Slow Art & "A Woman's Place"
and how we blow the load-bearing walls out of it
Lately I’ve found myself pondering about “a woman’s place” in the art world, as I've recently stumbled across a potentially disturbing correlation between the length of time it takes to complete art practices that are traditionally completed by women than men - spoiler alert: the difference is stark. Early this year I decided to go back to school for comics in journalism at the School of Visual Art in NYC. It’s a challenging program because I’m at constant odds with the length of time it takes to complete my homework assignments (one page comics, color optional). Drawing comics is more molecular and modular of a build than even puppetry, at least with that the materials you use for construction determines the avenue it will operate within, the choice of fabrication drives the end result. Comics is very Carl Sagan in that way, he says
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
I can attest from first hand experience, it doesn’t matter if you’re illustrating in full color or blank line only, it takes time - few, if any, shortcuts exist and there’s no speeding up the process. Now there’s “you can’t rush art” and “omg to love doing this thing means you’re going to sacrifice a large chunk of your life to sitting alone in a room making a thing.” I had to understand where the line was between the two when I had to re-evaluate my expectation of when I would be finished writing my first, and only, feature-length play. Why will it be my only? Because I enjoy living my liiife, I enjoy spending time with my husband and I reeeally like hiking and being outdoors taking photos. Those activities don’t overlap with sitting alone in a room for hours on end. It’s one or the other. This isn’t to say slow art like writing essays or plays and drawing comics don’t bring me happiness, they do, but I love them knowing I’m playing the long game, I’ma lifer.
It wasn’t until very recently when I started playing music more regularly that I realized the chart of gratification over time spent making art doesn’t always have to put you into the quadrant of questionable gratification X a long ass time. With music I am finding instant gratification in an extremely short period of time. In the hours it would take me to write, storyboard and illustrate a comic from 0-100%, I can figure out the basics to a whole new electronic instrument. Leaning into the math of compositions is making my brain feel like it’s freebasing pop rocks and I LOVE IT!! Cross-pollinating my vocabulary of film making into sequencing beats is the dopest shit ever. The best part is, it’s fast.
You know what’s not fast? Embroidery, quilting, watercolors (don’t get me started), crocheting, needlepoint, cross-stitch, sewing, paper cutting, knitting, needlefelting - all of the art making practices historically dominated by women. Am I contesting the vast benefits from slowing down and spending hours working on a soothing activity? Of course not! Knit a thousand scarfs! Follow your bliss and get into pointillism! Where my epiphany came from is the thought that all these slow art making practices could be rooted in keeping a woman busy and out of the way, essentially - enjoyable activities that masquerade as ways to keep a woman in her place. Also important to note that regardless of whether I’m correct or not, nothing detracts / deludes / diminishes the beauty of these types of art or their importance in art history and community. I love many of the art practices I named above, will continue to engage with them throughout my life and enjoy meeting people who also enjoy slow art practices. But I cannot for the life of me think of one past time that is predominantly enjoyed by men that requires them to sit quietly for hours resulting in a finished product that won’t serve a utilitarian purpose, such as woodworking, grilling, fishing, ect.
I suppose what’s burning my biscuits about fast VS slow art is this - let’s say music is tteokbokki, a heap of perfectly plump, chewy rick cakes swimming in a pungent, sweet, sticky bath of spicy Korean sauce. So imagine half the world’s population grows up being told only men make tteokbokki from scratch, because making it yourself is the best way for the flavors you like to take center stage. As teens, young men hang out and teach each other how to make tteokbokki and then go home to practice at home, so that the next time they get together they’re able to make even better tteokbokki than they did before. Some men’s tteokbokki is so tasty, people are like “dude, you’re so good! You should open up a tteokbokki restaurant, so everyone can enjoy it!” Generation after generation you see millions of male-owned and operated tteokbokki joints pop-up everywhere, you as a woman who ALSO ENJOYS TTEOKBOKKI JUST AS MUCH AS ANY DUDE is like, OK well I really love tteokbokki but I don’t see any other women cooking it so I guess I’ll just continue to buy it made my dudes since that’s mostly what I can find. Sure, every few years there’s a woman-fronted spot that does alright, but in the back of house, from the kitchen crew to the investors signing checks, everyone is a dude. Either that, or the women chefs who do manage to open up a place of their own aren’t taken as seriously as their male counterparts, no matter how dope their food is, no matter their talent or expertise. So there we have it, the entirety of human history and only half the population gets to cook tteokbokki, yet everyone has to eat it. Aren’t you tired of that? I am! I am OVER IT. No mas, pinche wey!
Last week Gloria Steinem spoke at my work (I know, right?) and she was asked what is a definitive, quantifiable way she feels the women’s liberation movement has indeed moved the needle on gender equality, and one of her responses is that more women are making music now, which wasn’t always the case. It blew my mind to think about living a life only incubated by songs sung by men, examining only their lived experiences - mostly trying to woo or avenge people on my end of the gender spectrum. How do men own 92% of the market share on one of the best parts of life? (Ugh, the unpacking I could do to that statement.) This makes me think of the wives, lovers and sisters of classical music prodigies who transcribed all their music for them, painstakingly note by note; where are those women’s grand symphonies? Hearing Gloria say that was a turning point for me artistically and now I have some ideas how to get more women playing instruments that I can’t wait to share over the next few months.
Girls of all ages: no one says you have to write Rhapsody in Blue Dos, you just have to start making music so we’re not left listening to dudes in youth medium T-shirts singing about how a good woman finally got the nerve to leave his emotionally unavailable ass. Be the disruption you want to see in the world.
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