United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #10: Art & Fashion

FINALLY! I disappeared down a rabbit hole of wedding invite calligraphy and lice removal (unrelated) and haven’t been able to blog as prolifically as I’d like, but the invites are out, and the lice are contained (or at least, I desperately hope they’re contained now) so I can turn my attention to the last topic in our 10 Things I Love About My Country: Art and Fashion. Freakin’ Steve and Suzie.

I’ve been dreading this one. I’ll be frank: I’m an intelligent person, and I’m not afraid to openly declare this about myself. I know a lot of things, and the things I don’t know, I grasp fairly quickly. But when it comes to art, I am SO STUPID. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what ‘composition’ is or the point of abstract art or how art is supposed to make me feel when I’m looking at what is basically horizontal stripes. I can’t say that I’ve ever looked at any piece of art in any sort of medium that has remotely moved me the way music or a novel or even poetry – another area where I’m stupid – have.

However, as Art Stupid as I am, I can at least recognize when other people find it genius. And this distinction is where I fail even worse when it comes to fashion. Most of what I know about the fashion world comes from Zoolander and Project Runway. I probably know enough so that I don’t look like a complete degenerate walking down the street, or to wear crop tops with high-waisted pants, but generally this is the flowchart that guides what I put into my wardrobe:

Jenny’s Fashion Flowchart

So it is with this caveat that I present this final list of 10 Things I Love About My Country: I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. But hey, I’ve seen people pull all kinds of crap out of their blogging asses, so if they can do it, I can do it.

1. Tavi Gevinson/Rookie
Tavi Gevinson started a fashion blog, Rookie, at the tender age of 12 (she’s now 18) and quickly became a fashion icon with the attitude of “I wear what I like”, favoring retro/vintage looks. She appeared on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! which is probably the only reason I’ve heard of her. The site had the potential to become a place of fluff and little substance, but under Tavi’s guidance became a community not just focused on fashion, but also social awareness and affirmation. She also brings her feminist slant to a population of young women at a time in their lives when such exposure can be highly influential. There’s quite a bit of pop culture, relationship advice, and the general shooting of shit that girls like to do as well. It’s the kind of site I wouldn’t mind finding my eventually-teenage daughters visiting one day.

2. American Gothic (Grant Wood, 1930)
American Gothic is one of the more famous paintings to come out of the United States. Even an unwashed philistine such as myself has heard of it and can summon its likeness just at the mention of the name. I love that this painting has been parodied by The Muppets, The Simpsons, LEGOs, Beavis & Butthead, Mickey & Minnie, and – would you expect anything less from the internet? – cats, among many others.

There’s a lot of stuff in this painting having to do with repeated themes and statements about hard work and domesticity, but it would be disingenuous for me to discuss them with anything resembling authority. I’ll just stick to liking the man’s overalls and how much he looks like Henry Fonda circa On Golden Pond.

3. The Landsdowne Portrait (Gilbert Stuart, 1796)
Gilbert Stuart’s more famous portrait of George Washington is the one that appears on the $1 bill. But I’m fond of this larger, more detailed portrait for personal reasons. It’s displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which was one of the places I took Earl on our first date.  The painting serves as a big centerpiece for the presidential wing, and the loop to see the exhibit gets an enthusiastic start because the first thing you see is George Washington with his hand extended like he’s showing you in.

There are a lot of elements to this painting having to do with Washington’s federalist and democratic policies, as well as  lot of symbolism having to do with power, loyalty, and to some extent, literacy. These things go completely over my head. My favorite thing about this portrait is Washington’s thin-lipped grumpy expression, owing to his poorly-fitting, hurty dentures.

4. Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell is best known for his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. He also did quite a bit of work for the Boy Scouts of America, but we’re going to ignore them because they’re huge assholes on the subject of homosexuality. After his illustrations, he’s also known for four paintings inspired by FDR’s State of the Union address in 1941. These paintings are now outdated, showing only happy Christian white people, but the Freedom from Want painting is a huge family sitting down to eat a proportionally huge fucking turkey together, and anything depicting a huge turkey for dinner is going to be my favorite (Rockwell’s own opinion was that Freedom of Speech was the best one).

But of all his works, my favorite Norman Rockwell works are his depictions of Santa Claus. Nobody captures his eyes (how they twinkle) or his dimples (how merry) or his cheeks (like roses) or his nose (like a cherry) like Norman Rockwell. I have a copy of A Visit from St. Nicholas (“‘Twas the night before Christmas…”) where the illustrations are entirely repurposed pictures by Norman Rockwell. It actually belongs to my children, but when they aren’t looking, I totally paw through it and savor the pictures like a mug of hot chocolate, only in print.

5. Layered Hair
I have strange hair. It’s not thick and coarse like the hair so many other Asians have; it’s light and kind of fluffy, but not exactly thin and fine. I also have a long oval face, and very long hair looks terrible on me. So until my sophomore year of college (not too long after The Rachel), I was battling between long hair that went flatter the heavier it got, or short hair that made me look 7. Then my best friend introduced me to the person with whom I’ve developed one of the most loyal, devoted, and steadfast relationships of my life: my stylist, Kim.

Kim and I have been together for 18 years now. I followed her through 3 different salons before she found a place to stay where she has more control of her hours, and isn’t subjected to the despotic tyranny of a Turk named Sugar (seriously, that was his name). Nobody else ever touches my hair except maybe Angela, the shampoo lady, who has these sinewy bundles of mighty lamb-leg for forearms, because 10 minutes of getting your hair washed by Angela is like 40 minutes of sex.

We’re at the point now where I tell Kim, “I’m tired of this. Can we do something that isn’t Mom Hair?” and she just starts coloring and cutting. In those 18 years, I have had layered hair in some form or another, whether a layered bob, or a reverse bob, or short layers, or long layers, or some kind of flippy do. It works great because it gives the illusion that I have a lot of body and volume in my hair when really it’s just a good cut. I barely have to do anything. Even now, when my hair has rather abruptly decided that after 37 years of being straight, it would like to be wavy, layers are serving me well.

6. Bill Watterson
Bill Watterson is the genius behind Calvin & Hobbes, for which I will love him forever. Of all the comics I followed, I remember Bill Watterson’s announcement that he was discontinuing Calvin & Hobbes most viscerally, and in a sense, when Bill quit comics, I did too. My favoritism for this particular comic strip over others has many reasons: the ribbing and affection between Calvin and his anthropomorphic stuffed tiger, the clear intelligence of Calvin despite his poor performance in school, the mad brilliance it took for Watterson to dream up Calvin’s snowman creations, the never heavy-handed social commentary, and frankly, how normal Calvin’s Mom & Dad were. That my youngest, Dr. Lecter, bears a lot of similarity to Calvin isn’t lost on me either. One day she’ll do this sort of thing to me, and I’ll be part insulted and part delighted:

7. Georgia O’Keeffe
She says her flowers aren’t all about vaginas, and I of course respect the artist’s position regarding her own art work. But they really do look like vaginas. I can’t do a writeup about her vaginal flowers better than this post, so I’ll just leave that there. But what I like about her flowers-that-are-not-vaginas  is that she helped make vaginas ok to talk about openly in a non-sexual, normalized way. Even now, I like that I can just throw the word “vagina” out repeatedly and casually, to the point where my kids are completely comfortable talking about vaginas and pubises and penises as proper biological terminology for anatomical parts. Not long ago, I had this discussion with my then 8-year old Clarice:

Clarice: Mommy, where do babies come out?
Me: The vagina. But sometimes they get stuck and then they have to be cut out just above the pubis. Like you were.
Clarice: Oh. Doesn’t that hurt?
Me: Yes. It hurts lots.

Easiest sex talk ever. Except that we never actually discussed where the baby came from. I’ll let you know how that goes some day.

8. Boy Shorts
As my flowchart indicates, I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear. I don’t even really care about rolling into the grocery store in yoga pants and the CHEERLEADER sweatshirt I stole from the Lost & Found at volleyball nearly a decade ago. On rare occasions involving illness, I’ve worn sweatpants to my No Dress Code office before, and in the past, pajamas, and quite possibly, gorilla slippers. Clearly, fashion is not a priority at all. But as with many things, I do have my limits, and my Giving A Shit threshold begins at Visible Panty Line (VPL).

If the reprobates at Home Depot are to be believed, men seem to like looking at butts. I can believe this, because even despite identifying as heterosexual, I like looking at butts. I can’t stop people from looking at my butt, but I can stop them from knowing exactly what kind of underpants I’m wearing based on how the buttflesh gets indented by the elastic and then highlighted by the pants, or skirt, or dress. Many people get around VPL by wearing thongs. But what if I don’t feel like having my nether regions flossed that day? What if I wake up and just don’t feel like perma-wedge is going to help my productivity?

I wear boy shorts! They’re like boxer briefs for women, but shorter and cuter, and because the cut of the leg hole is so low, nobody can see what kind of underwear I’m wearing!

Except now I’ve told the entire internet what kind of underwear I wear, so there goes that mystique. WAY TO GO, JENNY.

9. Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz has the questionable distinction of photographing John Lennon with Yoko Ono just a few hours before he was killed, and also getting thrown under the bus by Miley Cyrus after Disney got angry about her be-sheeted photo shoot with Vanity Fair. She’s also taken many other photographs of famous people from Queen Elizabeth II to R2-D2. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, she has a distinct style and you can see her influence in work produced by photographers who’ve come after her, like this wonderful picture by Art Streiber of the Princess Bride Reunion:

I don’t understand painting or sculpture, but I find photographs much easier to digest, and I love Annie Leibovitz’s preference for capturing what people do rather than who they are.

10.  Mount Rushmore (Gutzon & Lincoln Borglum, 1927-1941)
I nearly put Mount Rushmore in my Architecture list, but I couldn’t defend it as a building or some kind of civil structure. But as an enormous sculpture, I think it definitely qualifies as art. It’s a controversial choice given that it was carved out of a granite mountain resting on lands – sacred lands – seized from the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. Slightly less controversial than the Crazy Horse Memorial, but still not without issues.

And sure, if you ignore the part where the United States dispossessed indigenous people of their land, there’s still the issue of why the presidents featured in the monument – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Lincoln – were chosen: for preserving the Republic and expanding its borders. So let’s think about this: the US government kicked native people off the lands they’ve lived on for generations, decided that it should deface that land they’ve just taken, and then make the nut-kicking choice to celebrate that occupancy by vaunting the very people who enabled it! It’s just so American, to sweep in, displace others, and pat ourselves on the back for it. In fact, I just had a discussion with a friend about whether the Man Booker Prize has been ruined by including Americans (I still say no, because #NotAllAmericans, and I think Earl is convinced now too).

So why the fuck is Mount Rushmore on my list? Well…as a piece of sculpture, it’s still pretty impressive. Aside from all the (murderous, barbaric, atrocious, brutal) expansion business, each of those presidents did great things for the United States. Plus, you look at those giant heads and you think, “Yep, that’s totally Teddy Roosevelt.” It’s instantly recognizable and infinitely spoofable. It’s about as American as American gets except for the tragic lack of apple pie.

And it always comes back to pie.

Here ends the series. It was a great deal of fun, if not exhausting! Huge thanks to Steve and Suzie for the brilliant idea, both in concept and in topics, and letting me play along. I’ve enjoyed learning things about Scotland and England, and I sincerely hope I’ve done the United States justice. Now to stop slacking on those pie-related posts!

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