Beautiful. Striking.

And now for some art. These are images I have found beautiful or striking, suggested by things I read.

I found The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach in New Philosopher magazine. Is that armpit hair, straggling down longer than her elbow?

The naked Maja.

A “Maja” was a lower-class Spaniard who wore exaggeratedly Spanish dress, and mocked rich Frenchified Spaniards. Note the way she gazes at the viewer.

This is by Jenny Holzer. Do you agree with her?

In the waiting room

In the waiting room, there are tiny canvases, about six inches square, with foreboding messages. Protect yourself against the dangers! Some are addressed to children, some to women:

With the glitter, even with the Rothko colours that could go either way. “Hello”! How lovely! But-

If you find a new friend, it is too good to be true. “The man I met was nothing but a scam.”

Bully and victim.

Disconnected. Mental. Hate. Confused. Fake. Insecure. Disgusting. Vulnerable. Stop.

The word on Olly’s phone is “Target”. Is it too much?

All too much? After the session, in the supermarket I hear a man snap out an order- as if he has had to fire his underling for stupidity and uselessness, but the underling has been made to work her notice by his managers specifically to belittle and insult him, and he has not the grace to rise above it but wants to make everyone else as miserable as he.

“Put the milk in the buggy!”

Surely, that could not be his partner? That could not be their child, in the pushchair?

I retuned the radio from the local station to Radio 3. “Hello,” said someone behind me. I ignored her. “Would you like us to move the tree?” The potted shrub was tickling my neck. “Maybe later,” she said.

Franz West

Franz West’s sculptures are playful and anarchic.

I brought my stool just to the point where I am standing, and looked up at the loop, back and forth at the waves of this structure. Then I found the point against the wall where, sitting on my stool, I could capture that virus-model or whatever it is through the loop. I had not really noticed how the other pink thing enhances the picture.

Then I asked a woman to sit on the stool so I could be in the photographs. She pointed out how colour-coordinated I was, so I took my jacket off, then really played the game, taking several, trying to make a composition. I don’t know how to alter the depth of field on my phone: it focused on the brightest thing, the light reflecting on the virus, and was slightly out of focus on me.

You may go behind the curtains to play with four sculptures of metal and plaster. The video shows what you may do. So I did, taking a plaster blob on an iron poker, throwing it about and seeing how far from myself I could lift it. Closing the curtains, so I was alone with the sculpture, was important.

Before, I went to Tate Britain for the last day of the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition, and a brief look at Don McCullin. I saw from a very different Finsbury Park two beautiful young men in a pub sizing one another up, ready for verbal rather than physical combat I think. Later, from a war, I saw a starving woman’s deformed breast given to her starving child. The whole will repay my sustained attention, and there are members’ hours every weekend, but I just dipped in to get a vague idea of it. I love the idea of feeling a photograph you take so that the audience will feel it too. I hear his wrestling with his privileged position, getting money and fame from others’ misery, yet being the necessary witness documenting that suffering.

After taking the boat, I went to the Pierre Bonnard exhibition. I had not heard of him! These pictures are beautiful, and I hated the self-portrait from around the time of his life-long partner’s death. He was crushed, and he showed his misery.

At St Pancras, I heard a pianist play Rachmaninov, the Bells of Moscow Prelude, Beethoven and Mozart, much better than the usual players. I played Metamorphosis II, though without repeating all the arpeggiation.

Identity Politics

Is “Identity politics” destroying beauty and truth in Art? Writer and art critic Sohrab Ahmari argues particularly trans and gender variant issues are clogging galleries with worthless pieces.

Why is there identity politics in Art? It is a reaction to failings in the art world. All art is political. I love The History of Art by EH Gombrich, but it has only one work by a woman. Here it is.

Women’s art addresses issues important to women from a woman’s perspective. Men will benefit from seeing this, by gaining empathy and understanding. Almost ignoring women’s art, Gombrich missed out the perspective of half of humanity. Artemisia Gentileschi’s rapist said she could recover her honour as a woman no longer virgin, by marrying him. See the glorious contempt her female subjects have for the men:

Ahmari says political work is not beautiful. Identity politics is fundamentally opposed to free speech and free thought… art that deals with race, gender, sexuality, power and privilege dominates the art scene. He contrasts this with a Caravaggio:

The beauty of Italian art in the 17th century is clear. Both these paintings show real people, in complex poses. Their faces are expressive. The boy reaches out for fruit, and is unexpectedly bitten, perhaps a metaphor for a dose of the clap.

Ahmari wants art to describe the world as you really see it rather than putting everything through a political frame. Yet the experience of unwanted sexual attention is the world as Gentileschi experienced it, and any man should see is widespread.

It is not clear that the “identity politics” work, dealing with the women’s issue of unwanted sexual attention, is less beautiful. However, the skills of representation are so widespread now, when many illustrators could show a wide variety of facial expression and human posture, that art has moved on. Gombrich shows how the greatest painters learned them from scratch, over centuries, but now they can be taught in amateur sketching classes.

Contemporary art is beautiful in a different way. Charlotte Prodger’s Turner Prize-winning piece is beautiful. In her video she talks of being misgendered. I relate to it. My experience is in her art. It may not be Ahmari’s experience, yet art about how trans and gender variant people experience the world directly speaks to us, and enables others to see our point of view- it enlarges their empathy and understanding.

Ahmari claims not to be criticising autobiography in art, using one’s own life, but you need to say something about the human condition as well, not just about yourself. Well, Ahmari does not get misgendered, but he probably gets misunderstood and misrepresented. If he approaches Prodger’s work with empathy and imagination rather than judgment, he would see the universal message in it.

In the programme, Alexander Adams says publicly funded art tends to have a very narrow political view. There should be art that is critical of multiculturalism, critical of immigration, critical of transgenderism. If he can point to any good art critical of immigration I would like to see it. I am reminded of the Great German Art exhibition, running concurrently to the Degenerate Art exhibition. We hear again the idea that the Trans Lobby is fantastically powerful, shutting down debate, and yet here are all the free speech advocates, endlessly inveighing against us.

All art is political. It either underpins or subverts current power structures. It either silences or gives a voice to disempowered groups. In the programme, Tiffany Jenkins says I think the arts have been asked to solve social problems. So they’ve been asked to improve the lives of communities by raising their self-esteem, by making them feel good about themselves. I don’t think the arts can do that. But I loved the exhibition Art in the Age of Black Power: Black people, standing tall and proud despite oppression. Seeing these heroes must have inspired Black people looking at these works, and I, with my white privilege, can delight in that heroism and resistance.

Ahmari mentions the controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till. He ignores the point that Black artists are underrepresented in white-run art galleries. When we are equal, we can share each others’ stories, but the powerful should not use the stories of the weak for their own gain.

My experience as a trans woman is generalisable to universal human experience- of the tension between being yourself and fitting in; of feeling and hurt and delight. Art by trans people seen with sympathy can enlarge the understanding of its audience. It is not “identity politics” to show art by gender variant people, but simply Art- seeing the universal in the particular, enlarging our understanding of what it is to be human. As Ahmari says, probably most of the art created now will not be around in fifty years’ time- but the best will survive, and will include art by minorities. Because not only white western men can be artists.

Conversations at the Transvestite club

After taking my clothes off in front of you, how should I start a polite conversation? I only used the changing facilities, a cramped crowded room, once: after that, I always drove down dressed. I don’t think I thought about it at the time, it did not register as peculiarly unpleasant, and it felt a bit of a risk to be leaving my home dressed female, but I only used the changing room once.

I found the Ebstorf Map here, and it bowls me over. The header picture shows Scotland at Jesus’ feet, on the edge of the World. Sometimes I find faces in illuminated manuscripts indistinguishable, sometimes strangely expressive of I-don’t-know-what. East is at the top of the map, and Eden is East of India.

I think I met Barbara at my first visit to Northern Concord. A wonderfully generous, kind, and deeply hurt woman, she quickly became a friend. She proposed wandering the streets of the Village, and visiting the other pubs, and though even Concord, unfamiliar, didn’t seem a particularly safe space yet, I went.

Jerusalem was always at the centre of the World. It is just east of Italy: I can work out few of the names and the arrangement is strange, but I see Sicilia. Are those Greek islands? The Mediterranean is hardly wider than the rivers.

Others became my friends, all of whom decided to transition. I realised that we had approached friendship from an unusual angle: normally you would start talking about indifferent subjects, and the weather is the clichéd English choice, then what we think, what we feel, getting deeper as the process worked. At the club, we talked of cross-dressing, which was deeply significant for us, emotive, personal, and to make a friend we still had to do the work of building up a relationship. When her son was diagnosed as autistic, the minister was so relieved, as her wife had been accused of causing his strangeness by her coldness. She was not to blame.

I had an aborted conversation this week. The man was introduced to me as an author of science fiction. I said I liked some science fiction, and named Iain M Banks, though not Octavia Butler or Margaret Atwood. It was a weak gambit. He said yes, Iain M Banks is quite good. I drifted off. I have no idea whether he is internationally famous, or unpublished. So here am I talking of the Ebstorf Map, a thing I find beautiful and wonderful, hoping to entice you into concord. Don’t you find it fascinating? What do you notice in it? Here at the far South is Africa. I note the people there are naked, and pale skinned.

Though Jesus is quite dark, and the colours may have faded over eight hundred years. That’s His hand, over the encircling Sea. Conversation is a risk: We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.

I really enjoyed meeting you, in probably the worst way to start a friendship with my friend’s wife. I got undressed- that’s the best metaphor I can think of for a counselling session in which I decided to participate fully, showing my divided self, all the different voices within me, to someone who is pleasantly professional. Revealing herself would not be therapeutic. So now I may meet you socially, and have to find some way of making your acquaintance. I feel I am at your mercy, which I find uncomfortable, being a controlling person.

The Ebstorf Map, an alien and familiar way of seeing the World. Is it not glorious?

Merry Christmas, with Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Anticipating, slightly: the Epiphany is 6 January. I have not seen this tapestry, but found tapestries of his I have seen gorgeous. This fabulous thing is 3.77×2.58m.

Only his mother, in her maiden bliss
worshipped the Beloved, with a kiss

His Annunciation has the Angel descending from on high
and the woman not abashed

I note it appears to follow the rules of perspective found in the Renaissance, and the vanishing point is a star.

Merry Christmas with William Holman Hunt

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

In my beginning is my end: the Resurrection.

Jesus in the Temple

The triumph of the innocents.

Paintings by William Holman Hunt. The Church Fathers discerned that Christ’s humanity and Jesus’ divinity were intermingled and inseperable like water mixed with wine; and so, therefore, are ours.

Resurrection II

My friend did not think the new debt initiative was necessary. People get themselves into muddles. Why not talk to the CAB or the landlord if you can’t pay your rent? I found myself agreeing with him. When I was with the CAB we helped with bankruptcies and insolvency agreements, and with debt budgeting. One or two were on their third bankruptcy, and a trickle of people would come in with a document saying that bailiffs would evict them the following day.

I went into the meeting room and sat down, wondering why I had agreed. People don’t talk to landlords because of denial, powerlessness and shame. If I didn’t go out again and say that to him it would get to me all Meeting. So I went out and said that, and he agreed; and he talked of a good landlord he knew of, helping people through their Universal Credit difficulties.

My landlord is a cheery chap, and he comes round to prune the bushes in the back yard, or poison the tarmac. And just before he moved my neighbour had lost the key to open the windows, so his windows could not be opened. He told me the landlord had said, oh, that’s alright, they could replace the windows and take it out of his deposit. He borrowed my key.

My friend agreed. We are not on opposite sides of this. We both have a nuanced understanding; but he names the possibility of talking to the landlord.

In meeting, I thought that is where I am, a sense of denial- not dealing with the problem- powerlessness- unsure how I can- and shame- it is My Fault! I have a crushing loss of confidence. I don’t have faith I can sort myself out, and Know that if I attempt things the other people I need to work with will block me, even though intellectually I know that is ridiculous. Last year, something happened to extricate me, which I could not have expected: this is not Micawber’s “Something will turn up” but something may turn up.

And I had an image, shadowy to me now, of Resurrection.

I am still at war, opposed extremities battling within me- “denial, powerlessness and shame” v Resurrection. I am simultaneously in Hell and Heaven, both part truth part fantasy, together a wider view of Truth than I can compass altogether so I divide it. Hope and Love, rage and terror. Meditation may help. Spoken ministry, not mine, was of being in community, bringing our entire selves, emotions, even tears, to Meeting.

More Burne-Jones. This object, of silver and bronze leaf overpainted with gold, is fabulously beautiful. I sat looking up at it, seeing the light reflecting on metal which the picture cannot reproduce. The “grey ladies” are young and beautiful, apart from their eyelessness, which is clearer, and more disturbing, on the original.

The Latin is a synopsis of the Perseus myth. That greave is impossible- showing the beauty of the leg’s shape, in shining silver.

Being misgendered

-Are you finished with these, sir?
-I’m female.
-I apologise.

I am still irked by that. She could not see my face, I think. My waterproof jacket is fairly unisex but fastens the feminine way. That wig, again, is clearly a woman’s wig, the woman’s side of the line, even if it’s fairly close to the line. It’s a well-marked line.

Now, I am thinking some day I will have the energy for the follow-through:

-I apologise.
-Well, don’t “Sir” people unless their gender is clear! There’s no point in having “All-Gender Toilets” if you misgender people!

It didn’t really- well not really really– bother me until later, when I was in the Turner Prize exhibition, which this year is all video. They are close to documentaries, in parts. Naeem Mohaiemen’s work is a history of the Non-Aligned movement, worth seeing from beginning to end, though it is on three screens and has the feel of looking at an art work. To me; some commenters said that’s not art that’s documentaries.

Charlotte Prodger’s work is 33 minutes long, and consists of video taken on her phone, with bits of her diary read as voiceover. She had had a job near Banchory, and I wondered if anyone else in the room had been there, or at least through it, like me. She is lesbian, at least sometimes she presents Butch, and part of the voiceover says how at the ferry terminal she was washing her hands in the toilets and a party of women came in, and one went out again to look at the door, then said “I thought I was in the wrong one for a moment”. And how wearing it was when people asked her who her girlfriend is. “Is she your daughter?” Eventually she said “She’s my friend” and thought, now I’m closeted as well.

There is paradox here. She (I checked her pronouns) is misgendered repeatedly, and the thought that a woman could be her partner is seen as remarkable, yet she is up for a huge accolade, notoriety in the right-wing press, and £40,000 if she wins the prize. Highbrows like me, and the odd idiot who goes out and writes the comment “That’s not Art!” on the comments wall, (Actually that’s so stupid, surely it must be irony?)-

onywye, I am watching this Installation feeling intense powerlessness exacerbated by her frank admission of failing to respond to being misgendered, and the middle-class white straight men, well, it might just go over their heads. What’s this wumman on about?

On the comments wall, I took two pieces of paper marked in large letters

Power

and scrawled, “Charlotte was misgendered in the CalMac lavs. I was misgendered in the Tate Gallery Members’ Room” on one and “I have the

Power

to say I exist” on the other. Then I took lots of wee pins and stuck them all over these pieces of paper, skewering the word “Power” and each of the “I”s.

So there.

Waiting for the film/installation to start, I sat by a low table leafing through the books there. One is on queer art, another is a selection of the poems and essays of Audre Lorde specifically for the British market called

Your silence will not protect you

So now I have a book of Audre Lorde, to help me be an ally to ethnic minority people and, perhaps, help me survive.

What if I had shouted out in the showing that I had been misgendered? There were workers in the Duveen Gallery working with children, with suggestions as to participate in art, and when I said I too like to be playful the man gave me a pair of drumsticks. I noticed how the sound they made was different hitting with the tip or the middle of the stick, and investigated the sounds. I could break people’s absorption in the art work, and that distraction would be like Brecht’s alienation technique, they would see it in a new way. But the rooms showing the videos are carpeted, and I just hit the sticks together occasionally, very quietly. And if I had shouted, people would be too well-bred (or something) to show they noticed.

I had a fabulous day. I also spent hours with the Burne Jones exhibition. Pieces here come from the ordinary displays a few rooms away, and from as far as Stuttgart or Melbourne. Is not Madeleine Vivier-Deslandes utterly beautiful? There were so many beautiful things. There’s Perseus stealing the Graeae eye, on oak, and his armour is silver, and their dresses gold. The grey sisters are young, here. One has her pretty face and empty sockets turned to us. There’s a huge tapestry, of Gawain contemplating the Holy Grail and his two companions blocked by three angels from approaching. The trees are dark, and the wild flowers Botticellian. So, the Pre-Raphaelite descent into myth and fancy, before Freud, how ridiculous- except Madeleine is, perhaps, “chimeric, disordered and suffering”. All those buttons on her cuffs undone, and that bodice, so easily ripped. I went in ready for my irony to be exercised, and was entranced- and just a little disturbed. Just now and then.