Has Romance Gone the Way of the Dinosaurs?
“Has Romance Gone the Way of the Dinosaurs?” grew out of a five minute critique with art critic Jerry Saltz in which my early dinosaur work was summed up thus, “Gotta be careful of the ‘boy art’… Gee, I don’t know…Good luck.” This threw me for a loop. I didn’t think of dinosaurs as being distinctly boyish, and having my work defined by gender so succinctly threatened my feminist bona fides. I re-examined what drew me to prehistoric subject matter. The work up to that point was comparing natural adaptations versus human invention as a way to promote animal equity, placing the origins human ingenuity and behavior firmly within the animal kingdom. Even our most sophisticated emotions and habits can be traced to animal or primordial precedence; this includes courtship and romantic love. I thought about how vying for attention at a bar or putting on a tie for a date isn’t far from rams butting heads to compete for mates, or peacocks fanning their tails to attract females. These behaviors even have antediluvian antecedents. Preening and posing is as much ingrained in male behavior as female. Sex and wooing are full of power plays that blur the line between passion and predation. What pop culture promotes as “romantic” is hopelessly archaic and borderline chauvinistic. Dinosaur protagonists summed up all of those themes beautifully.
The work began directly referencing Harlequin novel settings like bodice-ripping, pre-Revolution France and derring-dos upon the high seas. Are these idealized tales of passion based on healthy escapism, or do they prop up the patriarchy’s damaging notions of gender norms for the largely female readership? As a male is it in fact patronizing for me to even ask these questions? The first suite of etchings referenced Rococo engravings and etchings and juxtaposed these bawdy images of courtship with embossments of images from fox hunting. Later swashbuckling work referenced my first run in with “bromance” working in kitchens in Baton Rouge. Herbivorous damsels in distress had to save themselves from oil-rig working predatory pirates because their male “hero” was too busy playing swords. The series was shortly saved from satirical oblivion as the oil spill in the Gulf pulled the work back toward activism. The most recent Adrift series explores the isolation and anxiety my partner and I have experienced as we navigate an uncertain future.
Ultimately the central question in “Has Romance…?” has proven invaluable as it allows me to honestly reflect upon my own notions of romance and gender equity. In particular the work has called me out on my own latent chivalry as I attempt to “save everyone”, whether they like it or not. Outdated or not, it’s tough to make old habits go extinct.