I’m sitting in a room with 30 other almost entirely white women and 1 white guy, and we are supposed to be discussing the Feminist Aesthetic vs feminine aesthetic and if such a thing as gendered aesthetic even exists. Unfortunately, before we can even broach that topic we smash up against a Homeland Security-reinforced wall that attempts to protect this relic of an idea–“what is art?”
The above image is shown and the majority of the room, who are all quite young and not particularly well exposed to “art”(or rather seem to think they are not well exposed) are eager to bob their heads if only the teacher, oh mighty divulger of great wisdom, will declare “This is art.” But of course, in all her budding sageness she doesn’t say that. She leaves it to us to hash it out.
A white woman, who is a returning student and trained in the rhetoric of “Fine Art”— like me– speaks up and declares “It is not art.” Her argument has to do with sublimity and emotional connection, both of which this piece does not evoke. Now, here is why I am awake at this hour pounding away at my keyboard, because I did not in that exact moment throw this woman to the floor and rip out her tongue. I did hold my tongue because my thoughts were not well formulated and I did not want to appear to attack her; when really what I wanted to attack was that bloated misindoctrinated concept of what Art is.
So here is my feeble deconstruction. Firstly the colors are absolutely garish which is a not-so-funny irony considering that is The States’ flag—the one symbol that represents All of us, dear American readers, whether you like it or not. Yet its bold colors make it easily rejectable as Art. You see here below, in Washington Crossing the Delaware, we have an example of how the flag is used In Art, not burned or bloody or defiled in any other way. See, the flag has a voluminous drapy quality, the symbol is present, but not so big. And the colors are artfully muted, not their garish original.
Back to the quilt. You didn’t notice that Bleeding Flag is a quilt? Well, your brain probably did and it did tell you something. I propose that the viewer’s eye, which if it has had even a minimal exposure to quilts, will at lease subliminally recognize that this is a quilt. “Quilt” is an immediate signifier of “craft” and “craft” is an immediate disqualifier for Art. We have all been taught that.
Finally let’s talk about the black elephant in the room. There are people of color on that piece and people of color have well reserved positions in Art. Gosh, I’m not even sure if people of color are allowed to represent themselves in Art. Oh they are? Well then why isn’t this Art? Other than the garish flag and the crafty medium? Do you get the subliminal pun-crafty/witchy/womanly? Sigh.
When I first, not so eloquently, thought “her face is under the stars” I had that exact emotional and sublime connection that is the eminent qualifier of Art—All of our faces are under the stars. Maybe that is too universal and therefore arguably not Art. Note her face is partialy obscured by the stars of the American flag–the Symbols of our Unification. Notice she is smiling? And one of the kids too? What does that mean? Shouldn’t she look downtrodden? Hmm.
My sister says this artist’s message is “overtly political” and as the guy who runs that museum said, political is not Art. Was that a Goya behind him? Or a Picasso? Anyway, now sometimes African American’s struggles are depicted in High Art, of course I just can’t think of any right at this second as I have recently burned into my mind’s eye the images of Blacks in Orientalists’ paintings. And those block-cut Americana-type things aren’t Art, are they? But why is this piece overtly politically and not Art?
Not just the flag is bleeding. The woman, her identity obscured by our supposed unification, seems to be lactating blood while her young children clutch at her skirt. Her life source is pouring out of her from the orifices that should be producing sweet cream.
Lactation is frequently used in Art. Used as in ab-used to show some skin. In this same series we viewed tonight, I chuckled at Cindy Sherman’s lactating prosthetic breast, awkwardly positioned nearly in her armpit. Sherman is well cemented as a producer of Art, even though just a few years ago photography was a very questionable choice of medium, but I digress. If this woman were painted with her top torn open, exposed to The Gaze, and the lactation of blood more subtlety applied, perhaps with just a few droplets escaping her bulging (heavy, sighing, voluptuous) breast—then would that be Art?
No. This is Art. Now go burn some books that teach otherwise. And google Faith Ringgold. I apologize if my interpretation is really, really bad and you should give me a wee little kick if it is.