(Written in 2012. Recently edited.)
In a recent conversation with Grande Madame, we were discussing what we value most in our closest friends. It took a while, but as I considered them individually and as a group (I am blessed with fantastic friendships, by the way), a concept began to take shape. No matter what their background, occupation, hobbies, gender, age or beliefs -and believe me, this is a widely varied group – the word that I used most often to describe them was sincere.
I take Pride in surrounding myself with fabulous people; people I can have actual conversations with. You know, the ones that take more than 140 characters. But this often means that I disagree with them. And sometimes that can get heated. I tend find this exciting because no matter what we’re talking about I am convinced of their sincerity and that is why we resonate.
Sincerity requires truth and trust. It requires honesty and genuineness. But most of all – and this is why it is uncommon – sincerity requires vulnerability. Without the access you grant others by being unguarded it is impossible to have truly meaningful relationships. And because sincerity shows others that we approve of their learning about us, the best – and really only – way to be Known (a key component in the Meaning of Life) is to be vulnerable.
It’s easy to understand why our culture is averse to vulnerability so I don’t need to go into it in depth here. Suffice it to say that, evolutionarily speaking, vulnerability seems counter-intuitive to survival. But remember, humankind has evolved to a place beyond mere survival so that it is no longer our all-obsessive imperative. This allows us to pursue relationships for the sake of relationships instead of alliances alone. This is the Poetry of human connection.
Research Professor Brené Brown spent ten recent years studying vulnerability. In her summary she wrote that “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, love.” Notice anything Cyprian? She goes on to say that we tend to “pretend instead of being sincere” in order to protect ourselves. By pretending we can give ourselves the impression that we are in control; that there is certainty. We can insulate ourselves from the fact that life offers us no guarantees. We can feel that we belong and are accepted by others.
But what value is that acceptance if it is fully predicated on a lie? Because let’s face it, that’s what pretending, in this case, is – lying. No wonder our psychologies are so fundamentally botched. Pretending and posturing are numbing medications for our vulnerability. But, as Brown has discovered, we cannot numb vulnerability without numbing joy, creativity, belonging and love. When we are not vulnerable we are miserable. (See The Seed, “To be invulnerable is to be incapable of joy.”)
Being vulnerable is scary. It can set you up for attack and failure, which is why it is so rare. It isn’t necessarily recommended to walk around being emotionally exposed and unguarded to everyone you see. But in your relationships, the ones you wish to experience in deep and lasting ways, it is indisputably necessary. There’s your certainty.
Now that we’ve handled the subject in a Speculative way, it’s time to get Operative. Let’s talk art, vulnerability and Cyprianism.
One of the major themes in three of the Foundational Myths of Cyprianism (contained in The Seed) is vulnerability. In The Pouty Fig (the Birth of Venus), Venus is honored for eating the wasp impregnated fig (itself a symbol of vulnerability) by being given legs which She then parts for the multitudes at Paphos. This act gives them succor from their life before the advent of Mutuality, Pleasure and Lust. Venus’ physical act of vulnerability is reprieve.
In The Origin of Shame, Eve, whose name means Life, experiences Her own rebirth in a similar act of literally giving in to death. There’s not much survival instinct there. Or at least She is able to prioritize The Beautiful Life as more important than life itself.
Elpida’s Jar finds our heroine, Hope, allaying all of the apparent evils of the world in a tear jerking act of vulnerability that literally heals the broken. The reason that three out of four of these Foundational Myths are primarily about vulnerability is that the Beautiful Life of Cyprianism, and the art it wishes to create, demands it.
Art should create in us oceanic feelings, nurture in us Poetic resonance, inspire us to desire complexity and breathe the rarefied air it creates. The goals of Cyprianist art are to create Beauty and Know the artist. Sound familiar? …joy, creativity, belonging, love… The Poetry that is given resonance by the Current in Cyprian work is achieved only through the doorway of vulnerability, or as Cypians (Speculative) say, “through Alethia, the First Key of Cyprianism”, or “though the Diamond Gate.”
This is why courtesans embraced the truths of Cyprianism. The Feminine itself (made up of the Virtues of a Courtesan) requires a vulnerability unattainable by most. The naked openness of the Craft, the literal parted thighs, is an ideal model for this precept. Its power is shared between courtesans and artists and is required of the Privileged.
The power that vulnerability gives to art is consuming and can be dangerous. Take, for instance, the artistic depictions of nudity that go back into antiquity but are rarely vulnerable. Demure, aloof, eschewing eye contact – there were strict cultural guidelines that made the use of nudity okay for the public. Each of these guidelines was meant to remove reality (sincerity) from the equation. As long as the subjects remained mythical and otherworldly (ie: not real) it was ironically accepted that they show their flesh. But what was actually removed from the equation was vulnerability – a uniquely human, and therefore too real, quality.
When Francisco Goya in 1800 painted The Naked Maja in line with a pose in the tradition of the mythically reclining Venuses accepted by the public he refused to identify her as such. This immediately placed Maja in the realm of the real and eroticized the portrait to the point of scandal.
He also took a few other liberties. Art historian Christina Voss put it this way: “…in addition to refusing to call this a Venus, thereby eroticizing the image as a candid depiction of one woman naked, Goya does something unprecedented: he paints in the woman’s pubic hair. If there’s any rule an artist would not break, it was the rule of hairlessness, but Goya did it. He included the rich, musky, and very womanly pussy in its natural glory for us to enjoy. And like Titian’s nude, she holds our gaze, as if her pussy were not on full display in front of us.”
And then there was Gustave Courbet. It seems like a discussion of Cyprianist art is never complete without a few words about the painter of L’Origine du monde. Commissioned by an Ottoman diplomat in 1866 CE it was the most daring of Courbet’s career. In fact, the owner only allowed a select audience to ever see it, keeping it safely hidden behind a panel. The painting is small, measuring only 46 cm by 55 cm, and provocatively depicts “a close-up view of the genitals and abdomen of a naked woman, lying on a bed with legs spread” (thanks, Wikipedia), in other words a “meticulously and deliciously crafted view of a woman’s pussy” (much better, Christina Voss).
Here is Courbet at his rebellious, middle-finger best even though this work was created privately and not for the competition of the Salon. In a literal and realistic sense, which was a no-no, he is using the palpable model’s vulnerability – yes, her vulva – to expose the power of art. As Voss says, “He was giving his audience exactly what they wanted, but weren’t prepared to admit.”
It should be clarified here that art need not be overtly erotic to be Cyprianist. Though Cyprianism acknowledges the Erotic Force as the interface between the physical world as we understand it and the Current, obviously sexual art can more easily drift into the territory of clichéd, easy, short-cut driven pap. Artists desire to elicit a response from the viewer and showing a “woman’s pussy” is certainly a way to do that. However, the overwhelming majority of that type of “art” lacks the elegance of Poetry. It is what Speculative Cyprianism calls a shell. In truth, when trying to create a true masterwork with Poetry and a point of view, blatant eroticism is the most difficult avenue to walk.
Interestingly, that path easily becomes one on which the artist is less and less vulnerable, hiding behind the inherent power of eroticized images.
Strive, then, at all times to create a Life and work as an expression of your sincerity and vulnerability. Part the knees of the muse. Develop relationships with your art that require bare-naked connection and expose yourself to the possibility of complete ruin. For those that crave resonance with the Current, there is no other path.