Recently I received an email from a student at the college where my nudes are on display. For his Design Class, he was assigned the task of writing a paper on one of the show’s pieces and chose my “On Ship” as his subject matter. He had a few questions for me: where did I make my piece (in my living room), is it a recent piece (yes, made for the show) and what was my intent…. Uh oh…. What was my intent? Why did I chose to depict a naked sailor on a WWII era ship in the middle of the ocean surrounded by a convoy, all done in blacks and whites, except for the American flag and the swirling ocean? Yikes!! Is this a Freudian question? Do I have to have an answer?
I thought carefully before responding to Adam. I tend to not think very deeply about what draws me to a subject matter; when the inspiration knocks, I invite it in with open arms. But because I am not a trained artist, I desperately did not want to offend this college student with my lack of conscious effort. I wrote back that I read about the show in an open calls for artists and was intrigued to try my hand at a nude figure. My initial thought on the subject was that through the years, women have had more than their fair share of attention in this regard and I wanted to show a nude male. In searching public domain figures, I found this naked sailor almost immediately. Something intrigued me about his smile and I started to think of where I should put him. As at the beginning of every idea I have for an art piece, I talked with my husband. He suggested on board a ship and *POW* — the image I ended up with is the one that popped into my head at that moment. As to why I chose that image and in the setting I placed him in, I don’t know. What I wrote to Adam was this….
“I like the idea of art for art’s sake. I think it is the obligation of the viewer to take from the piece what they will. After all, you know nothing about me. I am married to a former Marine who served overseas and on board ship. I am the granddaughter of a Merchant Marine who traversed the Pacific during WWII. These are the reasons I was probably drawn to portraying this sailor — but how could you know that? What is important (to me, at least) is that you liked the piece — something about it drew you to it. Any further interpretation of it lies with you”.
I was hoping that this explanation did not come across as a cop-out. It wasn’t. I wrote what a wrote with a very good friend in mind. This summer, Lisa drove Carmen and myself into NYC to attend the opening of the show for my ‘Michelle: The First Lady‘ . At the beginning of a tour of galleries, while everyone was standing around discussing the pieces on display, Lisa turned to me and said “Art makes me feel stupid”. Lisa is one of the smartest people I know. She holds a master’s degree and is the Director of Clinical Services in South Orange NJ for Children’s Aid and Family Services. She is a deep thinker, but art makes her feel dumb. And I know what she means. I believe art shouldn’t be something you need to study to simply appreciate. I am not saying that the study of art is unnecessary – techniques, history, movements — understanding these things is as important as understanding human history. Art and man’s need to express himself go hand in hand, after all. But I do like art for art’s sake. And if it speaks to you, makes you smile, if it holds a message for you — then that’s the art for me.
Adam wrote back (it was weeks later and I was really afraid I had offended him – but Terry reminded me I was dealing with a college student ). He thanked me for my reply and said “It is finals week and I’m totally delirious. I’ll send you a copy of my highly complimentary report as soon I’m finished with it. Thanks again for submitting your picture. It made me truly happy”. My piece spoke to someone and made them happy. What more could I ask for?