Art and Ambivalence
I’ve grown to love the word ‘ambivalent.’ When I was a kid I thought it meant wishy-washy and didn’t like it at all because it sounded feeble. I had to experience it repeatedly for myself, the uneasy push-pull that happens when you’re drawn to something and put off by it at the same time, before I started to get it. For creative people, ambivalence is fuel. Attraction draws you to a subject and then whatever’s repellant about it spikes your curiosity, keeping you engaged because you want to understand.
Artist Marilyn Minter’s retrospective, Pretty/Dirty, up at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art through January 31st, stirs ambivalence. Her photographs, paintings and videos depict a raunchy, feminine sensuality that titillates and repels. Check out the Green Pink Caviar trailer below to see what I mean.
Here’s another video, a talk Minter gave at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2014. She does a great job here telling the story of her art, connecting photographs she made as an undergrad of her beautiful but addicted mom to her current work. She also talks about her struggle to find her voice as a painter while vying for success in the New York art world, two big aims that didn’t always mesh.
“From the minute I went to school I heard, ‘You’ve got to loosen up.’ I gave it my best because I could copy anything. I could create the illusion of the gestural mark but . . . I could see that it looked phony.” – Marilyn Minter
I’m ambivalent about blogging. I love language and think writing is interesting but also find it confining. If you can put a complex thought in words it means you’ve pinned it down. Take that same thought, make a series of images about it, and you’ve probably opened something up. Look at Minter’s work. Her epic paintings offer liquid drips, edible gold and glitter-flecked, freckled skin. They are gorgeous, a pleasure to view. They’re also political, raising questions about feminine presentation, sexual agency and power. If you get Minter’s work, you get it viscerally. It raises shame and erases it. I’m not sure you can do that in words.
Each time I redo my website is an opportunity to reconsider this blog. Keep it or let it go. I’m keeping it, enthusiastically this time because I’m ambivalent. So for the second time in ten years I’ve cleared the deck, deleting all my old posts except for a few reported posts about beeswax. It’s my goal to post weekly, words and/or images. This’ll be a lab of sorts. I’ll be adding new categories and trying different things. Stop by on Mondays to see what’s new.