Monday, July 24, 2006

Gertrude Stein's Legacy

Guest Columnist: Genet

Gertrude Stein by Picasso, 1906, oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

You may not know this, but Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas helped usher in a 90-year art movement now known as Modernism. Lesbians in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Lesbians in Paris, just the phrase makes me smile.

Lesbians supporting the arts, lesbians creating salons, and lesbians leading the way.

When I was in college, some people thought I actually looked like Gertrude Stein, especially the likeness of her in the famous portrait by Picasso. That portrait was probably the very first piece of fine art I ever saw with a lesbian as the subject. Lesbian memory is powerful, because I only realized this a moment ago, when I put these words on paper. I look upon this blog column as access to the lesbian muses, as a style of writing passionately personal and political. It has no purpose other than to write a truth that I don't see anywhere else in the lesbian world at the moment.

Back in those prehistoric times, when there was hardly anything lesbian at all in the media (sound effects of the bellowing of the woolly mammoth and the roar of a T-Rex), I found the inspiration I needed from the women of the left bank of Paris. Without knowing it, I was connecting to genius, and this connection gave rise to what I call the lesbian imagination.

We have to be creative to thrive, because seemingly, our tribe is small, our resources smaller. In Japan, the Japanese would lament, "We are a small island nation with no natural resources." They were uttering these words to me in the early 1980s, when Japan was an economic powerhouse.

As lesbians, we might think we are the small island of Lesbos with no natural resources, but historically speaking, we created Picasso, and we helped James Joyce bring forth Ulysses, among other things. Modernism was the street lesbians lived on and built at the turn of the last century.

The poet Renee Vivien and bon vivant Natalie Clifford Barney imagined reviving the golden age of Sappho. When was the last time you went to a lesbian event, and heard some woman declare to one and all, "We need to revive the golden age of Sappho!" Lesbians look at me strangely if I even suggest such a thing. They are busy falling victim to media images of women, a sex obsessed materialism, and a lack of knowledge of the power of unity. We have forgotten how to unite with the power of ethics, shared destiny and imagination.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the enemies of lesbians, who are seemingly everywhere these days. I am well aware of who the enemies are, and we need not mention them now. I may have an attack column in the future. After all, I was born to blog, but what I believe is powerful, is focusing on greatness and genius as a lesbian past time.

Lesbians these days are caught up in minutiae. Even our writing has sunk down to the level of mainstream consciousness. But what will uplift us as unique beings? I believe in the lesbian spirit of the age, and I think we were born on earth for a special purpose. We are not supposed to be like every other woman out there. No. We have a unique biological purpose on earth, and a part of this purpose is artistic and intellectual development. I'm speaking from a purist point of view, from an idealistic point of view.

There is power in honoring the greatness of lesbian past, and uniting with greatness in lesbian present. Collectively, we have access to millions of dollars, and if we valued cooperation, we could be the engine of this prosperity. But we have to guard the wealth, and not waste it. The cautionary tale is of course Gertrude and Alice.

They had one of the finest collections of modern and cubist art in the world, but when Gertrude died, she'd left no will, no provision to guard her paintings. A four million dollar legacy at that time, was seized by Gertrude's relatives. Alice was left destitute, and only survived because the women of Paris supported her.

The path to lesbian creativity and liberation is the light of art, poetry and spiritual visioning. It's also the good sense to look to the next generation. It's in all of us to support and inspire our artists.

We can't do this if we don't set aside time to contemplate and learn. We can't do this if we waste our time in dyke drama. We can't do this if we fall victim to male centered artificial insemination, or a false desire to be as boring and idiotic as all the straight women around us.

From that powerful painting of Gertrude Stein to the oil painting that awaits all of us, let us contemplate those heroines of the past. I keep a book of portraits of those women of the left bank on my desk, right next to the international connoisseur's guide to cigars (written by a woman by the way and probably a lesbian).

I started seriously collecting art in 2000, and began an artistic awakening with the help of a gay male art historian in October of 1999. The first painting I bought in 2000, represented an image of the 21st century. The 20th century began with cubism, and the 21st century began with realism and figurative art. My art historian friend and mentor told me I could be the next Gertrude Stein, and in that I felt I had returned home. I had come full circle. I had reached a new phase of spiritual and moral development.

I'm inviting all the devoted readers of Becki Jayne's blog to look at the paintings of lesbian genius as a gateway to power. Start thinking creatively, and spend time away from the blare of contemporary life so that you too can be a woman of the 21st century; a lesbian of infinite value and intellectual virtuosity. You too can be Gertrude Stein!