Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Dark Arts

When I was young, I loved to paint and draw. I would take painting classes where I would basically ogle at the works of more advanced students and I loved drawing in class back when it was a general part of the curriculum. However, as curricula advanced throughout each grade along with the art classes, I realized that copying objects on my Lisa Frank binder didn't cut it and my art teacher who loved Dali and emotional depth would often comment "that's haaaarrrrrrrible" when it came to my more trite pieces of artwork (luckily, I thought she was the coolest person in school and was just glad she was talking to me). But indeed, I could tell the work was a bit flat as I read the badass poetry of other girls, heard about their creative short stories and watched them bring in vibrant and nuanced paintings to class. In my drawing class, I would begin with a solid outline of a structure, then the piece basically devolved into a sense of "nothingness" when I couldn't bring myself to really shade in the object with any vigor. While this may seem like a trite statement in and of itself, I generally knew back then that, just like most art, my very passive and barely-there piece was an expression of myself.

When I was in second-grade, my voice became very soft. I think that to some extent, whether right or wrong, my voice became as low as I perceived myself in the social pecking order. And indeed, while being relatively introverted and soft-spoken to begin with, the phrase, "what???" was something I would hear constantly over the next eight billion years. And so while I knew my fear of being vocally heard extended back ages, I also knew that my hesitancy towards bold expression in art class was just an extension of that. Indeed, by the time I reached advanced art classes in high school, I had generally sent enough emotion to the lock box of my psyche that I couldn't access it for a quality piece of artwork if I wanted. However, as we all age and mature and realize our energy can be spent for fun instead of protecting our often ridiculous emotional fortifications, it was in later high school that I began to recover some of my voice and own my introversion. I'd go to the mall by myself and relish in the time alone and had fun dating someone almost as crazy as I was (leading to a life spent dating those who were crazy and Aaaa-mazing). And so it felt good when, in my senior year, I could chuckle to myself as I heard others laugh when the teacher asked if I was a rule-follower or rule-breaker. "Don't be surprised," she said... "still waters run deep."

As I would later read Jung and learn that indeed introversion was a personality trait rather than a word synonymous with "asshole," I found that, "still waters running deep" could truly be a frame of mind. While introverts such as myself may have unenviable Instagram accounts and find little has changed in the age of quarantine, we/they often have rich inner lives that are lived in and retreated to. But, just like any personality trait, every yin has its yang and while introverts often don't get bored or seem clam, I've found in my own experience that it's (sometimes literally) hard to speak up and, at the end of the day, that energy... be it frustration or pain or anything that goes unsaid does indeed go somewhere and I began to become a bit wary of this phenomenon as I spoke to my brother.

My brother was more into sports than art at a young age. However, as we age, art becomes a bit easier to engage in than soccer and my brother has thus taken up drawing and is quite good at it. And so, it was recently that he was telling me about his favorite artists and how he really likes the work of Michelangelo. It generally got me thinking of the artists I like and what I saw was (quite literally) not a pretty picture. When I thought of the paintings that truly speak to me I began to realize they were all pretty dark and gruesome. But that's what I like! And so, below, I've assembled a list of painters and musicians who really rock my socks and perhaps speak to some deeper need for balancing my projected softness with harder, more devious aspects. As anyone knows who's taken art, you can't have light without dark.


Hieronymus Bosch: I start with Hieronymus Bosch because a) he's one of the earliest painters on the list and b) I suppose his last name would place him at the top alphabetically. I first learned of Bosch in college when we looked at the painting entitled The Garden of Earthy Delights. In the triptych (which I was ultimately surprised to be viewing in an academic institution) the Garden of Eden (or heaven), Earth (or purgatory) and hell are depicted in three separate sections. While the painting seems generally small (much smaller than the works of Bosch's later compatriot, Rembrandt) when we viewed on a large projector in class, you could see the sections quite clearly which were subsequently zoomed into. As an introvert, the view of heaven indeed seem quite heavenly. Being The Garden of Eden, there was only a man and a woman (and their creator) along with a bunch of animals and a lot of green grass. It seemed to me very peaceful and somewhere I'd like to hang out for eternity. And yet, admittedly, the vision of hell is why I come back to the painting as well as Bosch's other works. As claimed by Wikipedia, "[Bosch was] a hugely individualistic painter with deep insight into humanity's desires and deepest fears." As for myself, as someone predisposed to spend time in their own mind, one begins to wonder if others have the same cobwebs and creepers in overlooked parts of the "house" as you might. According to Bosch, it's a certainty.


Garden of Earthly Delights

Caravaggio: Up next in both the alphabetical and chronological sense is Caravaggio. Try as I did to enjoy the works of Monet and other effeminate masters, I really couldn't get behind lilies on the water. While I couldn't paint nearly as well as them, I never really feel in love with Van Gogh or even Munch (painter of The Scream). My tastes were almost exclusively medieval and morbid. So, when I found out about Caravaggio, I was a bit smitten. While maybe not as symbolic as Bosch, Caravaggio played with bold lights and dark (although equally as religious) subject matter. In reference to insane and amazing men, I once met a guy whose computer wallpaper featured Judith Beheading Holofernes. I still think of him.

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Francisco Goya: As there seems to be some order to this list, the (singular) work of Francisco Goya comes next. While I'm not necessarily a fan of Goya in general, his painting entitled Saturn Devouring His Son has always been a favorite of mine. After watching commentary on The Shining, Stanley Kubrick mentioned that, "terror always starts in the family." And while I've found those in the theatrical community to be a bit histrionic, I believe that the quote, when translated into layman's terms, means that our families tend to be where the roots of our neuroses lay. However, Greek myth tends to take this theme to the extreme which, as depicted in the aforementioned painting, means that parents devoured their children and, in general, a whole lot of killing was going on. Indeed, to refer back to Jung, whether believable or not, he claimed that early civilizations were more privy to the more primordial aspects of life just like a child might be more predisposed to their primal fears. However, as I look back on my own family, I've come to realize that, it's generally where my earliest lack of confidence begins to form... meaning that, like most people, I'm normal.

Saturn Devouring His Son


Beethoven's 7th Symphony: This story has a happy ending. I remember the face of Beethoven from when I was very young. While his face didn't scare me as much as the inside of the Sgt. Pepper Album, his odd scowl always made me feel wary and I never really liked that we had a statue of him in the house. On top of the piano, we had a bust of Beethoven which I originally thought was a bust of my father until my mother assured me it was not. But my father took to Beethoven because a) he loved music and b) I think he sympathized with the musician after living within the domain of a relatively strict father. When researching Saturn Devouring His Son, I learned that Goya painted it within the last years of his life along with thirteen other paintings collectively referred to as The Black Paintings. Towards the end of his years, Goya was going deaf and had seen the atrocities of war: a phenomenon which was much more apparent to previous generations than I had otherwise realized (if you have Netflix, look up Oliver Stone's The Untold History of the United States). Like Goya, my paternal grandfather was no different in having experienced war albeit in the twentieth-century. As such, he came home and was certainly different than he had been before he went over. And while PTSD was not necessarily a diagnosis given out post-WWII, it's general family lore that, it's probably what he suffered from atop an already heightened sense of Jewish neuroses. And, as stated before, all that energy is difficult to handle and has to go somewhere. For my grandfather, it's likely that most of his nervousness sublimated itself into his children's education... pushing my father into med. school and reportedly having some epic rows with my uncle when he refused to finish college. And, along the way, there were probably pressures to achieve in music or any other warranted pursuits. While this certainly doesn't account for any horror story of familial life, I think my father was affected by such a drive to achieve... my uncle recounting that he came home crying over a B+... in sixth-grade. And so my father said that he would often spend hours in his room listening to Beethoven's 7th, relating a bit to its somewhat foreboding mood ultimately taking solace in Beethoven's message to, "never give up." I like to workout to the song.

Beethoven's 7th, 2nd Movement

 Requiem in D Minor: At this point, having shared a bit about my family, it's likely evident where we stand on the spectrum of neurotic behavior... and we've all found a way to help ourselves navigate this big and sometimes terrifying world. And, as such, I've come to rely on my uncle for advice when the going gets tough. In general, he's a little less intense than my father... leading me refer to him as, "my dad, version 2.0." And, of course, most kids are to 2.0 version of their parents to place things in horrifically banal context. If we're lucky, we find and stick with the people who help balance our personality traits or can shine the light on the darker parts of ourselves so they can eventually heal. For my dad, my mom was the great foil to his high strung personality and, as mixture of the two, my taste in music is not as intense. While my father loved Beethoven, I prefer Bach's baroque-ness if I'm even listening to classical music at all... which I'm generally not. But I do like Mozart's Requiem. It's basically a less-scary version of Beethoven's 7th. Enjoy! 

Das Requiem

In its greatest form, art can tell us something about ourselves. For myself, at first glance, my choice in art showed me something I didn't like and some things I likely need to work on. But as I analyzed the art, it showed me my interests in the mind and psychology and sometimes provides refuge for when I'm feeling overwhelmed. Because, when we think we might be different or odd, the greatest art shows us that we're not alone.  

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