One of my daughter’s friends recently remarked about my daily attire, “Jen, you’re like a pre-schooler. You don’t care what you wear!” It’s true…I’m sure I’m lowering my neighborhood’s property values by wearing 20+ year-old sweats and paint-stained t-shirts. On most days I get paint, food, dog slobber and dirt on me, so what’s the point? Of course there are times I put more effort into my appearance out of respect for the other humans who must come in contact with me or to present an image consistent with my art. But in general, my identity is not tied to how I look. I travel lightly. I have Art to thank for this freedom. Because of my years of making art, I have had reason to shut out the world for a time, reflect on what I believe, put those beliefs into tangible form, and inspire others. My creative path has led me to a place where my identity is tied to the content I want to leave behind, not in how I look.
As you might imagine, my version of fashion sense is a mysterious phenomenon to my teenage daughter and her girl friends. In their newly-forming world view, all questions of identity must be solved by editing one’s appearance. Every day I am confronted with the effects of a world less kind to women first-hand when these otherwise intelligent and beautiful girls are overheard questioning whether or not they need plastic surgery, complain that they’re too fat, refrain from eating in front of boys and spend every cent they have on beauty supplies in hopes of making themselves acceptable. They lack confidence in trying something new, pre-determining that others already do it better. Even in a home like ours where we are conscious of this negative mindset, it’s a hard beast to tame. In the prime teen age of identity development, it’s a daily battle.
I paint subjects of home and family in in hopes of re-addressing our shunned “feminine” qualities in some small way. I believe the things like laundry, daily cooking and nurturing children normally labeled as “women’s work” should be elevated to the place of highest honor, no matter which gender does them. They are the ultimate Fine Art, with a capital F and A. Why? Because they provide the connection that keeps our girls from becoming less than they should be. Because it’s hard for daughters to pursue their own dreams if they valued the work their mothers or grandmothers did in raising them as less important than their father’s paycheck. It’s hard to change the world when you don’t feel you’re pretty enough to walk out the door. These are the lies that stop up our girls, and these are the conversations I hope to facilitate through my art.
There is so much in mainstream life that tries to strip away a girl’s sense of self. We have to choose daily to step out and follow a different path, a more life-giving one where we tell our own stories. Where are you meant to go? There are better roads to be found.
PS: I was inspired to write this blog after viewing MissRepresentation, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom about the messages girls inherit from our media culture. Check it out if you relate to what I’ve written.
PPS: Would you like to purchase a print of my Creative Path art? Check my Etsy store!
PPPS: No one ever questions my husband’s fashion sense and his sweats are older than mine.