Saturday, October 29, 2016

Big Eyes and Souls for Sale

I just finished watching Big Eyes, the biopic about the artist Margaret Keane. Like many people in the modern world, I recognized her work long before I knew her name or anything about her. The story of her success is fascinating.

 I love period films but even more appealing to me was the message at the heart of her story. For years, she allowed her manipulative husband to take credit for her work, posing as the creator of the Big Eyed Waifs because they thought a male artist would be taken more seriously and make better sales. It reminded me of a recent conversation I had. I was talking to one of my friends about the existence of evil/the Devil. My friend is a devout and practicing Catholic while I have landed somewhere on the spectrum between agnosticism and atheism. She said something about a particular person "selling his soul" and I immediately agreed with her.

Most of the time when we imagine people selling their souls, it's a literal transaction between a person and an incarnation of the Devil, and the motivation is greed. The literary tradition of a character selling his soul is referred to as Faustian, derived from the play The Devil and Dr. Faustus penned by Christopher Marlowe. The same theme can be found in the musical Damn Yankees, as well as more than a couple episodes of The Simpsons.

I may not believe in the Devil the same way that she does but I do subscribe to the idea that people "sell their souls"; sacrificing that innermost, sacred quality of your own uniqueness in exchange for money or success or reputation, etc.

One thing I have found myself struggling with in recent years is the idea of how I fit in with other adults I know. 'Fitting in' is the eternal adolescent dilemma (I know- I work in a middle school) but I think we underestimate how much it comes into play as we navigate our adulthood too. If I wanted to fit in perfectly with many of the people I encounter on a regular basis I would: have an iphone, buy my clothes at popular store like Kohls and Old Navy, live in a house on a cul de sac and that house would contain a kitchen with granite counters and stainless steel appliances. I admit that if someone I don't know very well comes over to my house I get a little self-conscious: the many dollhouses that I'm constantly working on, the handmade wind-chimes that line the porch, and my 'treasures' from the roadside and the flea markets and thrift stores make for an eclectic decor inside. It's nothing you'd find in a Pottery Barn- which reminds me of one of my favorite Friends episodes:

Fitting in is something most pre-teens and teens struggle with, and then if they're lucky they 'find themselves' and really nurture their interests, priorities and talents. In college it's alot  easier to "let your freak flag fly" so to speak. And then we seem to regress back into our adolescent dilemma: we get married (and I think you'll agree alot of those weddings look pretty much the same), we have babies and dress them in cute clothes and we buy our cars and homes and we want to look good while doing it all so we can post photos on Facebook or Instagram and see how many people like it.

Throughout the film, Meade (portrayed by Amy Adams) talks about how her paintings represent her feelings, and what she gave up when she allowed her husband to pose as the creator of her work: she basically sold her soul because she wanted validation of her artistic talent and because she did not want to cause friction in her marriage by being a female breadwinner.


It's inspiring to see someone who has "sold her soul" be able to win it back again.

It allows me to believe that even if I do make some errors in judgement or give in to societal pressures to look a certain way, that I am not doomed to a dreary existence, wandering the world over as an empty husk who has lost her soul.

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