BUYING ART. A SIMPLE GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED

old birds, music score, digital collage, framed print, liza cowan, smallequals.com

 

Cross posted from my blog at smallequal.com

I love when people say “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” That’s all you need to know. Sure, the more you know about art history, art theory etc. the deeper your appreciation will be, but when you are buying art for your own home, your number one priority is to buy something that you like, something that makes you happy, something that pleases you. 

 

I ran an art gallery for five years, and the worst customer was the art snob. The best customer was the one who stopped in front of a piece of art, caught their breath, and said, “I love this!”  If your heart leaps when you see something, that’s your cue.

 

Other than that…here are some things to consider.

 

Size

You can approach this as finding a piece of work to fit into a particular space. Empty wall above the couch? You can fill it with one large statement piece, or lots of smaller pieces grouped together. Your choice. It’s usually not a good idea to have just one or two small pieces randomly placed in a large space. Each piece should be placed with purpose. This is true of everything you put into your house.

 

Color

Don’t know where to start? You can buy art to match your curtains or fabric on your chair, as long as you love those colors.  I think this is a great idea, but don’t tell art snobs you did this unless you are prepared for a look of condescension. If you don’t love the colors, don’t buy anything else that uses them. Please.

 

I remember decades ago I had a bedspread that I adored. It made me so happy to look at it. When i decided to paint the walls of my bedroom, I matched the predominant color in the spread. It was a deep, deep blue. I never would have thought to color my walls such a deep color but I was ready to experiment and it was wonderful. The people who make fabrics are generally very knowledgeable, and it’s fine to follow their lead.

 

You probably know which colors resonate for you. If not, spend some time looking a the colors in nature, in photos, on fabric, on pinterest, on your clothing, in magazines, and take note of how you are responding. If you feel happy when you look at those colors, those are the ones to go for. If you want to go the extra mile, make a color board. I like to use pinterest, but you could tear out photos in magazines and keep them in a file. See if you keep liking them.

 

Subject matter

Some people love horses. Others love rusty old boats. Some people love to look at pictures of children, or of grandpas. You might love seascapes, or you might love old portraits. Maybe you love old woodcuts, or brand new shiny abstracts. When you are starting an art collection, you might think about collecting based on themes. You probably won’t stick to one theme, but it’s a place to start. You could have several vintage nursery rhyme prints all framed the same and hung in a group for a wonderful and inspiring wall.

Think of collecting art as a treasure hunt, and always be on the lookout for images of poodles, or boats, or rocket ships. You’ll have fun, and probably end up with a fantastic collection that not only resonates for you, but is also engaging for others to look at.

 

Artist

There may be one or two artists whose work you love. Even very famous and pricey artists usually are reproduced on posters, or open edition prints. Newer artists work is often affordable. If you love an artist, think about collecting their work. Go to local art fairs and craft shows. Go to open studios and art walks. Talk to the artists. You could think about buying one piece a year, for instance. There was one local artist whose work I liked a lot. She made very small paintings of chickens. I thought they were charming. I visited her studio every year during a regional art tour and bought one or two paintings per year. They were only about $25 apiece, but after four years, I had a nice little collection.

 

Genre

I had an obsession for paint-by-number paintings for a while. Yes, it was for an exhibition at my gallery, and I bought about 75 paintings over a five  month period on ebay. That was so much fun. And it was the most popular show I ever ran. It practically sold out. But if you love a particular type of work, go for it with gusto. You don’t have to by 75 paintings. You probably shouldn’t unless you plan to sell them. But if you love black and white photos from the 1940’s, go for it. Or you love engravings of flowers. Or children’s book illustrations. Or you love collage, or manhole cover rubbings. Maybe you think kids art is amazing - I know I do! Or paintings on velvet, if that’s your thing. You like pencil drawings, or, well, you get the picture. Think genre.

 

Price

You know your own price range. Generally art is not cheap, but it doesn’t have to be super expensive to be good. Original, unique pieces will probably be more expensive. Hand made prints, like silkscreens, lithographs, woodcut prints, monoprints, etc can be more expensive, but not necessarily. Some artists like making their work very accessible, which often means affordable. Others do not. It takes a lot of time, practice, and labor to make art. Artists often spend decades learning their craft, and should be paid well, but it’s up to you, the buyer, to be mindful of your own budget.

 

That’s it.

LOVE. Buy what you love! If your heart leaps, that’s the cue.

And keep these things in mind:

  1. SIZE
  2. COLOR
  3. SUBJECT
  4. ARTIST
  5. GENRE
  6. PRICE

 

Let me know what you think.

 

PS: Be sure to check out all the art I have for sale at smallequls.com  my shop. 

 

PPS: sign up for my mailing list. You may get a fun email someday.


FROM MY BLOG AT MY ONLINE SHOP: Meta blogging

Life is often a hall of mirrors, infinite regression. I accept that. 

My online shop is hosted by etsy. The etsy pattern platform has a blog. Which I use. 

Here's a post from my blog at smallequals.com 

It's a repeat of a post I did here. 

Can you blame me for feeling a bit lost in all this meta blogging? 

 

Lead your own parade cup in blog post at smallequals.com
the blog from my etsy pattern shop www.smallequals.com

 

 

 

 


THREE NEW CUPS AT SMALLEQUALS.COM. MORNING INSPIRATION

 

Yay. Three cups are now in the shop!

All designed by me, Liza Cowan. They passed all my tests: colors are bright and vivid, images are fun and correctly placed. And they are really nice to drink from. 

 

Three cups smallequals.com 11 0z ceramic mugs with designs by Liza Cowan
Three cups by Liza Cowan

 

 

Love your mother earth cup from ssmallequals.com , Liza Cowan Design LLC
Love Your Mother Earth 11 oz cup from smallequals.com

 

Lead your own parade 11 oz cup from smallequals.com Liza Cowan, LLC
Lead Your Own Parade cup from smallequals.com. 1902 illustration Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars

 

 

11 oz mug from smallequals.com, Liza Cowan Design LLC, When women rule, everyone will be free
When Women Rule, Everyone Will Be Free. Mug by Liza Cowan Design, LLC smallequals.com

 


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NEW PRODUCT - CUPS FROM SMALLEQUALS.COM

In the ten years I've been doing this blog, you've seen me introduce a host of new products. Some sold well. Others didn't. Running a business is always a process. Or, as the trendies say now, a "journey."

Now I'm introducing mugs. I found a wonderful printer in the US that manufactures and drop ships. That's great for me, because the last thing I want is shelves full of inventory and trips to the post office. That was fine when I was younger, but now...no thanks. But with all the advances in print technologies and online servicing, it's now relatively easy to do make a great product AND have it delivered to the customer's home in a pretty package, safe and sound. 

Phew! Here's where to shop

 

 

cup, when women rule everyone will be free, 11 oz mug from small equals
When Women rule, everyone will be free. 11 oz mug from Small Equals


 

When Women rule, everyone will be free. This is a variation on a print I designed, first as a silkscreen and then as a digital collage. Now available in mug form. The girls are a highly altered version of a mid 20th century matchbox label. I just adore them, and use them over and over.

 

Mug, Lead your own parade, smallequals.com
Lead Your Own Parade. 11 oz mug from Smallequals.com
 

 

Lead Your Own Parade. This little saying popped into my mind a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a cheerful idea to ponder with morning coffee or tea. I went on an image hunt,  I found this illustration at a library digital collection, from a 1902 children's book illustrated by Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars. It suited perfectly. 

Children of our town  carolyn wells  illustrations by E. Mars and MH Squire 1902  copy
The Children Of Our Town. Carolyn Wells. Illustrations by E. Mars and MH Squire. 1902

 

I went ahead and cleaned it up in Photoshop, designed the template for the cup manufacturer, and then set about researching the artists. I found Ethel Mars and Maud Hunt Squire.

Lo and behold the Misses Squire and Mars were American artists who met in art school in Ohio in the 1890's, then moved to Paris where they became pals with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, and of course they worked and exhibited with many of the artists there. 

During world war one they moved back to the US and lived in Provincetown, MA, then back to France, where they lived in Vence. During Ww2 they hid out in Grenoble, then went back to France until they died in 1955 and 1956. 

The Gertrude Stein's word portrait "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene was based on them. .

And now they've landed on my cup. I'm delighted but no longer shocked by these everyday moments of serendipity. 

 

Mug LOVE YOUR MOTHER EARTH SMALL EQUALS CUP MOCKUP
Love Your Mother Earth. 11 oz mug from smallequals.com

 

Love Your Mother Earth. Yes, I use this phrase often in my art and products. Because it's so important! This design is based on another print I made as a silkscreen. The silkscreen design was based on a photo I took of a package of Easter Jelly Beans. I'm not a Christian, but Easter packaging always makes me happy. The colors!! 

This digital version, quite different from the original, is now gracing a mug. My goal is to give you something happy and positive to absorb with your hot beverage of choice. I think it's so important to start the day with happy thoughts to set the tone for the rest of the day. 

Here's what it looked like as a silkscreen. I made this and all my silkscreens at Iskra Print Collective in Burlington, VT.

 

silkscreen, liza cowan, jelly beans
Jelly Beans silkscreen by Liza Cowan 2017 


 Find the cups here


FINANCIAL LITERACY - NO TIME TO BUDGET?

I'm not a financial expert of advisor. These are just some things I've learned. 

budget, budgeting, saving money, money plan,

I started keeping a budget in July of 2015. I learned how to by reading books, blogs and online articles. .

I have saved thousands of dollars by having a plan, a roadmap, a blueprint. By cutting out things I don't need or can't afford. By spending less than I earn. By making sure I pay myself first, in my money market savings account. By learning how to say "no" and when to say "yes."

I don't have any debt - I've always been debt averse and rarely borrowed without definite a plan for a pay back date. 

But for people who do have debt - how much of your money are you basically just giving to the bank by not paying down your debt? 

The only way to get a grip on your money is to have a plan. Think if the money you will save! Is that worth your time? You bet!

 

These days, I am loving the online budget tracker from everydollar.com. It's free, and so easy to use.

 

 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - STORY OR NUMBERS

I'm not a financial expert, or a financial advisor. These are just some things I've learned and think about. 

 

Story or numbers, money and emotions, financial planning, budget

Numbers can tell a story, but can a story help clarify numbers? I don't think so. 

When you are thinking about numbers and budgeting, it may be helpful to think things through with a narrative. It may help clarify your motivation, needs, wants, patterns. But when it comes time to discussing the actual finances, story can get in the way. 

Imagine this conversation about a proposed vacation:

"I work really hard all year and I deserve to go to Bermuda for a couple of weeks.  Just because I will have to go into a little more debt to pay some bills coming due, that's no reason not to go to the beach. It's not that expensive, just air fare and a hotel, but I didn't book the most expensive hotel, and I really need to relax.  Remember that time a few years ago that you wanted to buy a new refrigerator and I thought it was a bad idea? Did I tell you not to?  No I did not. Well I want a vacation. You have no right to tell me how to spend my money."

Cool story. But where are the numbers? How can anyone make a financial decision based on a story? 

How about this, instead?

budget review example

 The caveat. You have to make a budget first!

And, as Suze Orman would say ...."VACATION DENIED!"


FINANCIAL LITERACY - A PENNY SAVED

I'm not a financial expert or a financial consultant. These are just some ideas I've learned and thought about. 

A penny saved is a penny earned  saving money  _Editing

 

My dishwasher died last week. It was one that came with the house when I bought it three years ago, and it was always just so-so. 

I did some research on prices for a new one, found the one I wanted from a local dealer that I like. I picked a Bosch, because I have had good experiences with their appliances before. The cheapest one I found was about $600 installed. That's not so bad. I could have chosen another, cheaper brand, but in the long run, I don't think that's a good idea. 

My short-term  financial goal  is to save or earn $5,000 by November 1st. I've already saved $2,000 by using my Piggy Bank System, and I've got the next few months budgeted. But $600 would take quite a chunk out of it. 

My solution? A $28 stainless steel dishwashing rack (with a draining mat and a wire utensil holder.) Initially, I bought a cheaper one, but it was too flimsy and I'd have hated using it. So I splurged on the one I liked best. 

I cook every meal at home, but usually it's just for me, so I don't accumulate that many dishes. Maybe I will  buy that new dishwasher next year, but you can bet that I will be using my Piggy Bank System to save up for it. 

 

Cost of dishwasher    $600

Cost of dish rack          $28

________________________

Money saved             $572.00

 

A penny saved is a penny earned. 

 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - EXCUSES

I'm not a money expert, or a financial planner. These are just some things I think about and try to live by.

Budgeting  overspending  excuses

I have heard all of these...and I've said them all, too. 

But an excuse is not a plan. 

How does your spending affect your bottom line? Do you have a bottom line? Do you know where it is?

If you have spent too much on the things you DON'T need, and find that you don't have the resources to pay for what you DO need, you have robbed Peter to pay Paul. Sometimes you are both Peter AND Paul. 

Make a budget. A budget is a plan, a map, a blueprint. 

 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - BUDGETING TOOLS

I'm not a money expert, or a financial advisor. The ideas I'm sharing are just a synthesis of things I've learned and try to stick to.

Tools for budgeting


Budget is key. I don't use a lot of online apps, though they are available and some people love them. .

I use my credit union online banking service to keep track of my (non-cash) payments and my income. I pay all my regular monthly bills by direct pay. Before I did this, I'd always have a growing mountain of bills sitting on a side table, which I would avoid every day. The stress, plus the late fees, made my financial life a nightmare. Now I know they are paid on time, and I can track them easily.

To make my budget I started by making a list of every bill that comes in monthly or regularly. Insurance, taxes, utilities, cable and streaming services, garbage and snow removal, loans, etc. I added them up, decided which ones I could live without, and cancelled them. Add them up again and you have your monthly "nut." I subtracted the "nut" from my personal income. And voila, that's my spending money for the month. 

BUT--- there are other regular expenses : the variables. Groceries, gas, dentist, appointments, vet bills.


If there are kids living at home, the variables can become intense. Mine no longer live at home, so that helps. College fees, though! That's a subject in itself. .


FINANCIAL LITERACY - SPENDING JOURNAL

I'm not a money expert, or a financial advisor. The ideas I'm sharing are just a synthesis of things I've learned and try to stick to.  Spending journal

Keep a spending journal. In addition to figuring out your monthly "nut" (see my lat post) its important to know Where the rest of your money is going. You might be surprised to see how quickly the little things add up, and how often you pay for things things that you don't really need. .

I use an ordinary spiral, lined notebook. And a pencil. I write down each purchase, no matter how small. .

A daily $2.00 coffee x five times a week = $10. That's $40 a month on coffee. That's $520 a year!
Buy a thermos, make your coffee at home, and use the savings to pay down your debt. Or fix a window sill. Or put it in a savings account. Or your kid's college fund. .

I use cash for almost everything, so its extra important for me to write things down each day. I forget where the money goes otherwise, and you probably do too. .

The first few months of my spending journal I taped receipts onto the page. It's good to know how much you spent at the grocery store. Even better to pay attention to what you are buying and how much it costs. .

Did you really need to buy a hardcover edition of a new book? Or the latest edition of a glossy magazine? Or that new pair of shoes? Maybe you did. Maybe you didn't. But you will be aware of how much they add to your weekly expenses. With that knowledge you can begin to make better choices and build a sustainable budget. 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - WANTS AND NEEDS

financial literacy, want or need, budget, money planning

 

We all have things we need, and we need to pay for them. Healthful, nutritious food, A roof over our heads, clothing to keep us warm or dry. In this era, we need other basics, like health insurance, education, transportation. These are tangibles. And must be paid for. Sometimes directly, sometimes through taxes.

Other needs are maybe not so tangible, that is, we can't purchase them. Clean water, clean air, beauty, justice, friendship, peace, love, safety, respect. 

And there are things that are for sale that we might want, but we don't need. I love cookies, too. And I love to buy things for my home. But buying these things without a plan is just reckless. Remember, the little numbers add up. 

Make your budget, map out your wants and needs. Pay for the things you need. Pay down your debt. Figure out how much college will cost for your kids, if that's in their future. Decide if you really need that expensive vacation, or is there another way you can have fun and relax?

Do you have a "fun bank?" Do you have an emergency fund? 

Learning the difference between want and need is one of the hardest lessons, and one of the most rewarding. 

 

1952 cookbook, ladies tea party, cookies, vintage tea party

 I use my "fun bank" for cookies. And sometimes, for having friends over for a little tea party. That's fun too. 

 

 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - THRIFT

Thrift, saving money, money management

 

Spending within your means is one way to be thrifty. 

Putting money into a money market savings account, or other growth account, is another way to be thrifty. 

But "thrift" must also include good stewardship, not only of your personal finances, but also for stewardship for your community. When you put your money into a Credit Union, your money works for the community. When you put it into a national bank, your money can, and probably does, go to invest in  businesses like The Dakota Access Pipeline, or other environmentally destructive enterprises. 

Likewise, if you invest in stocks, make sure that the companies you invest in are environmentally accountable, are not in the business of arms profiteering or other harmful shennanigans. 

We are all connected. 

The inverse of Extravagance is Thrift. 

The root word of "thrift" is "thrive." What do you need to thrive?

 

follow along on instagram

 

 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - EXTRAVAGANCE

Extravagance,  beyond your means, excess,

Think of your budget as a map. Extravagance is going outside the boundaries of your budget. This will vary from person to person, family to family. The first step to staying within your means is to make a budget. Then stick to it. 

For some, going to the movies will be extravagant. For others, a trip to Europe will be an extravagance. There are ways to budget for things, but ignorance, intentional or not, will take you outside the limits. Remember that every penny counts, and the little things add up. 

Are you going into debt for the necessities because you have spent too much on the extravagances?  It helps to know the difference between want and need, and to plan for the "wants" without going into debt for the "needs."

In other words, set limits. Boundaries are a good thing. 

follow along on instagram

 

 


FINANCIAL LITERACY - PIGGY BANK TIME

Saving cash, piggy bank, financial literacy, money tips, emergency funds

I'm not a money expert or a financial advisor. The ideas I'm sharing are things I've learned and try to stick to. .

You never know when an emergency will hit. Or if there will be a big ticket item you need to buy. When my 12 year old dog needed emergency surgery earlier this year, I was glad I had saved enough cash to pay for it. .

If you give yourself a weekly cash allowance (see my previous post) you might find, if you spend carefully, that you have extra left over. Piggy bank time!

I save cash in addition to the 10% of my monthly income that I put into my money market savings account at my credit union. 

In addition to my emergency fund, I love my "fun bank." I only go to a movie, or to a restaurant, or order take-out, if there's enough in the fun bank to pay for it. If that's only once or twice a month, that's fine with me. I don't even buy coffee out anymore.

I don't know about you, but I love to watch my savings grow. As I age, the stakes are higher, and knowing I'm banking on my future is with its weight in gold. 

Follow along on instagram


FINANCIAL LITERACY - SPENDING CASH

financial literacy, money tips, spend cash, budgeting,

 

I'm not a money expert or a financial advisor. The ideas I'm sharing are some things I've learned and try to stick to. .

CASH

I figured out my monthly fixed expenses and a general idea of monthly necessary variables (see my last posts on budgeting and keeping a spending journal.)

I also add my monthly contribution to my savings account - 10% for me - to my monthly spending sum.

Do allow for random extra  necessary variables like dentist appointments, kids birthday parties etc. AKA padding. And add that amount into your monthly expenses. Then subtract the total from the monthly net income.  

If you have debt...pay it down as regularly as possible. I'm not an expert on this, but you can find some good advice online, or ask a professional financial advisor about it. Whatever you decide, add this amount into your monthly expenses. 

Divide by four and that should give you a weekly cash budget. You should still have enough in your checking account for your monthly fixed bills AND some random necessary  variables. 

I use cash for almost everything. I take some with me in my wallet, and leave the rest in a safe place at home. If I have to use a credit card or a check, I remove that amount from my weekly cash allotment and put it in the piggy bank. .

My goal is to have some left at the end of the week to put into my cash reserve piggy bank. 

Remember to keep track of every penny spent. .


FINANCIAL LITERACY - SPENDING JOURNAL

Financial literacy, budgeting, spending journal

I'm not a money expert, or a financial advisor. The ideas I'm sharing are just a synthesis of things I've learned and try to stick to. 

Keep a spending journal. In addition to figuring out your monthly "nut" (see my lat post) its important to know Where the rest of your money is going. You might be surprised to see how quickly the little things add up, and how often you pay for things things that you don't really need. .

I use an ordinary spiral, lined notebook. And a pencil. I write down each purchase, no matter how small. .

A daily $2.00 coffee x five times a week = $10. That's $40 a month on coffee. That's $520 a year!
Buy a thermos, make your coffee at home, and use the savings to pay down your debt. Or fix a window sill. Or put it in a savings account. Or your kid's college fund. .

I use cash for almost everything, so its extra important for me to write things down each day. I forget where the money goes otherwise, and you probably do too. .

The first few months of my spending journal I taped receipts onto the page. It's good to know how much you spent at the grocery store. Even better to pay attention to what you are buying and how much it costs. .

Did you really need to buy a hardcover edition of a new book? Or the latest edition of a glossy magazine? Or that new pair of shoes? Maybe you did. Maybe you didn't. But you will be aware of how much they add to your weekly expenses. With that knowledge you can begin to make better choices and build a sustainable budget. 

You can follow along on instagram.


FINANCIAL LITERACY - TOOLS FOR BUDGETING


Tools for budgeting. Financial literacy. budgeting

 

I'm not a money expert, or a financial advisor. The ideas I'm sharing are just a synthesis of things I've learned and try to stick to. 

Budget is key. I don't use a lot of online apps, though they are available and some people love them. 

I use my credit union online banking service to keep track of my (non-cash) payments and my income. I pay all my regular monthly bills by direct pay. Before I did this, I'd always have a growing mountain of bills sitting on a side table, which I would avoid every day. The stress, plus the late fees, made my financial life a nightmare. Now I know they are paid on time, and I can track them easily.

To make my budget I started by making a list of every bill that comes in monthly or regularly. Insurance, taxes, utilities, cable and streaming services, garbage and snow removal, loans, etc. I added them up, decided which ones I could live without, and cancelled them. Add them up again and you have your monthly "nut." I subtracted the "nut" from my personal income. And voila, that's my spending money for the month. .

BUT--- there are other regular expenses : the variables. Groceries, gas, dentist, appointments, vet bills.
If there are kids living at home, the variables can become intense. Mine no longer live at home, so that helps. College fees, though! That's a subject in itself. 

You can follow along at Instagram


FINANCIAL LITERACY - SOME THINGS I'VE LEARNED

I'm doing a series on Financial Literacy, as far as I understand it, on Instagram. I'm not a financial expert, or advisor. These are just some ideas I've learned and try to stick to. I'll be posting them here, as well. 

I've learned this about money. financial literacy. money management. budget.

These days I think about money and do my best to make careful choices. This was not always so. I used to be terrified of taking charge of my spending, and avoided thinking about, or being aware of, my own habits and my financial picture. One day, at age 66, I realized that if I did not figure it out ASAP, I might not have a chance of supporting myself as I age. This was sobering.
I spent a year keeping a daily expenses chart- it was very instructive. I read books, blogs and IG accounts about finance. These are a few goals and ideas I've learned, and that I live by now, after a lifetime of avoiding the topic like the plague.


Berkshire Conference On The History Of Women: Reclaiming The Future, by Liza Cowan, Windy City Times, 1990

I wrote the following article in 1990 about two trips I made to The Berkshire Conference on The History of Women, one in 1987 and one in 1990. In it I point out the differences I saw in the two conferences, and my different responses to them, in the pivotal time when Second Wave Feminism was waning and what we now loosely call Third Wave Feminism was on the rise. 

 

I offer it to you at this moment without annotation or commentary, except to add that after I wrote this article, I went to college and graduate school, and got a Masters Degree in Anthropology, focussing on 19th Century Medicine.  

 

 

Berkshire Conference on the history of women article by liza cowan windy city times 1990
Berkshire Conference on The History of Women. Liza Cowan 1990

 

Liza Cowan

Windy City Times

Thursday, June 28, 1990

 

Three years ago, in June of 1987, The Seventh Berkshire Conference on the History of Women helped save my life by giving me a collective historical past. This year’s Berks left me nervous that academic historians were going to revise my personal/political history beyond my recognition.

 Five months before the ’87 Berks, I had taken the drug Ecstasy and plunged into a state of constant terror. I had enjoyed the drug several times with no bad effects, but this time while I was tripping a cynical and uninformed friend told me that in five years everybody would be dead from AIDS. My mind, in its chemically altered and vulnerable state, believed her literally. My stomach went cold and knotty, darkness closed in on my internal visual field. I took myself home and tried every psychological trick I knew to change my subjective reality. I couldn’t. And as the days passed, it got worse.

 It wasn’t just my personal health that scared me. Sure, I was afraid of getting sick and dying. But the worst part for me was believing that there would be no people in the future. The memory of all our generations since the beginning of our species would disappear - forever.

 On a more personal note there would be no one to remember me, Liza. I had decided when I was 15 years old that I didn’t want to be famous, but I did want to be a legend, and I had structured my life’s work to that end. The word “legend” implies that there will be someone in the future to know about you. Legend implies future. I now believed there would be none. The future was blank. I was stuck in a terror-filled present. At the ’87 Berks, I found my path to healing through the past.

 I am not a historian; I have no academic training at all. The closest I ever came to doing history was when I presented a slide show, “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, 1900-1976” at the Lesbian History Exploration, a grass-roots lesbian history conference held in California in 1976. My sister, Holly Cowan Shulman, is a historian, and had been been invited to read a paper at the ’87 Berks on “The Image Of Women Presented Over The Voice Of America 1942-1945.” She asked me to go with her; she knows history, I know women

 I found tons of dykes at the Berks, some old friends, many women I didn’t know. I’d say there were several hundred visible/identified lesbians, many more woven throughout the conference. Every session featured at least one lesbian presentation. Joan Schwarz from The Lesbian Herstory Archives charmed us with her slide show on lesbians in Greenwich Village. Del Martin, Phyllis Lyons and Barbara Gittings presented an oral history of The Daughters of Bilitis. Two lesbians came from abroad to discuss “The Transition to Modern Lesbianism in Denmark and Holland.” Dykes packed the hall to hear about “Love and Friendship in the Lesbian Bar Communities in the 1950’s and ’60’s.” In a hot crowded room, we sweated through Tee Corrinne and Flavia Rando’s slide show on Lesbian Art from 1905-1930.” (Lesbians were not given the most luxurious or spacious accommodations.)

 Halfway through the conference, I remembered the summer when I was 10 years old and my mother and older brother took me to the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, a vast place with many varied food stalls. My mom gave me some money and set me off on my own to explore and have lunch. When we regrouped she asked me what I had eaten. “A hot dog,” I told her. She couldn’t believe it. With all the different and new foods available, I’d eaten a hot dog!? Why hadn’t I tried something I’d never had before, she asked, and marched me off to find new taste thrills.

 As much as I love lesbians (and hot dogs) I decided that since I already knew a lot about the lesbian subjects  that were being offered, I should take advantage of the opportunity to explore areas I knew little about.

 I learned from Sarah McMahon of Bodoin College about “The Indescribable Care Devolving Upon a Housewife: The Preparation and Consumption of Food on the Midwestern Frontier, 1800-1860. She compared recollections in women’s, mens and children’s journals from that time. Sally McMurry’s paper on “Women Cheesemakers in Oneida County, New York, 1830-1870” sent me back in time in my imagination to a rural area I had actually lived near. Lori Ann Keen taught me about “The Role of Afro-American Women as Innovators in the Fashion and Cosmetic Industries in the 1920’s,” and my all-time favorite, the one that moves me still, Marilyn Ferris Motz’s paper on “Lucy Keeler: Home and Garden as Metaphor.”

This was what I had wanted all my school years - to know about how women lived. I never cared about wars or presidents or any of that stuff of which man’s history was made. but it touched me profoundly that someone would write her PhD dissertation on the flower garden of a middle-aged spinster in the suburban Midwest at the turn of the century, that designing and maintaining a personal garden, feeding a pioneer family, or the life of a lesbian bar community was as worthy of analysis as, say, founding a railroad, or maintaining a career in Congress. Years before I heard this paper, I was impressed by Alice Walker’s essay, “In Search Of Our Mother’s Gardens” in which she wrote, “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s day? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.”

The weekend’s revelations revelations suddenly made the past bloom for me. By hearing these papers I regained, as Anne Of Green Gables might say, Scope For The Imagination. In this blossoming the intimate garden of women’s lives, with its twisty paths and shaded groves of leafy rich details, my mind had a place to go to heal.

 Through the past, I eventually regained an image of time that included the future, an image that had disappeared during my five-month drug abyss. (The process of healing from Ecstasy Hell was more complex than I have gone into here. It took a year and a half to fully recover. Please, even if you’ve taken Ecstasy in the past and its been fine, don’t do it again If you've never done it don’t.) My life went on, but the Berks held a special place in my heart. Three years later, when it was held again, I was eager to go.

 Looking through the 1990 program I didn’t see very many of the intimate garden-type papers I’d enjoyed so much the last time, so I decided to concentrate on the lesbians, check out what was happening in the field of lesbian history.

 The conference was far too vast and complex for me to report on as a whole. Even keeping tabs on all the lesbian activities was too much. My experience was quite different this time, knowing I was there to write about the conference. I was far more attuned to the issues and controversies than I had been last time when I was there for my own amusement and healing.

 Lesbian accessibility and visibility are ongoing issues at the Berks. It took true dyke devotion for several hundred of us to hike over to the Lesbian Reception since at the last minute the venue was changed to a gym that was so far away from the main events that it was off the college map. A truly marginalizing experience.

 A Friday evening roundtable discussion “Documenting Third World Lesbian Communities” was bumped from its original location by the last minute scheduling of a talk by Kate Millet. Juanita Ramos and June Chen carried on, and both did excellent presentations, despite being put into a room with inadequate audio-visual equipment. It was a sleight that could not be overlooked. The Lesbian Caucus decided to go to the Sunday Berks business meeting, where it was decided that these issues would be put onto the agenda for the next Berks planning meeting.

 Most of the papers and presentations were given by academics. My overall impression was that the papers were much more abstract than last time, filled with the trendy jargon of deconstructionism. I wished they’d spoken English. I was both bored and annoyed by the rapid-fired droning reading styles of many of the presenters, and I found it very hard to take notes.

 None of the papers I heard thrilled me the way those few had at the last Berks. I enjoyed some. The paper on the “Radical Women of Heterodoxy” inspired me to consider doing biographical research. But when I look back at my experience of the Berks, I see that my focus is concentrated on two panels. I thought about them more than any others, both during the conference and afterward.

 On a hot, muggy Saturday afternoon I went to a panel discussion called, “Will The Real Lesbian Please Stand Up? Questions of theory and Method in Current Historical Research.” Becki Ross, dressed in a black leather jacket, miniskirt and bright red lipstick, read her paper on the “Social Organization of Lesbians in Toronto, 1976 - 1980.” She was talking about LOOT, a Toronto lesbian group. I was having a little trouble following the details because I was trying to remember if they were the Toronto lesbians I had had a big fight with in 1977. (I checked some correspondence when I got home and found out they were, which made it ironic that the more Becki went on about them, the more I identified with them.) She had done interviews with some of the women involved in the LOOT social space and her main point, I think, was that this lesbian community was repressive. They insisted on a conformity of thought and dress - the dress being drab flannel shirts and workboots, the thought being that women-only space was a radical act on its own. Sex work and gay male issues were not represented. As I listened, I began to feel uncomfortable. It had occurred to me that Becki had some agenda, some point of view that she was not expressing overtly, but that she was weaving into the paper. Something about how these lesbians were repressive. Was there a sexual theme to her analysis?

I was a lesbian-separatist activist in the ’70’s. I believed that women-only space was a radical idea. I still do. As I sat listening to Becki, I thought, “She doesn’t understand what we were doing. I don’t think she respects these women she’s talking about.” It was hard to remember that she wasn’t talking about me.

I think it’s too soon to analyze what happened 10 to 15 years ago and to declare it history. We don’t have enough distance on the time, enough perspective. Everything from 15 years ago appears weird. Look at the clothes, hairstyles, furniture. Now they just look stupid. Soon they will look interesting, and later they will be retro-stylish, like things from the 1950’s are now. Fifteen years later is the time to tell stories, ask questions, get oral histories, collect pictures, begin to put the pieces together. But it’s not time to analyze.

When Becki was finished, Julia Creet from the University of California-Santa Cruz read her comments on the papers. She mentioned “sex radicals” and (I wrote this down) “the sexual repression of lesbians in the 1970’s."  When it was time for questions I raised my hand. I said I felt like I’d been living on Mars instead of New York City, but I didn’t know what a “sex radical” was. I didn’t think that lesbians of the ’70’s were sexually repressive and, if we were, I’d like to know how. I was afraid that what they meant by repressive was someone who, like me, had an unfavorable analysis of sado-masochism.

I literally didn’t understand Julia’s answer. I don’t think she ever defined “sex radical” or said how the lesbians of the ’70’s were repressive. I didn’t want to turn it into a dialog so I shut up. But I was uncomfortable. Was “sex radical” about sado-masochism? Could it means something about butch-femme? Transsexuals? I strained my imagination to figure out what it could mean. How come I didn’t know the term, and why could they not explain it to me? If their analysis of of the lesbians of the ’70’s was formed by a “sex radical” perspective as I had a hunch it was, I wanted to know what “sex radical” meant. I never found out.

At another presentation, on another day, I was intrigued by the ideas of naming and self-concept. Lisa Duggan, in her paper on female cross-dressing and the “mannish lesbian” of the late 19th century, told the story of a famous murder case from the 1890’s, in which a young woman killed her lover rather than live without her. Almost as an aside, she spoke about women struggling to create themselves. She insisted that it’s too early to look for “lesbians” in the 1870’s or 1880’s. In this deconstructionist analysis even women who were sexually active with women, women involved in passionate friendships, even passing women, did not have an inner knowing of themselves as “a kind of person with subjectivity of self.” (I think she meant a sense of self as agent, perceiver, active player, rather than object.) A lesbian identity is created, she said. The “mannish woman” at the turn of the century pioneered lesbian subjectivity because her self-presentation took her outside of the female world.

I wonder if we are only lesbian if we have a word for it. Do women loving women in other cultures/times have “subjectivity?” And does that matter. What did they call themselves, and how did they conceive of their love for other women? What should we call women who loved women but didn’t call it anything? Should we give them a different name? Names? How do we discuss them with each other?

I will probably continue to call these women lesbians, but I enjoy thinking about the idea of self-description and and how it changes over time. I wonder how the concept we now call “lesbian” will evolve. I speculate that we are only beginning to be able to know how vast, how powerful, women-centered life can be.  And that’s truly Scope For The Imagination.


The Future Is Female. Now in The Washington Post

The Future Is Female, quote from Liza Cowan
The Future Is Female

I was quoted yesterday in The Washington Post, and they also ran three of my photos, all about the now-famous slogan, t-shirt and button, The Future Is Female. 

I liked that they reposted this quote, which I originally wrote for an interview with Charlotte Cush at i_D magazine in 1975.

The Washington Post article is HERE 

The i_D interview is HERE


When a blog becomes a book.

Technologies change. I like to think of this blog as an eternal resource, but that's probably foolish. While it seems that for now online sources have been able to store information while updating their capabilities, who knows what can happen to any given blog, or any types of technologies?  

seesaw blog becomes seesaw book
Seesaw the blog becomes seesaw the book

 

 In a recent Facebook conversation on this topic, my friend Andrea Humphrey said this:

"On a class tour of the Schlesinger Library in the 90's, an archivist was showing us boxes of Dorothy West's letters and articles. I suggested that archivists would be relieved when all the archives come to them on space-saving floppies.  She said, 'quite the opposite. the technology required for humans to read hard copies will never change," but with the fast high tech innovation cycles and also the ways in which digital archives on discs disintegrate compared to on paper, they were dreading the enormous loss of important historical artifacts that can now occur before we even know whether they are important."

 

The technology required for humans to read hard copies will never change. 

 

I love that! And how nice it is to hold a book in your hands. The reading experience is so different. And how much easier for a brick and mortar archive to put an actual book on the shelf. So now the born-digital posts I've written are in a book. Just one copy, for now, for my own archive. In the future, we'll see. It will probably end up at The Schlesinger Library, too. 

 

Seesaw blog becomes seesaw book liza cowan dorothy I height  wednesdays in mississippi
Seesaw blog becomes seesaw book. Photo of Dr. Dorothy I Height, article about Wednesdays In Mississippi

 

If you blog, you might want to try this. I used a service called Into Real Pages.  Very easy to use. There are others. It was not inexpensive, but the result is priceless. 

 

Seesaw blog becomes seesaw book liza cowan polly cowan
SeeSaw Blog becomes SeeSaw book.