Mirrors, Illusions

Self-portrait with my first digital camera, at 41.

Continuing on, and almost done reading Suzi Gablik’s “Has Modernism Failed?”. As I mentioned recently, one of the themes she concentrates on is the loss of the spiritual function of the artist in modern Western society. This November, I’ve been reading articles and watching many documentaries about Native Americans, both about their past and their present. One of the things that struck me is how spiritual their cultural is, and how they’ve managed, despite horrific and violent attempts of newcomers to their land to both discredit and annihilate their culture, to remember it and keep it alive.

Gablik writes about how centerless art has become (the original publication of this book was in 1984) due to a lack of connection to the past, a past which included the spiritual aspects of humanity in art and old-school society in general. In an era of “late capitalism,” the emphasis on the material and superficial continues its destructive march to reduce everything to a soulless state, one that emphasizes success based on how much one earns. What does this have to do with my self-portrait from 2009 and Native American Heritage Month?

On the heels of watching the PBS documentary “Racing the Rez” yesterday, and feeling inspired that high school boys on reservations were finding that running helped lift them above their trials and inspired them to seek a different future, I read an article in Vogue about Indigenous models, most of whom featured were females. In the wake of the lame, shallow emphasis on women and looks, thin bodies being most attractive, and a general obsession with youth since the dominance of Western mass production fashion laziness years ago, how is the inclusion of Indigenous women in this superficial though highly profitable industry true to the spiritual, enduring values of their culture? How is this inclusion fighting the drawbacks of our invading culture? I worry.

I am aging. In traditional cultures, this was not an issue, or rather, aging was an accepted life stage, older people had a role in society, they were not irrelevant – even older women. And while the physical beauty of women has been a “be all and end all” in the world for ages, why continue with it via a culture which discards its older people in general?

I wish these models the best, and believe that no one should be forced to be a representative of their heritage, but I am worried that our lip-service inclusive, exploitative, harmful to the average person and especially harmful to the average woman fashion industry is going to use these Indigenous people merely to sell their product to a wealthy and superficial audience who doesn’t give a damn about them or their people, as well as every other kind of people who doesn’t buy their shallow version of “important.”

The fashion industry is not selling clothing – it’s selling a beauty ideal based on eternal youth and a specific body type. This ideal is entirely superficial, and has nothing to offer in the larger scheme of things as a human being.

To close, here I am, below, and now at 54, trying to adapt to my changing, aging body.

I believe that while the body is a miraculous thing, it is but a vessel for the spirit. It is nothing without that mysterious, unique spark which vanishes when the body is kept alive with machines.

That spark has no price.

Self-portrait at 54, with an iPhone.