amazing but that they are only Now being recognized, because what she was doing was so spectacularly ahead of her time. The heartbreaking journal entries including her being harassed by her boyfriend late at night for not making real art ring so weirdly true to me (as I have had similar relationships with men at that age and even into my 20s and 30s - both romantic/partners and professors and so-called 'mentors'...). Seeing her work, it is so obviously a female language - I am not one to use that term lightly and in general despise it when others do...but here it is important, because I think that's why it was overlooked. Apparently in the early 80s photography was not as big of a deal as it is now, which could also be true. But if you go look at her stuff you may see what I mean. So, I take her death personally, even if clearly she had her own reasons and obviously many people have had these issues and not killed themselves. It just makes me angry how long - in general - female artists have to wait to be recognized, to be SEEN or understood on the most basic level, because it's a different language, or can be. Or maybe it's just the way we present ourselves. The amount of conversations I have had recently with women about how we wish we had even a tiny ounce of male ego - the ability to easily justify one's own work and not take every criticism to heart or as gospel or to be defensive, etc. - is extraordinary. The ability to self-promote without shame. The ability to hold to a vision without the need to justify...etc., etc... I'm not blaming men here, by the way, in case any of you are feeling that - no, I'm Admiring that about you and wish I had some of it! I do have some but not nearly enough...and certainly had none at age 19-20. There were so many things I was doing then artistically, theatrically and with writing (though some just needed to get better) but more importantly ideas and presentation...and directing...but I could not stand up for them. I had enough guts/ego/whatever to make work but not to push it forward the way I should/could have done. And if I had had any of those skills would be in a much better place today. I know that probably sounds like self-pity, but I don't mean it that way - it's just a fact. I can see all the lines of thought - ideas - art I did not go down out of fear and kind of now wish I had. I also have gone down some roads and had some success with it, but I have not developed these things as far as they could go, and so watch others pick up where I left off and get well-known for doing so, which is both somewhat gratifying and then incredibly frustrating. These people are usually men. So my prayer is: please god/dess who/what/ever you are...please allow me to own my own voice/path/ way and stop waiting in some weird cosmic lobby for permission. I have found my voice in many ways, but I need now to OWN it, which is different. It is ownership itself that is part of the problem actually - one way I don't tend towards naturally...I share this with many other women (and some men). So the language gets very confusing. Is it possible to OWN non-ownership, e.g.? You see where it can fall down... However, seeing a documentary about someone who is now famous, but was not in her lifetime, because this weird machine basically killed her (that's how it appears in any case)...but then having eaten her alive decided to valorize her (no better artist than a dead one, naturally...), I am grateful for avoiding that fate, so far... Not that I'm in any imminent danger of fame, mind you, but the eaten alive thing...I feel I've had some brushes with that... I want to keep living, but along with that, I want to keep creating...I want to know before I die that I have put everything out on the table that I can and that I will have the guts to do that no matter what the reaction from others. I've talked a good game on that one, but not sure I've walked the talk. I don't think it's possible to not be affected at all, but I want to not be so easily influenced. I think at least this is within my reach. All the other stuff about recognition is out of my hands anyway. Wish me luck...with that and finding a place for the 17 or so boxes of books and papers in my Rubik's cube of a studio apartment. I'm almost out of shelf space, so we're about to get down to nooks and crannies and shoving stuff into the closets. Fun. But then again putting my books where I want them and beginning to take ownership of this place is fun. There's the 'o' word again and no I don't mean orgasm, I mean 'ownership' - way more radical for women I think...in the way I mean it anyway (clearly I'm not talking about products...) G'night and blessings to you all. I wish for you all ownership of your own voice in whatever form that may take, especially for the women, but including any men who need the encouragement - yes, I do believe gender is a construct, just like all the rest of reality, but it does not budge easily... inside or outside...

Julia Lee Barclay, PhD




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