Thursday, June 29, 2006

I would like to shield you and surround you with softness in a place where you feel safe to think.

I'm being like the kid in "Goodbye, Columbus" by Philip Roth who visits the public library again and again to look at a book of reproductions of paintings done by Paul Gauguin in Tahiti.

I'm being like that kid about a book I found at the library called "A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in Boston 1870-1940." I keep looking and looking at the book even more focused than the kid. He's looking at lots of paintings. I'm basically looking at one.

Looking at the Gauguin book clears makes the kid happy, but "Goodbye, Columbus" doesn't get into why that might be.

One possible reason is that it's the early nineteen fifties in the US. The kid is black. Media images of people who aren't white are really rare. So he goes and gets some to put in his head. Then he goes and gets them again. Also, of course, there are many women with fully visible breasts, interesting to all mammals, and especially interesting to a kid running toward puberty.

The "Studio of HerOwn" book includes "Woman in a Fur Hat," a picture of this woman who looks smart. She looks like she thinks. She looks like she routinely thinks about things in general. She looks like she thinks about what she wants to think about in her own style of thinking.

I keep looking at her. I look at her one day and another day. That's not enough. I've got to look at her again.

To play fair I must mention that she has brown hair and brown eyes. She is non-light. I am light. She is a non-blonde, and she, I blush to admit, is my type.

I can intellectually understand that women who are light and also look smart are, in theory, attractive. (How do you spell Gwenyth Partrow?) But for me to feel attraction, blonde isn't it. Blonde is what I saw in the mirror for a long time (naturally) until my body decided it was time for light brown. Blonde I've seen.

But it isn't mainly the non-blonde thing. That just takes me out of boredom. It's that she looks smart. That wakes me up and makes me want to look again.

I look at her, and she looks smart. I'm hungry for a public image of a woman who looks like she thinks.

"Woman in a Fur Hat" is 1915 picture by Gretchen Rogers who lived to 1937.

Gretchen Rogers didn't paint for many years in the last part of her life. This book doesn't know why. I don't like that she stopped painting.

Images of smart women. Images of smart women. I mean, they are there, those images, but not very there. It's like we've had to fight so hard to somewhat reduce the cultural space in which women are being visibly, sexually demeaned--we have reduced that space in some way;in some ways it's increased--that it would be too wild to think of more women who look like us including being brilliant.

There are more images of women who don't look like idiots. That's good. There are images of women in public who look like they think about things other than whiter and bright clothes.

There are not that many images of women who look like they are free range thinkers, that they think all the time about what they want to think about. It's progress that more public images of women don't look out and out stupid. But that's different than public images of women who look like they think like they breathe, like they love. That thinking and breathing and loving are all daily together. How can I breathe and love on a planet where things happen like happenon this planet? Let me think. Let me think for a lifetime and may I'll get a tenth of a clue, which would be a huge step forward.

One time I was utopianly thinking about a women's multiversity which would be designed for various women's various ways of learning. One of the realities would be these women would have spent years before coming to the school feeling completely safe to be who they were.

I now realize I would also want them continually by all kinds of images of all kinds of all kinds of humans, many of them women, being smart. Being smart physically, artly, lots of ways. Doing stuff smartly. Just sitting there thinking, like that's something everyone can do--and see how great it makes their eyes look?

Images of women who are habitual thinkers do not abound, so I keep looking at"Women in a Fur Hat."

You don't have to be me to like "Woman in a Fur Hat" by Gretchen Rogers. It is in color on the cover of "A Studio of Her Own." It's reproduced in black and white inside the book to open a chapter. It's reproduced in a color plate. All good as far as I'm concerned.

It's online--search terms Woman in a Fur Hat Gretchen Rogers.

Gretchen Rogers' subtle gradations don't transfer so very well in the internet reproductions I've seen compared to the book. Maybe somedayI'll see it where it lives, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, one of the great art museums in the world and I've never been there. I know from the book that that museum owns it. I don't know that it's one display at any given moment--have to check that.

The painting won a silver medal at the 1915 world's fair type event that San Francisco had to show it was back from the earthquake of 1906. That means when it was new the painting visited this very city to lend it skillful lesbian blessing to our future efforts.

What is the relationship between the unnamed woman in the portrait and the painter? The book doesn't say.

They are equals.

They know each other. Think a together. Have perhaps talked and talked. That's what I see in the painting.

The woman in the paintinglooks thoughtful even unto the point of being cautious.

She's wearing opposite amount of clothes than the women in Gauguin's Tahiti pictures--lots. Only her face shows skin. (Works for me, as a face woman.) The Tahiti women people are wearing small pieces of thin cloth, appropriate to the climate of Tahiti. The Boston woman is wearing a winter coat appropriate to the climate of Boston. A interesting choice for an indoor sitting, though. Cold studio? Cold world?

I think between the painter and the sitter are charged air molecules. They may be considering what to do about them. Or they might be way past that phase, and the sitter knows the wisdom of th the saying "Love and a cough can't be hid," but she's trying and somewhat succeeding.

The winter coat shields her. The winter coat surrounds her with softness.

Because the woman with the fur hat is in a winter coat she can be and is surrounded by softness. Hat with lots of fur above her face, fur collar around and below her face, fur muff at the bottom of the picture where her hands are hidden.

Because I have the feelings of someone like me living now about fur (the time for fur as clothing has passed) it took me a while to get fur as nature, as her soft and gently uncontrolled nature, fur as her gentleness.

The book says that the painter was into controlled gradations of color, not sharp contrasts, which is mostly true in this painting. Lots of brown and yellow. Lots of brown that seems warm in the reproduction in the book. In pixels the brown jumps from one tone to another and seems a bit glum.

Mostly gradations of subtle color, but on the hat, up there with her mind, in the upper right corner of the picture, a cloth red rose. Big. Open at the center. The opening isn't facing the painter or viewer. It's a bit off to the side.

She could move her head that thinks just a little, and the opening would be facing the painter and the viewer. That might be part of what she's thinking about. She is in the background of what she thinking about, thinking about everything. She's that kind. I look at her again.***

The strongest colors in the picture in tone are the red of the rose atop her head and the white of the collar encircling, Edwardian clothes style, her neck. Is there anything you'd like to say about your passion? So many women have been silenced by the sneer factor, by the death in childbirth factor, by the too exhausted to finish a thought factor.

People can say flowers in a painting are about one opening of a woman. I think flowers can be about all the openings to a women, and there are many, physical and more. Different among different people. If you can learn to be as soft and old and new as a flower, you can learn to be with the softness of a particular woman, of this particular world.

The world is hard. It's mostly rock. Life looks soft to me.

If we learn how to be with softness without harming it, our life is better. We help the life we live in.

Between the bright white throat that could speak and the bright red rose is the shaded thinking face considering what to be open to. Honor those thoughts.

The fur thing is reminder that sometimes people have tried to possess the softness and thoughts that women possess by paralyzing or killing place the softness and thoughts come from.

Be safe in an art making place with somebody you like and don't be all the way open if you don't want to be. Know your passion, your openness and use it as you will, exactly.

Shakespeare called plays comedies if nobody died. Sometimes the endings of the comedies not only were lacking in corpses but also felt like the couple who ended up together might have good times for a long time. Other comedies of Shakespeare it feels like the couples at the end have been consigned to author-approved, legally wed hell.

The comedies that feel good at the end are called by some Shakespeare fans the golden comedies. One of the most pleasant golden comedies is called "As You Like It." Rosalind gets what she wants, who she wants, what and who she wants look workable. The rebels against the ruler who have been having fun hanging out in the woods in an Italian summer (the setting is England, the weather Italian) get what they want before winter comes. Things look good all around.

Women and others have to hassle so much just to exist, it's hard to think about what "as you like it" would be like. It wouldn't just be, I think, the right partner but the right world.

I want women to think deep and broad about what their "as you like" it would be. Some of us have more space to move than women have had in thousands of years. We can make more different space for ourselves and others.

To think about how whole worlds could be different, you need space to think inside this world as it exists. Sometimes women have been so kept out of how the whole world is set up that they settle for little worlds of home and romance and intensify them. This can be hard on the other people involved because it demands too much of them.

To think of how this world might be different there needs to be a lot of space. Space to be open to one's whole self, to be open to many possibilities. We can give each other that space.

A room of one's own, Virginia Woolf's phrase, is for writing. A studio of one's own, the title of the Erica Hirshler book I keep staring out, is for painting.

Many arts and sciences are missing. We don't know what their room would be called. We need room to find what is in us, unnoticed, long absent, longed for by many without them knowing it. We need a room that has no purpose except for finding out what they missing purposes are.

We need to be open to changing the whole world with one thought distinctly our own. The thought itself makes different things possible. How grand to have company to do that work in.

Thinking about being open. Where would that be safe, and with whom?

--What I know about "The Women in the Fur Hat" and its painter, Gretchen Rogers, starting with their very existence, I learned from Erica E. Hirshler's book "A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in Boston 1870-1940." Lots of good stuff, like a portrait of the writer May Sarton in her thirties by Polly Thayer. (Sarton looks like she thinks and is a non-blonde.) It's the kind of book that stays in print for a while and that larger libraries have.