Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pain? Suffering? SUCCESS!

"Dad, we learned about political parties today, and I think I am a Democrat."

-Once around age 13 and 8th grade, being at the time a student of US government, I thoughtfully approached my dad at work on his computer to make the above proclamation. I had some trepidation about making this statement, of course. I vaguely understood at the time that my dad was a Republican, and a persistent one at that. I remember he took his hands off the keyboard, turned to face me, and said kindly, "That's ok, Linds, your grandpa is a Democrat, too." Then he cocked his head in that psychoanalytical, battle-ready way he has (my siblings all know exactly what I'm talking about!) and asked, a little more belligerently, "So what about them makes you want to be one?" I bravely announced that we had learned in class that Democrats think it's important to help the people who are in need, and that their leaders, like FDR, establish programs to help feed and clothe them, and THAT, I thought, that sounded like the humane way to go. I just felt so bad for those who didn't have any food and blankies or mommies to love them.

And that's when dad wound up and began his speech: "Well, yes, Democrats DO make those kinds of programs, but you know, Republicans believe ___________ and ___________. Don't you think those sound like better ways to help?" Haha, I can't remember the examples he selected, but I will always remember that moment as the beginning of my foray into the Republican and conservative schools of thought, which I have since adopted as my own (insert the sound of my dad cheering [here]). I guess I'm a poster child for the adage, "If you're not liberal when you're young you have no heart, and if you're not conservative when you're old, you have no brain."

I share that experience with you because sometimes I still feel a little bit different than a lot of my conservative friends. I mean, my core-- my childhood tabula rasa-- was slightly tinged blue, can you believe it?? The little Democrat on my shoulder appears only at one particular moment anymore: when I see a failure by some Reps to recognize and allow for the plight and/or needs of those around them with empathy. I hate listening to politicians use harsh stereotypes and loud language against "enemies," and I feel like this diverse of a nation should and always has been a land of compromise, first and foremost (insert sound of my dad chomping at the bit to interject [here]). Yes, libs criticize and stereotype, too (Paul Krugman... boo.). Not an excuse. And I'm ending this post's political nuances right there, because believe it or not, I actually came here to write about ART.

Painful art!

The kind of art that asks you to experience the feelings of another that are not pleasant and pastel-y, but perhaps just as poignant and important. Believe it or not, you already know and love works of this kind. Remember this big guy from my first foray into the blogosphere? YOU ALL LOVED HIM AND YOU KNOW IT!

On the back burner of my mind I'm currently brewing a nerdy conference paper submission about "The Poetics of Pain" (the conference's choice of title and subject, not mine). My new graduate course about American mural art has me thinking about the way that "The Powers That Be," especially governments, show up in the art and literature that express pain. I'm currently seeking suggestions of literary works that do the subject of pain justice- all I've got so far are Dostoevsky and Kafka. Anyone got better ideas? I'm reading this dry, boring book about the art in the US Capitol Rotunda, and I swear, after each paragraph detailing the who and what of each frieze and mural, the author compulsively adds in a line about how the artworks' subliminal message is a steady, propogandistic demonization of the Indians, courtesy of an 1820's-era federal government bent on procuring support and enthusiasm for the intrepid settlement of the West. Sigh. Politics. And pain.

My as-yet cloudy thesis will state that pictures of pain used to be utilized by the powers that be for their own purposes. The Mayan temple pavilions at Chichen-Itza feature carvings of dozens of splayed sacrificial human bodies spouting blood. Ow. For example, the chipper fan-like shape in the middle of this photo is, in fact, the graphic illustration of a sacrificial, ceremonial decapitation for some calendar event by the religious and national leaders of the temple. Ah learning about these carvings in my Mesoamerican art class at BYU felt so thrillingly rated PG-13 it was AWESOME! No doubt the government wanted the Mayans to get jazzed about sacrificial pain, too. Kept them in line.

To your right is my example of pain from the powers-that-were in Colmar, Germany, in 1515, but it was apparently used not to terrorize viewers, but to help them. The owners of this village chose to place what my professor deems the world's most painful picture, The Crucifixion, by Matthias Grunewald, in their hospital for the poor and the plague-besieged. This altarpiece would have been opened up to the bedridden occupants' view only on feast days. My professor thought that this was a caring, empathetic gesture on the part of Grunewald and his patrons. The visual reminder of the Savior's suffering (via greenish skin, twisted limbs, and emaciated body) would have hopefully been something the poor plague-suffers could have identified with. Well I don't know about that; if I were bed-ridden, the last thing I'd want to contemplate in the world would be this poor Savior right here. But hey, I've never had the plague, so I don't know. Misery does love company, they tell me.

Around the twentieth century, successful images of pain start to be used by people against the powers that be. Politicized images urging action against government and leadership are abundant in our culture. Francis Bacon's terrifying pictures of the pope, anyone? Picasso's Guernica? Martha Rosler's anti-Vietnam collages? The two Obama pictures in my last post? My pieces-de-la-resistance in this essay I'm brewing will be analysis of two contemporary works that are pretty much disgusting, and it's Sunday and you're probably getting sad from reading all these macabre ideas so I'll stop there and keep it to myself. They're really juicy, though. Poetics of Pain. Ew. I promise I'm not a crazy person, but it is a topic I haven't ever thought about in art history before, and to my surprise, a lot of good art examples popped into my mind as I contemplated ways to illustrate and elaborate pain.

Movie quote!
-"What do you think about leaping off a building?"
"I don't think about leaping off buildings. I try to think of nice things"
-"Everyone thinks about leaping off--"
" Well I CERTAINLY do not think about leaping off a building."
-"I don't know how to kill Harold Crick. That's why they've sent you." :)


MOM said...

Wow. Heavy duty, man. Too much to get my head around, but interesting to try and follow you getting yours around it! haha!

And the film?...easy. "Stranger than Fiction". Love Harold Crick.

ynny said...

I told you this one wasn't my best. You were warned.... maybe now that lifeguarding is OVER! I'll get better.

Lindsey's dad said...

Wadda ya talking about, this is the best post yet. Your dad is brilliant... Not as brilliant as you, but he may get there yet.

Jayci said...

harold crick... is that the one with umm.. will ferrell and dustin hoffman? oh crap what's the movie?? I'm going to cheat. YES! STRANGER THAN FICTION! Thank you Sis. Christensen!

I'm going to say this again... you write SO WELL, Lindsey! If you don't get an A on every paper you ever right, then I'm at a loss of... whatever I'm losing at the moment.

PAINful art imagines... one that came to mind was "The Gates of Hell" - They are in Philadelphia behind The Great Thinker. They are on the Art Museum... I can't remember the name. I remember when I saw them I was so afraid of that 'artwork'/'sculpture' thing that I was in pain. It was TERRIFYING. Have you seen them? have you learned about that 'piece of work'? I bet you have. And I'd love to hear your take on it.

Sister Christensen - thanks for leaving such a sweet comment on my blog like you did the other day. :) You have always been so sweet, and I think you and your family are the greatest! And you all love art... what's more fun than that?! ha ha

Raunee said...

I would love to see a picture of Christ if I was ill and in the hospital, just not that one! You are so smart Lindsay, and I love reading your thoughts!