This provocative book, which accompanies an exhibition of the same name, explores the forces that bifurcate our society along gender lines. In its quest for balance—or, at minimum, an understanding of where cultural imbalances exist—Finding Balance draws upon literary discourse and the works of eleven internationally acclaimed artists: Jim Baker, Robert Brinker, Monica Chau, Linda Girvin, Jody Guralnick, Pamela Joseph, Charmaine Locke, Brad Miller, Brian Reid, Barbara Sorensen, and James Surls. The twenty-six featured works range from traditional ceramics to lenticular photography.
The critical essays by James Surls, Charmaine Locke, and noted author and scholar Leonard Shlain evoke a series of questions: Has the gender imbalance of our era been resolved? What are the implications of a patriarchal society on contemporary culture? What role does the artist play in advancing discourse and reconciliation?
Curator Surls has selected artists whose works are evocative in their diversity of scale, medium, and motivation. Collectively they expand the boundaries of the conscious and unconscious, equalizing the balance of opposite forces.
When Sara Morgan, founding president of Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, came to my studio over two years ago and asked me to curate an exhibition for the Center, the first question that came to mind was not if I would do it, but rather what would be the core context of the exhibition. What would be the central theme that would hold the exhibition together? What would the exhibition be about? I turned inward to the heart and the soul of my personal world to give me guidance to answer these questions. My belief is that the mystery in art should give us a sense of meaning and purpose, so I looked to the most important things in my life and concluded that they were to find a personal balance both within myself and in my relationship with my life partner, and a concern for the well-being of my seven daughters and how they would be treated in their life's endeavors. I took the need in my own life of finding balance and projected it onto the world at large.
The need for finding balance in self and in union is as old as humanity, and has never been easy, particularly when juxtaposed with the paradoxical need for personal power as well as group power as it relates to the male of our species. There is no question that history has been written and marked by males; I have to accept that as fact. The question then arises, where does that leave my daughters (who are but metaphors for every daughter)? The question of finding balance, already a monumental task on a personal level, becomes an even more overpowering one on a world level. How do we as a people find what we say we need?
My daughter Eva and I once sat in front of my computer and watched list after list of women's organizations scroll by. There are literally thousands of them in every state in the U.S. and around the world, and it seems as though ninety percent of them are there to help protect women from men. It is a staggering thought on any level you look at it. I am of the age to have been present during a time when major movements to bring equal rights to all were upon us, when women and other groups were struggling for basic freedoms. So many have been making the efforts for change for so long that maybe we have assumed their work was done, but clearly this is not the case.
I then looked around the so-called high art world today and wondered, is glamour and fashion, the hip and commercial, art that is slick and well-designed, new and smart, all there is? What do we as artists, as a people, stand for? What truth deserves our focused attention? This exhibition "Finding Balance" will create but a small ripple in the vast waters of the high art world simply because the art elite's history, from the "modern" era to now, has been to close ranks around its members. Read The Last Folk Hero by Andrew Dietz, then multiply its conclusions through the striations of the art world today, and you begin to get a picture of the uphill struggle that is before us. When I look for heroes in this endeavor, I see Joseph Chilton Pearce, whose book The Crack in the Cosmic Egg was at my bedside throughout the mid seventies, I read it so many times that the pages wore thin. I also picture Lucy Lippard, Susie Kalil, and Carolyn Merchant as buffers between me and an off-kilter world. I also look to artists like the eleven in this exhibition, selected not because their work fits snugly within the concept, nor because I can make the belief fit their art, but because these two aspects meld each into the other to represent the ideals of this grand premise. The questions for all spectators to ask of these artworks are basic. What are you, and why are yon here? What do you represent? What are you symbolic of? What are you telling me? It is my wish that this art speak to you, but you have to be willing to look and listen, to see and hear.
An equally important component of organizing this exhibition was to find a writer with knowledge of, and belief in, the subject at hand. I chose Leonard Shlain to write the central essay for the catalogue. His books The Alphabet Versus the Goddess and Sex, Time and Power are in-depth studies shedding light on this male/female imbalance. I believe no other writer of our time has devoted more to the understanding of why this lack of balance exists than has Shlam. I trust that his essay "Finding Balance: The Recalibration of Gender Relations" will make you think anew on this very old and haunting subject.
I also asked Charmaine Locke to write the introduction for this catalogue, giving her own response to the exhibition. She has been my sounding board on this subject for the last thirty years. It is her song I hear as I move through my days on this earth, and it is her questions I try to answer to make me a better man. Is God king, lord, ruler, and master, having dominion over heaven and earth? If the answer is yes, then God is male, and we can go back to sleep for another thousand years or until we are ready to reconsider the question of harmonic balance. Finding true balance in the personal sphere as well as in the world at large will require some major shifts in our thinking. I believe the fuel is ready for ignition, fired by creative people with the need to understand and the willingness to make such shifts.
Shifts in thinking are never easy, and starting points are sometimes unexpected and small. I think that mounting this exhibition in an art center devoted to crafts is significant on all fronts. It takes a shift in the thinking of all concerned for the boundaries of what is craft and what is art to melt away in face of the more important issue of the content of what you are being asked to consider. In this exhibition, I am crossing the line between what is craft and what is art and melding them into one.
In the end, the struggle to achieve a balance of the masculine and feminine may take hundreds or even thousands of years, and true balance in a harmonic sense may be unattainable, but it seems as though so many have made significant achievements in the last fifty, years that the time is right for there to be more public conversation on the subject. I can take no credit or responsibility for anything other than my personal existence, but I also say that it is my hope that this exhibition will recharge the will of those who have been pulling the load for the last half-century and move this subject to the forefront of our minds.
James Surls has been shown in national and international solo and group exhibitions. His works are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Charmaine Locke is a nationally recognized artist both in group and solo exhibitions. As a sculptor, she has been inspired by social issues, architecture, and nature. She was founding director of Amazing Space and has served on the board of directors for the Aspen-Snowmass Council for the Arts, as well as Tomorrow's Voices in Carbondale, Colorado.
Leonard Shlain is the author of three critically acclaimed, national best sellers: Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light; The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image; and Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution.
Kristen Loden is the Executive Director of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.