Monday, June 1, 2009

1 June 1955 “The beginning of Self-Analysis, Art, Fashion, and the HOME”

Today the American edition of “Analyze Yourself” by Lowensteld and Gerhard came out. It was a Freudian style book about analyzing and examining your problems from within. I have to say in my current state of opinion on the over evaluation of ‘self’ in our modern world, I think I may agree with the review given in Time magazine that year:
“Every highbrow worth his martini nowadays has enough psychoanalytical know-how to trace his best friend's fallen arches back to infantile stresses and strains or to see homicidal tendencies merely as the mask of a basically shy, reticent character. Now, thanks to the appearance of this book, any lowbrow can also learn to take the first fumbling steps towards a total misunderstanding of human nature.
Readers answer yes or no to a string of loaded questions including: "Are you an illegitimate child?", "Are your phobias strong ones?", "Are you afraid of burglars?", "Do you dislike touching doorknobs?", "Was your father of a generally cheerful nature?" After that, according to their answers, readers are deployed into further quizzes. Some of these are dead-easy to answer, e.g., "Do you feel it is an absolute 'must' to attend funerals?" Others, such as "Do you believe water always finds its own level?"
On the off chance that I will be misunderstood again about modern psychology, I really am rather frustrated that during this time period we were asked to ‘delve into ourselves’. Of course, on the whole, one does need to look inward and digest one’s feelings, but I feel we have become so self-involved, that the need to be introspective for the purpose of growth and change has been replaced with merely being self-thinking for the self.
Much like Art for Art’s sake, what of other’s around you? Should we not think or consider their feelings? What of the viewers of Art? Have they not a role in Art? If Art is merely for Art’s sake, then by all means, make it and hang it in your own house, but don’t expect an audience full of people to be awed by the spectacle of self-centered performance art. I remember hearing once that when Mark Rothko’s worksrothko were hanging in a museum that had to change the guards in that exhibit more often as they found themselves ‘depressed and fatigued more than usual’. I am not saying this cannot be Art, for certainly it is open to one’s man interpretation, but certainly if things have built themselves up by the tearing down of the past, they must realize one day they will be the past. Thus, we are then taught to tear that down and rebuild. Foiled by their own system. Why, for example, can we not revere what is good in the past. Why must we always ‘tear down’?
Perhaps after two major world wars and all the fear and pain, what would one expect, but to want to change and forget the past. Yet, I believe we are far enough away from that pain to rebuild and we had better do it while we still have some living memory of ‘kinder’ times. I know there was racism and hate, but we don’t have to relive that. Yet, if we can get back the pride of knowledge and maturity, the respect for one another and the importance of those around us as MUCH as ourselves, I do think that there could be better world, even if just in our own sphere of friends, family, and community. Pride of work and place and not unfulfilled striving for things that oft times we may not even want but are told are important, such as fame and media attention.
1955 class This is an image I found online of 8th graders today in 1955. I have to say that this image to me does not, as it once would have, expressed only a difference in fashion. Certainly, that exists here, but the fashion and attitude express more pride of self and respect for others. While many now think of the 1950s as forcing a mindless hive mentality upon others, what it really seemed to instill was the idea that others count and to be courteous and kind and look nice for both yourself and others. Again, I don’t want to be always saying, ‘it was better then’ but when I compare that image to this modern 8th grader 8th grader or these very young girls modern young girls It does beg the question, “What do we actually think of ourselves?”
Now, onto the home:
Herman Melville said, “Life's a voyage that's homeward bound.”
Eleanor Roosevelt told us, “Marriage and the up-bringing of children in the home require as well-trained a mind and as well-disciplined a character as any other occupation that might be considered a career.”
I have, of late, talked of a house we own and rent out. It has become a recent problem economically, but prior to that was one emotionally, as I had moved my family into it and my sister (their caretaker) lived on the cottage on the property. It has held both the strings of finance and emotion for the past year.
With the recent vacancy of my tenant, I was forced to go there again and redress things I had thought I could set aside for awhile, but better to use my 1955 ACTION to address.
It really has got me thinking both of the concept of HOME and of the Cape.
As I sometimes do, being somewhat art oriented, I looked to that to help me to discern more.
Leighton-Oyster houses woodblock print
This is a wood engraving from 1953 by Clare Leighton (1901-1989) of Cape Cod. It certainly seems ominous, yet the action of the birds and the disjointed angle of the dockside cottages have a sense of homey for me.
Edward Hopper-Lombards_House Here is Hoppers Lombard House. Though, I don’t believe this particular painting is of the Cape, it does illustrate what I have always loved of Hoppers pastoral works is the dichotomy of tranquil and unrest. Although he is probably better known for his urban paintings such as this one in a cafe in Greenwich nighthawks hopperVillage entitled “nighthawks”. In the first painting, Lombard's House, you are initially struck by an idyllic pastoral view of an old house, white picket fence, the sky and fields beyond. You can almost smell breakfast cooking in the little kitchen ell off the back of the house. But the telephone/power pole. It cuts almost straight through the picture. It gives a slight unrest, or uneasiness: The sublime antiquity encroached upon by the rapid progress of mid-century America. His works really represent an element of the 1950’s to me. We have come home from war, tired for our beds and warm hearths of old, yet we cannot turn away from the future. It is coming on fast and strong. Yet, the main element in his Cape and other Bucolic works is the Home.Hopper-cape_cod_evening I have shown this image before entitles “Cape Cod Evening”. It, too, has that dichotomy of tranquility and unrest. This was done in 1939, the Depression has become a part of our lives, War has just started in Europe. The safety and history of the old house sits behind the couple, the dog, oblivious to change, is possibly spying rabbits out of the frame of the picture, but the leaning figure and the slouched man, very telling. It is not doing to get easier. The door to the house is shut. We must soon walk away from the comforts of home and indeed, the certainty of the past. Yet, look at this work called “Cape Cod Morning” hopper cape cod morning This was done in 1950. You can see, really what most of America wanted to see, looking forward. The figure is safely inside the house. She is looking towards the right side of the canvas, always representing the future. Hope and happiness at first hit you with this work, but then, you become aware of the solitary figure. Perhaps she is looking and waiting for the one who did not come home. And the tree line in the background, you can see the ominous black density of it. What lies out there? Is it friend or foe? What will the 1950’s post war ear bring? Very telling now and then. But, again, the central element, the house.
I have always had a love and fascination with houses. One of my main drives, I think, for this project has been ‘The House’. And, really, I have begun to see that there are Houses and then, with what you can do with the powers of the homemaker, the HOME. Houses are built. Homes are made by those who live in them.
The recent problem with my tenants at our old house we own and rent out has forced me to look at this to the very core. The sadness I felt, walking into the empty shell of what was once a bustling home of family, laughter, tears and joy, was a very cathartic moment.
The house is very old and thus very rough, but its mars and imperfections are like the beautiful lines on the face of an old wise woman. Here is the window in the kitchen with the lilac tree.6a kitchen windowHere is the living room with the dining room fireplace. This was once the ‘kitchen’ back in the 1700s when there were no stoves. You can see my hubby’s piano in the background, it has had to stay with whatever tenants we get until there is room here for it.6a living room
Here is one of the old four panel doors original to the house. They even have the old latch system, no door knobs. In this part of the country, these are much sought after and when my hubby’s mother built her house, she scoured the salvage yards to find enough of these to go into her home which she built to look as if it were built in the 1700s.6a doorHere is the living room fireplace and you can see the swoop of the piano in the foreground. The beams along the ceiling are all original and hand hewn, no nails hold this house together, it is all post and beam. The wall of wood is not 1950’s paneling, but the actual real deal. In here, when it is real, it looks and feels wonderful.6a living room fireplace
I just wanted to share with you a bit of the old lady I love so dear. Yesterday, hubby and Gussie and I packed a picnic and spent the day in the the empty house. We went for a walk, brewed coffee on the stove and played scrabble. It was nice to put a bit of love back in when there has been so much sadness and frustration as of late. I think she, and we, deserved it.
So, I have been forced, both economically and emotionally, to face this property. I cannot turn my back on it, as I need to rent it, our family depends upon it. Yet, I also have seen that in a way I have turned my back on it since the debacle with my family. After everyone having gone due to illness and misunderstandings and me left with the shell of what was once a Home, returned to the empty status of the House.
I have always felt old things, houses, furniture etc, have an energy about them. Not anything tangible or magical, but merely a patina of the past. The bumps and gouges along the floorboards of an old house; the Knicks and scraps upon the molding and doorjambs herald days gone by of children racing about kicking and dragging when and what they should not. Aunt Harriet’s hot pot of goodies left that ring, that is where great grandfather was measured as a child, that spot is where we buried ‘Old Ted’, the best dog and child's companion, back just after the first war. There is a story in a Home. There are volumes that speak if we only listen. I was not listening. I turned deaf ears to it and hid my eyes from it. Yet, there it was.
This house was built in 1718. There was no U.S.A. as of yet. It sits upon what was once the ‘King’s Highway’ which was a dirt path the eventually lead one to Boston. It is hewn from the logs cut and hand trimmed to make it stand. The old wide boards of the ceiling are the floor boards upstairs. These markings have been placed almost 300 years ago. I have heard many stories of these type of marks. Some say they were numbered on ships sent from the motherland, England. Some say, they correspond to the tax owed to the ruling Monarch. Whatever they may have been, they were made by hands that laughed and cried and forged out a life here in the wilds of the Cape when it was but a small English Colony. And, my own family has laughed and cried within its walls. If I stop and listen carefully, I can just hear the laughter from our Victorian Christmas, where we were all decked out in our hoop skirted and top hatted garb. I can see my mother, one last time, there where the table sat. Holding her hand and laughing over coffee, she smiled knowing for a second who I was and then it was gone. I was a stranger to her. The house, became a stranger to me.
It is hard to stand in such a place and not feel the stories rush over you.
I love our home we now live in. I am working to redo it to make it a home and not just a house, but I am pulled, none-the-less, by the other house. I will be glad to have others rent it and lay their own patina of history upon it, but I think, perhaps, that we are not done with it. There will be a time in the future that it may, indeed, receive our laughter and love. One never knows. But, in it’s present state of emptiness and need of money, it has forced me to look deeper at myself. Something I have really done quite a bit of this year in my project. I have also learned not to dwell upon the ‘emotion’ of the thing, but to learn what it is that is making the emotion; what is pushing me to strive towards something, then get to it.
I think in my return to the past I have been living an almost art piece thus far. I have begun to see how important art is to me. I know now that there is art and creation in the seam one irons in a pair of trousers, the beauty of an almost landscape like image made by the gleam of a clean counter highlighted with the shine from the chrome of the coffee pot to the undulating ‘hills’ of the freshly filled canisters. The very act of homemaking is art. I have come to it, as if it is Home. It has saved me in ways this year that I do not think medication nor psychoanalysis ever could. It taught me: I could do it! I can take ACTION and go forward. My time here on earth is brief and I need not measure it’s worth in what the modern world tells me is important: Media, Consumption, Fast paced Career, Vulgar Wealth, Self-centered attitude. I can be happy and productive in a small clean home and my accomplishments can pile up with pride in clean laundry, made beds, freshly made warm dinners and laughter around the tea-pot at night with family and friends. Thank you, again, 1955 for setting me straight. And thank you House, for showing me the importance of Home.
I have been an artist of sorts in the past. I have painted in oils and acrylics, water color, you name it. I always felt, somehow, that I had not found my voice. I was tortured with my Art Historical background that anything I made was derivative of what I had seen. I felt the modern angst of the need of ‘shock and awe’ or the import of ‘the moment’. Art has come to be, since the early Modernists, about breaking down the rules. Well, now much as I see my need to remake my own home and my own society, a return to the past is important to me. Yet, not dwelling outside my own time in a bubble, but somehow giving a nod to all who have gone before me and seeing the joy that once existed and how to bring it forward to today. In other words, I feel for the first time, as an artist, to actually have a voice. I feel that I do, indeed, have a perspective and it has left me yearning to return to that blank canvas and empty piece of paper.
1955 Homemaking has taught me the importance of schedule, maintenance, beauty, family, and art. I feel that with my homemaking skills I have been able to do more in a day that I once did in a week. I know, now, that art, in the form of 2-d painting and drawing, can find it’s way back into my life. In fact, in my daily journals when I sketch out my plans and dreams for rooms and gardens, I was already on that path. My sketches of our little bunnies and the chicks as they grew, also let that part of me in. I think the modern world really expects people to ‘specialize’. We are told we must be ‘something’. So, if we are to be an artist, then we must live in the chaos of paint pots, mess and self-centered creation. If we are to be in business, than we care only for that bottom line and not about our homes. The homemakers of the past were renaissance women. They did it all. My books and magazines of the past just assume you are going to grow your food, preserve your own fruit and jams, build your own fence, install your own wallpaper etc. Today, we seem to want to compartmentalize. I am not sure why. Perhaps the structure of our society set around ‘entertainment’ mingled with the heavy work schedules to feed the bank account to consume leaves little time to do more than one thing to define ourselves. I think this is a sad state. I think pigeon-holing ourselves is not fair to us, it takes away all the possibilities we could have. The joy of multiple skills and accomplishments are too great a thing to waste. I really feel like I can do it, so can you, is my mantra. And, so, I hate to harp on TV and entertainment, but it robs us of the joy of personal accomplishment. Why do we give up so much of our life to the passive need to be entertained? I know, I once did it. But, this year, taking much of that away, I am amazed at what I have done and the excitement of what I want to eventually do! IT is a feeling that no amount of watching tv could ever provide.
So, much like Hopper’s paintings, I find that though among the tranquility of my home there may be the various moments of unrest and sadness, the overall beauty can still pervade. We are all our own artists in our homes. The homemaker, each day, has the artist’s palette in her hands and what she chooses to paint is up to her. I, for one, do not want to paint a Rothko of my life. Somber tones and unsettling lines are not my forte. There is enough of that in the world, so for what I can control, I want to illustrate beauty and harmony. I don’t want to paint a House, that is a building, I want to create a HOME.
Until tomorrow, then Homemakers, Create some ‘art’ today.
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