Friday, May 09, 2008

Is a Cigar Ever Really a Cigar?

A Buddha in Your Garden, mixed media on canvas, 18" x 36" COLLECTED
Original Finger Painting

My latest Original Finger Painting, A Buddha in Your Garden, has struck a chord with some of you and you've shared what you've seen in this image.

Of course, being a symbolist, I wasn't surprised that some people saw a yoni and lingam in this work.

Yoni and LingamFor those unfamiliar with what a yoni and lingam is, they are ancient Hindu wombic and phallic symbols, often created from stone. The yoni looks like the moon gate in my painting--a circle with an opening--and the lingam, usually a smooth, long, and rounded at both ends, is placed in the center of the circle (like the Buddha statue). Although both pieces can be admired separately, they are often joined and offered devotions of flowers, incense, etc.

What I like about symbols like these is that they can be taken on many levels, the most obvious being physical (fertility) and spiritual (creative). Like the yab yum Tibetan Buddhist images of Buddhas (representing compassion) engaged in intercourse with their consorts (representing wisdom), the joining of two qualities is beautifully expressed through one of the most basic and powerful drives we experience as humans.

You'll find similar sexual imagery in the Jewish Kabbalah, the recounting of ecstatic experiences from Christian saints, and in essentially all religious scriptures; it's unavoidable and the obvious choice when expressing a desire to be one with the ultimate.

This is something that I've been expressing for a long time through my art--not just that "sex is okay" but that our path to the spiritual--or towards secular self-knowledge--involves being fully in our flesh.

It seems silly to ignore sex and to sequester our physicality when it's beautiful. Divine, even. This is a part of us to celebrate, especially in art.

To that end, I've recently unrestricted my images in my gallery, which is hosted by Flickr. The powers-that-be there had already deemed my content safe, but I felt more caution was necessary. However, I've decided to make my stance, and it's political, too.

I rated my work based on their guideline, "Would you show this picture to a child, your mother, or a person sitting next to you on the bus?" It seemed to make sense at first, but really, does this apply to images designed to be artistic? Would I cover the eyes of children in front of Michelangelo's statue of David?

There are many double-standards in society to deal with, too, particularly in America. We can show a man's bare chest, but not a woman's (people even get squeamish with breastfeeding). A man and a woman kissing is alright, but not two men or two women (even if it's depicted in The Bible). How will these things ever change unless we normalize it?

Sure, there are those that never want to see a same-sex couple kissing, or let their children see such a thing, and I'm sure there were people who thought interracial relationships were an abomination, too.

How people feel about things changes, and I don't want to shrink from one of my responsibilities as an artist to facilitate and even speed on that change if it makes for a finer world.

Invite Beauty,

I.


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