Welcome to the dog and pony show

“I’ve worked hard for these wrinkles,” an older friend of mine smiled recently over salmon quesadillas. I was explaining to her why I was here in San Francisco, thousands of miles from home, doing an art project on women, beauty and aging. This project is a strange mutt, a mix of art and sociology. I will interview women 60 and older, recording their recollections of how they viewed  beauty in their 20s, their current ideas and how things have changed over the years.

During the interviews, I will take photos to later translate into oil paintings on boxes. When I show the work, I will run an audio of splices from the interviews. This blog will run alongside the project. Always with my work, I want to invite dialogue. The women will speak of what they knew and what they know now. I will listen, ask questions and write. I invite you to join in the conversation.

This project comes after a long personal diatribe against the beauty industry, modeling, the selling of the sexualized female body. I’ve worked with these themes for years. This project also joins the current (or recent) ranks of celebrating women of all ages…the voluptuous senior models of The Calendar Girls, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, the recent commercial from Kaiser Permanente, “When I grow up, I want to be an old woman.”

So my celebrations are not alone, nor are my queries. I’ve spent a lot of time with contemporary consumer culture. I know “the look” of what sells – the young, long-legged beauty. And I am curious. The last 100 years have seen the birth and exorbitant growth spurt of the modern advertising industry. Almost every woman alive today in Western culture has been surrounded to some degree by advertising and subsequently, beauty images. I wonder on a deeper level how this has shaped us…how women of different generations are affected similarly or quite differently.

Recently, a friend mused about the ambiguous role and space older people occupy in our culture. If nothing else, this project carves out a little space. A space to listen to memories and ideas. A space to see faces that are not “idealized” or a cookie-cutter sell. These are faces instead that carry the deep beauty of life lived, of wrinkles earned…remnant traces of a thousand smiles, the frown, a glamorous cigarette.

When I Grow Up, I Want to be an Old Woman – Kaiser Permanente ad

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 01:15:24

    Wow, great project idea! I can’t wait to see how it develops! It is refreshing to see real women instead of made up women.


  2. Heena
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 02:58:58

    the website looks great! I’m so excited about seeing all the different art! 🙂


  3. sonja
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 08:46:56

    great project!


  4. esra
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 10:22:21

    there is an aggressive presentation of the old woman which achieves two different situation: a critical approach how woman has been represented as a desire object in western visual culture (and you as an artist want to underline this aspect describing a MM which has already a place in our collective memory through her own photos but also with A. Warhol’s reinterpretations etc).
    But if you want to underline “beauty” of the trace or.. the technique should be used to communicate your intentions. You must decide where you are critical and how you want to visualize it.


  5. Debora
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 12:39:06

    Dear Julia,

    First of all, I wish you a lot of joy with your new project. It is certainly a very interesting theme. I am looking forward to see the new developments and insights that will come from your project.

    Two thoughts came to my mind when I saw your blog. One is the relationship between health and beauty. In my view, it is hard to be beautiful without being healthy. I am very curious about how women see this relationship and in what extend they manage to prevent the decline of health as they grow old.

    The second thought is related to ageing and propaganda. I would not be surprise if in the coming time we would see more propaganda that project a good image of elderly people. The elderly is dramatically increasing their share in the population and, under the assumption that a fraction of the elderly is wealthy, they become an important target for those promoting consumption.


  6. Elena
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 13:29:35

    I love your project, Julia! Can’t wait to see more…


  7. Claire
    Sep 20, 2010 @ 13:34:20

    Being older isn’t that bad anyway, I think. You don’t need to worry about keeping up with the latest trends, you don’t care as much what your peers think and do, as long as they are happy, and there’s not much you can do about aging, anyway. Though I wonder about the Kaiser ad, is this scaring people into getting a mammogram? Should medical procedures be a consumer product, and how often are women the targets….? And is this google ad on your page for real:

    Ads by Google
    Blonde Odessa Woman
    Nina, 21 y.o. would like to meet her Soul Mate. See her Profile!

    Ay ay ay, now that’s scary marketing….


  8. Helene Lambruschi
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 00:30:54

    Hey Julie – A great question to mull over while thinking about the temptation to hop on a plane and meet you at the restaurant where you were enjoying salmon quesadillas. Why? Simply to enjoy being with you and eating salmon quesadillas which I have never tried before. (I tell you, I should have eaten dinner before posting this! ) You are allowing women to think about what they know. The question is, “Will women want to grapple with thinking their own thoughts?” I mean, isn’t that what you really want? Like a good midwife, the blog will help the process along. That, and eating dinner to be followed by some work that needs to get done before I go to work tomorrow and then a long, hot bath. Beauty and the aging woman, both before and in the “here and now” is a topic that is as delicious as a piece of chocolate cake from Portillo’s . . . . .to be continued.


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