Artists Who Make Me Stand Still and Breathe: Vivienne Strauss

I first encountered Vivienne Strauss in 2018 when I was searching on Etsy for anything Dorothy Parker-related.

I felt particularly connected or inspired by Dorothy in that moment and I don’t remember why. She tends to come into and out of my life at pivotal moments, though. Like when I’m feeling particularly witty or especially boring.

Let’s pretend I searched Etsy because I had just read one of my favorite poems, “Epitaph for a Darling Lady.”

“Leave for her a red young rose,
Go your way, and save your pity;
She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.”

Isn’t that a great way to end a poem?

And a nice thought?

I think that having pretty dust is a worthy goal because I SERIOUSLY like the idea of having — let’s say — a signature sediment that covers the right people when you blow past them in life.

When you outgrow their abuse. Or when you finally see that anti-version of them that everyone told you existed but you so willfully ignored for far too long. Or when you finally allow yourself to exist FOR yourself instead of for the small shots of turnip blood your relationships are offering you.

Just picturing certain faces covered in my signature dust cheers me up.

For some, I’d want that dust to be a semi-permanent mark of shame. Something that causes further inquiry from the people around them. Something that forces them to be like, “….. I think it’s because I was an emotional terrorist?”

You think glitter is hard to clean up? Enjoy my pretty dust. It’ll come off when you’ve learned how to be a kinder individual.

Dorothy led me to Vivienne.

The first limited edition print I bought of hers, hangs on my living room wall.

PHOTO: Vivienne1

This depiction of Dorothy has all the elements.

Starting with Vivienne’s style. If art has a biorhythm, then hers matches mine. It harmonizes with my energy on a physiological level.

The ideas behind it. The elements of it. The colors, the lines, the subject matter she chooses, the gaze of her subjects … there’s something about the gaze that does it for me. Every woman she depicts has a look that I can only describe as a knowing boredom. Or a knowing resignation. Like her characters are way smarter than the situations the world has put them in — or that the world ALLOWS them to be in — and that intelligence causes a feeling of isolation and resignation. Like “Fine. I’ll participate in this nonsense if it’s all you’ve got for me.”

Oh and I LOVE the unexpectedness of Vivienne’s work. Sometimes I check out what she has going on just to delight in her titles alone.

Take a look and you’ll see what I mean.

Also … I don’t know if that’s actually a Boston terrier sitting on that hassock in that Dorothy Parker piece, but you know I’m fully committed to the idea that it is.

After buying “Dorothy Parker with Her Dogs,” I then got “Queen of the Goddam Snobs,” which feels optimistic to me. Hear me out that thought because I imagine you’re thinking “Naw” …

PHOTO: Vivienne2

My connection to this piece is pretty simple. But, still, that connection contains the requisite complications that my train of thought creates.

Generally speaking, I’m drawn to stars — like the tiara on the center girl’s head.

That part is simple.

But more than that, I like that the boys are peeking out from behind the girls. They’re not just dates. They’re captors pretending to be dates. It’s like they’re saying, “I know this is YOUR thing but don’t forget we’re still in charge here” and the girls are like “Believe me. We KNOW. We’re figuring out a way to end this construct but still technically abiding by it for now. PS. You SHOULD be nervous.”

This is why art is up for interpretation and what makes it so fun.

Finally, in 2020 I turned my dining room into a home office. Not because of COVID but because I wanted a space to write that also looked like a space to write.

But yes, I still continued to write from my bed despite the efforts.

To celebrate the act of pushing my dining room table against a wall so it looked like a desk (lol), I bought “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”

PHOTO: Vivienne3

I’m not a Carson McCullers fan per se — though I did read this book wayyyyyy back in the day and I fully support depictions of loneliness. But I REALLY liked this piece. I liked what it did to my spirit the second I saw it.

Honestly, it felt like a mantra. Just looking at it makes me feel brave and unflinching. It reminds me to not just rip out the heart of my writerly prey but to display it to them.

Having an artist you admire — one whose art stops you in your tracks — should be a requisite.

I was talking to a friend today about how her husband went to a concert of his “favorite guitarist.” I was like “Wow. I wish I had a favorite guitarist. Or even a favorite musician.” Meaning, I wish I appreciated music to the point of knowing the sound of a specific contributor to said music.

It made me realize how art (including music) is hugely important in grounding us as humans.

If you can go see your favorite guitarist or display the works of your favorite artist — who you found because they painted a version of your favorite wordsmith — you’ve removed yourself (however temporarily) from the striving of it all.

You’ve removed yourself from that constant conveyor belt as you work toward the next goal while focusing on the next distraction and contributing your part of the next collective outrage.

For one tiny moment, it’s just you and the art and you feeling like the most YOU version of yourself.

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