Pretty dark: Star kicking.

mihoko-ogakiI learned a new term today, thanks to my favorite nighttime distraction, The Myths and Legends podcast, and I’m excited to share it with everyone (even though I suspect few people will want to hear it). Our history lesson of the week is the phrase “star kicking.” Though it sounds beautiful, it’s actually what famed Hungarian torturer, sadist, and murder Countess Elizabeth Bathory did to people she disliked. Well, it’s one of the many things that twisted bitch did—she also drained people of their blood, ate peasant girls, and murdered hundreds of people. (She preferred adolescent girls, because, let’s be real guys, even women hate women! That’s the real poison of the patriarchy.) But anyway, she also liked to stick pieces of parchment between her victims toes and light them on fire. They would then kick and flail in attempts to dislodge the flaming pieces of paper and animal skin. Thus: Star kicking.

Horrible, right? It sounds so pretty. Star kicking. It has a real rhythm to the syllables, a real swing to its iambic feet, those insolent i’s and careless k’s. But damn, Bathory was messed up.

The more you know, right?

Image: Sculpture by Mihoko Ogaki, part of an ongoing series of installations called “Milky Ways.”

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Women & Art: We’ve got a long, long way to go.

louise_mamanHere’s a statistic that should make your blood boil: on average, only 5% of the pieces in permanent collections of museums around the globe were created by women. 95% of the art that has been purchased by museums—the very institutions that safeguard our culture—was created by men. While women earn half of the MFAs granted in the US, only a quarter of solo exhibitions in New York galleries feature women. 

We’re over half the residents of the planet earth, but when it comes to culture, we’re still woefully underrepresented, undervalued, and underpaid.

I’m researching a piece right now about gender inequality in the gallery world. While part of me is overjoyed to be doing this kind of work, to be writing about a subject that’s so important to me, there’s another part of me that is just angry. Filled with rage at the injustice of it all.

A recent study from Lehigh University found that “artistic careers are subject to the same social forces that drive gender wage gap in other fields. ‘Though one might expect that the flexible nature of many artistic careers—well as research indicating that artists tend to possess more liberal ideologies than other professionals—would result in greater gender pay equity, our research shows that the difference between the incomes of female and male artists are about the same as you’d find in other fields,’” explains study co-author Danielle Lindemann. Not only is there a significant pay gap for women working in the arts, but there is also a “fatherhood premium” and a “marriage premium” that applies to men only. While women’s pay takes a plunge when they have children, men’s paychecks get a nice little bump. Fortunately, in the arts, women don’t experience the same motherhood penalty (but men do still receive a fatherhood premium).

Does this piss you off? It should. Whether you’re male, female, or don’t ascribe to gender binaries, this should really make you mad. Because it means we still don’t value women’s work. As a society, we place a higher value on art produced by men. Their work goes for far more at auction. Male museum directors and curators make more money than their female counterparts. Male writers are paid more, and their books sell more copies. It’s true across the board.

For years, I’ve been seeking to address this in small, quiet ways. I buy books written by women. Much of the art that hangs in my house was painted or photographed by women. I buy albums by female artists, rather than just listening for free on Spotify. When I want to read a great new book by a talented female author, I buy it. I get Melville from the library, but I pay full price for Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Zadie Smith, Emily St. John Mandel, and Eleanor Catton.

I believe in voting with my dollars. I also try, in this small, tiny, personal corner of the internet, to highlight female artists as often as I can. While men make great work, too, they don’t need my help. Not when their work comprises 92% of lots for sale at New York evening auctions. Not when there are men like Georg Baselitz arguing that “women don’t paint very well” in well-respected places like The Guardian.

Baselitz says, “the market does not lie.” But money doesn’t equal talent. We should all know that by now.

I’ll end this rant before I get too wound up and decide to quit working as a female writer and start selling my eggs instead (they’re worth more than my words, apparently). But I want to say this: If this subject is something you care about, you need to start voting with your dollars. Spend money on women artists. Pay women writers. Support women in the arts, because we still need it.

Image: Maman by Louise Bourgeois. This piece, which sold for $25 million, was the only one to make the top 100 lots sold at auction in 2015. All 99 other top-selling pieces were by men.

Painted ladies by Jessica Harrison.

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I love tattoos. I know they’re not for everyone, but I like ink on skin. I like the strange burning tingle of the needle. I like the ritualistic aspect of the tattoo parlor. I like the way my skin responds, raised at first, textured as it heals, eventually relaxing into a smooth surface, newly pattered, altered.

Part of the reason I love tattoos is because they afford a certain amount of control. Our bodies are so frequently outside our control. They get sick. They betray us when we’re anxious or scared, running on adrenaline, heart jumping, head spinning. Have you ever fainted? There’s nothing quite like the sense of slow descent, the edges of vision turning black, the unwilling fall into unconsciousness.

But I can control my tattoos. They let me tell the story I want to tell. They also feel like an easy rebellion, a way of saying that my femininity is my own. Traditionally, women weren’t tattooed. Women were delicate flowers. Tattoos were for hard men, criminals, sailors. Now, I can be all three. A woman, a rogue, a wanderer. I can wear it on my skin and broadcast my not-a-freaking-lady status to the world.

1_tattoo_painted_porcelain_sculpture_jessica_harrison8copyI’ve been meaning to blog about Jessica Harrison‘s wild ceramics for a long time, but I couldn’t think of what to say about them, aside from I LOVE IT. She takes a familiar object—those little ceramic figurines—and turns them dark, modern. Some are gruesome, with melted faces and zombie-hands. Others are just tattooed. I love all her work, but I admit my favorite are the painted ladies. Their subversion is more subtle than the Kahlo-like dancer, who holds her bloody heart in her cold, porcelain hands. They’re beautiful, with their big skirts and delicate ink. They’re lovely ladies and bold scoundrels, and I think they’re just great. 

Be the Leslie.

Be Leslie Knope Illustration by Emma MungerIn honor of International Women’s Day, here’s a badass illustration of Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation (quite possibly my favorite TV show of all time) by California artist Emma Munger. This is my new goal: To be the hardest working, most dependable, best writer I can possibly be. To fail sometimes, but to keep at it. To succeed in the end through kindness and sheer determination (and smarts, too. Leslie is whip-smart despite her many malapropisms and general fuck-ups).

Emma Munger is also responsible for a very cool illustration tracking the wanderings of Wolf OR-7—the first wolf seen in California since 1924! Like Leslie Knope, wolves are badass and awesome. And probably feminists. I bet they are.