Bettie Page once said, “I am not indecent, I will not plead guilty to it! You’ll have to charge me with disturbing the peace, too!” This was after she was discovered modeling for fellow photographers in the 50’s while caught unaware by a police officer as she was taking a bathroom break in the bushes. What most of us as artists would consider art, and a study of the human form, was misconstrued by these police and the US government as pornography.
Considering what Ms. Page did for a living in the 50’s, I can understand how in some circles what she did was considered pornography, but the photo sessions she did on the beach and others as well, were merely just a study; a study in black and white of human landscape if you will.
By all means, I am not an exhibitionist, but I am an artist, so coming from the other side of her argument I can understand Ms. Page’s declaration of not being indecent.
Due to my recent status in life, I have had more fire under my rear end to pull my boot straps up and make something of myself. With encouragement and support from my family, boyfriend and friends everyone is not only encouraging me but joining me in the plight to make something of myself with my art, my writing and my life. Even though I love my family, I do not want to be the nerd living in their house until I’m 50. As a starting point in trying to sell my art, I set up a booth at a local flea market.
The very moment I started to set up the booth I felt a little weird. This place is known for it’s antiques, and various other odds and ends. While looking at the other booths, I noticed one featured artwork that looked like a beginner’s attempt at surrealism. The artwork even by my standards was a little off, only because I didn’t understand what they artist was trying to accomplish. However, that is the beauty behind art sometimes, you don’t have to understand it to appreciate it, but for me I like for there to be a point behind it, for it to be fun for the viewer or some form of study to it.
That being said, I was making an attempt to sell some of my art from my college days not only to hopefully make some scratch but also clear some space to make more art. Most of the art featured in my booth are mono prints, human studies, or something I produced for my Senior Art Show for Southwest Missouri State University. The biggest piece is four feet by four feet and features art in Roy Lichtenstein’s style of a woman sitting on her brain. There is a meaning behind this piece, but at first glance, for those who don’t know me and are viewing it for the first time, will look at it and think there is something terribly wrong and warped with the artist behind this piece. Needless to say, when I walked in with this piece I flipped it around so the clerks couldn’t see it and immediately kick me out.
As I was setting up the booth, I had people wanting me to draw portraits of them and their family, a couple who wouldn’t normally get to experience art in a raw form and appreciated what they saw. I considered that a huge compliment, not because of the attention they were giving me, but because I was exposing them to something they would normally not get to experience, and they saw it truly for what it was and weren’t frightened by any of the images they saw. They were the type of people who would love to have access to something like this, but probably couldn’t afford to otherwise and were getting to see it free just for browsing in a local flea market. That aside, they got to talk to the artist behind the work. How many times can you say you’ve done that in a museum?
As the hours went on I was bringing in more pieces to sell, quite a few of them being studies of a fellow classmate in her swim suit, one drawing of a nude man sitting on a stool with his back turned toward the viewer so nothing was showing, and some pin-up art I had done.
The first week went on with no contact from the flea market. I figured so far so good. Then one evening when I was at work I checked my E-mail from my phone on lunch break to find; I had three pieces kicked out of the booth. The owners running the flea market felt they weren’t “appropriate” for showing in the booth. It hit me, this could be a very good thing or a slight controversial blip on my radar. It wouldn’t be the first time I did something kind of naughty only to ask forgiveness later.
In high school I used to sometimes draw cartoons for the school paper, they weren’t the best but they were there to help illustrate a point I was making with an article. One time I did a political comic about how there was a bigger punishment for a public display of affection in the hallways than there was for getting into a fight. I said, “Which would you rather see?” with the first frame of a girl hugging a male student and the second frame with the same girl punching the male student. The story got out and there were a handful of students starting to protest the detention scandal (if you want to call it that) around the flagpole outside of our school; so we had to pull the cartoon from the paper.
I took that on the chin, so a few days later after my aggravation settled from having three pieces kicked out of the flea market, I took that on the chin too. I talked about it to my friends at work and one commented saying, “Well you obviously must be doing something right?!”
Like Bettie Page, I do not consider myself indecent, I do everything with a level of taste and humor. My aim is not to offend people, but open their minds to thinking differently about art and the world within which we live. Because I have drawn many people, most of them from different lifestyles and backgrounds, I do not see nudity as something to be ashamed of as long as its tasteful and in the form of art. This doesn’t mean I think its okay to run down the streets naked, but I was more than a little surprised when my pieces were taken down.
I understand the owners of the flea market have a certain clientele, and I should have taken that into consideration when setting up shop there. That was my fault, and I thank them for allowing me to have the pieces up until someone probably complained; the owners took a chance on me and for that I am grateful. Somehow I thought people wouldn’t be offended by a bare bottom, or a heavier set woman’s beautiful back; unfortunately I was wrong, but hopefully I opened some minds in the process.
What have you done in the past that was accidentally misconstrued? What have you naively done that was controversial unbeknownst to you, until someone pointed out the problem with what you were doing?