Are We Mud Luscious?
It all began some decades ago, when I was using "Untitled" as a name for several images. A collector was distressed: please, she said, use titles. I need a sense of direction, a guide post.
What followed were years of struggling with "what to name the baby", hours of picking out just the right title for each painting.
Bosch and nonsense! Whose "right"? Could an artwork have a "wrong" title? Whose tsk tsk-ing was hovering over my shoulder, smacking my metaphorical fingers like my first piano teacher? Like my 3rd grade art teacher who said, "you'll never be an artist" because I couldn't draw a tree like the one she thought she saw outside her window. Like an endless procession of wagging fingers that were designed to downplay, discourage, diminish.
So I did a Tits and Ass transformation. You remember "Tits and Ass", don't you? That pungent declaration in A Chorus Line about turning "dance-ten-looks-three" into what everybody else wanted. If I can't be me, the dancer says, I'll buy the bingo-bongos and call them mine, fulfill your fantasies, seduce the gonad-laden.
My transformation was chaotic, unrehearsed, flibberty gibbet, a middle finger to the world of naysayers.
Once a piece was finished, (wait: are they ever finished? Or only on their way to who knows where?), finished for the moment, I stepped back, out of the womb-space that the image and I had intimately shared. The first phrase that came to mind became the title. That meant names like Hop Along Mud Puddle, My Wild Irish Football, Binary Codizen, and Zen on a Turbulent Sunday.
Not to discriminate against series titles, because artworks are prim-and-properly organized into series. Why? Damned if I know. But I have dozens of them, with titles like Cardalicakes, Dot's A Insult, and the latest, Hell Hath No Whipped Cream.
Why not create new words? Thus spoke Tippelskirchi and Krepildockerschpe.(2) No one could challenge them, their spelling, their meaning. I owned the realm.
There is a huge freedom in this process: when naming human babies, we are constrained by custom, religious insistencies, the opinions of centuries of relatives, the awareness of cultural appropriateness, the sweaty scent of approval.
Naming an artwork can be an exercise in exuberance. It can free your mind to play, cavort with the crocodiles, dance with the penis worms. (No, I didn't make that up: penis worms lived in the mud 500 million years ago. e. e. cummings would have called them Mud Luscious.)
Those little worms are remembered. Will we be, in 500 million years? What will we be remembered for? As individuals? Unlikely. As a compassionate, ethical species? I wouldn't bet on it. Having polluted our spaceship home, we are about to nuclear-blast an asteroid, spreading toxic radiation throughout the Spoiled-Milk Way.(3)
Why? Because we can. We can also blow up hospitals, kill sleeping babies with errant bullets. We can be the only, THE only, species to tear children away from their parents, whisk them away under cover of night and lose track of where they are, and who their families are. We have made them invisible, have blasted their identity to smithereens.
"You know, one really can't have any sympathy for these people. I think that they feel very differently from us and therefore don't feel this humiliation and everything." (1)
It didn't begin several decades, or several millenia, ago. We have Eve and Adam, Cain and Able, the fables that remind us of differences. Maybe it's time for new fables, ones that bring us together in unity. Let's name this baby Zhi-bde, Uxolo, Tranquility. Let's own it, nourish it.
Because if we don't, what comes knocking at your door, and mine, may be hiding behind a white sheet, a bloated ego, a contempt for law and a love of violence. Because THEY can, and WE have allowed it. As Charlie Chaplin said in The Great Dictator, "More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost..."
Do we really want to be Homo Stupidiosus? Now there's a name for the ages.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2021
(1) Think you know who wrote those words? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org to see if you're right.
(2)Krepildockerschpe on Digital Wall
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