January 27, 2009 at 10:54 am (art)

I’ve been thinking lately about how our bodies develop – about how life takes its toll on our bodies and then we wear that toll around with us every day. Two examples from my own body:

1. I started, as a nervous habit, in the 1st grade the habit of pushing my middle finger under my ring finger and then curling all my fingers together in a ball – it’s tough to explain, but it’s the kind of subtle, nervous habit that takes about half a second to execute and I often don’t realize I’m doing it. After years and years and years of this, my middle fingers now slant towards my pinkie finger in a way that is totally pronounced once you’ve had it pointed out to you – it’s not glaring like you see it from across the room or whathaveyou, but if you know it’s there you can’t miss it.

2. My arms are incredibly weak (like, really weak) and my legs are very strong and muscular, even when I’ve been slacking on exercise. I don’t know what’s up with my arms, but with my legs I will bet that it’s from growing up with very limited access to cars (my mother doesn’t drive and my father was often away on business). Even when we lived in Texas, we would walk everywhere – it would take hours and would often involve walking down very busy streets (I hesitate to say “the highway” but that’s possible) just to do a simple task like go to the swimming pool or pick up something from the store. I’m not complaining – it inspired a lifelong love of walking and a sense that I can really get anywhere I need to all on my own.

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about this recently because I noticed that a lot of people I meet who are in their fifties or above have… how to say (politely)?… very individualistic bodies. When you teach figure drawing, you inevitably fall back into these rules (which would make Philip Pearlstein very pissed off) of, “Ok, the arms come to here and the legs are x% of the overall body” – and then suddenly I find myself chatting to a slightly older artist and realizing, “Wait… your arms are way the hell shorter than they should be according to these rules.”

My reoccurring thought whenever I notice something like this is, Your mother smoked when she was pregnant with you, right? which may sound completely rude and wrong, but you have to remember than practically everyone smoked then. By the 70s, pregnant women weren’t really smoking anymore, but I have (and so do all my friends my age) many pictures in our family album of my mother pregnant with me and drinking a big ol’ glass of wine – again, it’s what you did then; the wine was “good for the baby’s blood.” So wait – were all those glasses of wine responsible for my gimpy arms?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about this stuff lately – sort of the differences in all of our bodies, about how you don’t see people in their 20s with short arms (my arms are weak but not short, so maybe I represent a kind of transition between the two types) or otherwise disproportioned bodies, and how so much in our culture is about purchasing “solutions” to what is wrong with us physically, but that there is this underlying basis that can’t really be changed. Meaning, I can diet and dye my hair blond and maybe even do stuff like get a nose job or a tummy tuck, but there’s really no plastic surgery or solution to lengthening ones arms or shortening ones legs or moving your eyes slightly further apart or otherwise changing the proportions of your body.

All this thinking comes back to the Marlene Dumas show at MOMA, which I thought was utterly incredible – and the way in which her work is all about female-as-mutant (to sum it up ridiculously) and the body as it’s lived in and inhabited. That show is haunting me and I think about it every day.

Anyway. Hope springs eternal that I will grab some time in the studio this weekend and start to work some of these things out there.


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