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Two Fashion Designers, One Serial-killer

17 Apr

ImageThis piece is hanging at the National Portrait Gallery in London.  I find it captivating – it reminds me of people I am friends with.  People who I find incredibly artistic and fun and who I don’t get to spend near enough time with.  I guess it makes sense that my reactions to art have to do with relationships.

Art history and fashion design – these are not things I know about.  My expertise lies in pedagogy, human experience, relationships, and children.  I know a lot about children.

Art history and such things have never interested me and I have never been required to study them – so it is somewhat ironic that this amazing opportunity to frequent some of the best museums in Europe has been laid in my lap.  I have seen Monet, Manet, Rodin, and Cezanne. I recently saw a special exhibit of Degas’ Nudes at the Musée d’Orsay.  I have learned about the Pre-Raphaelites and awed over the work of those who idealized subjects and those who were dedicated to realism.  I was struck by Ophelia and the Lady of Shallot, and Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose moved me to the extent that I have been back to see them multiple times.  Photos and reprints of these magnificent works do not do them justice. But this image of Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen, I couldn’t resist snapping it during my third viewing last week.

Just to the left of the picture is the most gripping and disturbing piece of artwork I have seen yet. The silhouette is of Isabella Blow, head thrown back laughing, crazy trademark hat.  But what is that casting the shading?  Yes, taxidermy.  Crows, rats, lipstick all wrapped in a revolting tangle.  It is fascinating.   I had to take these pictures so I could share them. My iPhone shots are weak.  When I got home, I did a quick web search about Blow.  Her story is tragic. She took her life in 2007 after battling depression.  McQueen followed suit in 2010.

Oddly enough, in addition to admiring and ruminating over this metaphoric sculpture about the image cast vs. the monstrosity within, I have been watching Dexter.  If you don’t know about the ShowTime series, it is about a sociopath serial-killer.  He leads a double life.  The image he casts is of a forensic detective, a loving boyfriend, dedicated brother.  His monster within, a monster born of childhood trauma, forces him to kill.  If you have not seen it, it is worth the time.  Smartly written and brimming with ethical dilemmas about good vs. evil.

What has gripped me so about Dexter and about Isabella Blow is the idea of intervention.  Does intervention work?  Are some things just too powerful to fight against?  Can the effects of childhood trauma be diminished with enough therapy?  Can medication take away the damaging urges without also quelling the artists’ drive?   Are any of our institutions equipped to deal with these problems?

Lots of questions, but I don’t have any answers.  I just know that in the last two years of my work in education, I encountered way too many children that I feared could not be helped.  Is it too much to hope that art might some way provide an answer?  Perhaps we are failing our children because we are failing to focus on art.  Just a thought.

The Oldest

28 Nov

Curly Top MohawkI am getting ready to part with the first computer I ever bought for myself. It is an iMac desktop with a built in camera – the first of its kind. Readying for our parting includes a nostalgic review of files on the hard drive. I have a folder dedicated to letters I wrote to my oldest son about his lack of attention to his grades, his chores, and other people’s feelings. As I review them, I am transported back to the agonizing days of his teen-aged years.

He was moody and hard-headed and funny as hell. While he was never in real trouble, he pushed us to the limits of our parenting skills. I often say that first kid is like the first pancake, you should just toss it out and bank on the second one being better. When he was a baby, my husband and I took a job as “professional parents” at a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescent boys, so our bar was pretty low in retrospect. Don’t burn down anything, steal anything, shoot anyone, and it will probably be okay. When Aaron was in 11th grade, he was really struggling with some anxiety issues and he had locked himself into an identity as a proud under-achiever. The problem was he wanted to go to college, and he knew all those applications would include transcript requests. He buried all his worries way down into his lower lumbar region resulting in wrenching lower back pain. During a bad episode I finally took him to the ER at Duke. After the CT scan, we were asked to sit down in the consulting room – never a good sign.  Turns out, not only did he not have a kidney stone, he did not have a kidney.  Yep, my perfect baby, who according to an ultrasound at 32 weeks gestation had all his vital organs, had manage to lose it by the age of 17.  It was baffling, and unimportant according to the doctors.  Ten percent of the population has only one and most never know.

Last Christmas, we  were visiting with relatives and recounting the head-spinning tale.  “So what happened to his kidney?” my sister-in-law exclaimed. Just when my husband was ready to deliver his punchline (he had cooked up several funny explanations about how Aaron had left it in his locker, his book bag or it was with his socks which had all become singles after being pairs), Aaron walked by.  In complete deadpan, Aaron says, “My parents sold it on the internet.”   I knew then he would be just fine.