Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pre-Socratic And Pissed

Several years ago, I came across an interview with the then Dean of Smith College, Jill Ker Conway. Born and raised in rural Australia, Ms. Conway described Australians as "pre-Socratic... they don't like to think."
It took me a while to recognise that I didn't like to, either. Or rather, I did but over the years, I'd become lazy about it.
I used to pride myself both on my intelligence and on my fluency in communicating ideas. However, neither were attributes encouraged in teenage girls where I grew up and by the time I was in my twenties I'd turn silent, sullen and dull-headed from the drugs and alcohol I used to ameliorate my frequent bouts of depression. The best drug of all was to avoid thinking and I soon became addicted to it, even in my art, where I settled for effect – substance overwhelmed by high concept, a simulacrum of 'smart'.
I still find it hard to look at some of the paintings I produced between late 1999 and early 2001 and not wince. Even in the best of them, I recognise missed opportunities to improve them with a little more consideration about what – or maybe why – I was actually trying to paint.
Sometimes, I wonder if it's not so much an Australian as a female thing. We abandon thought to focus on appearance as a way to cope with anxiety, especially when it's related to our self-esteem. We go window-shopping, get our hair done, have plastic surgery. (Maybe men resort to empty action, like sport or driving too fast or wrestling with their mates).
Whatever the reason, I've been fighting hard to overcome it, along with all the other limitations I've imposed on myself through stubborness, indolence and worst, a persistent but pointless desire to be liked.


d.edlen said...

It's not a female thing, it's a human thing. Guys do use sports, video games, Star Trek, etc. People seek escapes. The trick is balancing, as with anything. But it is a trick, as even something like Twitter can become either escape or thoughtful.


Anonymous said...

Yes, we do it. We'll focus on appearance, or something else (our children, our partners, sex, food....the list goes on), to avoid serious thought. Thought can be painful. I think women may experience this more, thinking about our roles in society, the way our culture exploits us, etc.

Susan C.

Rachel Marsden said...

I remember the first time in school I put my hand up for an answer and deliberately gave the wrong answer. All the kids used to look at me strangely and tease me for being a 'smarty' because I always got the answers right. After that I think I gradually dumbed myself down in order to be acceptable.
I cringe whenever I think of that first day.
I do think it is partly an Australian thing - we don't like 'tall poppies' whereas in other cultures (eg. Japan, China) a lot of focus is placed on excelling academically.

Fogbound said...

It's not a female thing or an Australian thing, but just a human thing. I think we all go through bouts of it, times when we just let our minds turn to jello for a while and stop really thinking hard and deep. But I find it passes and I get on with life. And life does go on, even if it's passing us by. Good post!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you overlook something, when you put the thinking mind and analytical analysis aside, a person acts on instinct. Does the creation of art require thought, or can it be created by instinct and feel alone?

I prefer some of your early work to some of the more recent pieces, and it has nothing to do with thought or analysis, it's all about how it makes me feel, the emotional visceral reaction it provokes in me.

Is a woman who follows her instincts and feelings through life less of a person or less of a woman than the one who analyzes and thinks her way through everything? Would such an approach make her a lesser artist? How about a man?

I have an analytical mind, but I think I'm most often at my best when I'm acting on instinct and following my feelings, and I prefer and can relate better to women who do the same.

I suppose everyone needs to find the balance, what works best for them, balance is key, extremes one way or the other are never preferable.

For me, careful calculation and deliberation over every detail and choice in one's life tends to interrupt and stagnate the natural flow creating a rather cold mechanical feel to life, and I think that kind of thing comes through in artwork which follows a similar path. Too much thought and consideration can produce something that may seem perfect and without flaw on the surface. But I believe that it is these flaws and imperfections that the more instinctual part of ourselves seeks and finds most familiar and comforting in artwork as well as in people, without this element perhaps something has been lost in both.