Yesterday, while buying pizza and beer in Target, I took notice of something.
It’s a scene that I’m sure I’ve seen many times before, but this time it really caught my eye. I noticed two different men with carts full of groceries and each one of them had not one, not two, but THREE kids. Is three the magic number these days?
Anyway, the men were clearly either single-dads or husbands who were out food shopping and taking care of the kids while their wives were tending to other matters, likely at work.
In each case, the guys looked like they were about to flee their self-made prisons at any moment. As I looked at each of them, all I could see was a single mass of groceries with kids screaming and swarming over shopping carts and boxes of cereal and cookies falling as the poor dads rubbed their faces and wondered to themselves how on earth this all came to be.
However, we all know exactly how this was conceived. I’ll come back to all of this in a moment, but let me make a sharp turn here.
For quite some time, I’ve been meaning to write more about men and contemporary art. Because I love art so much, I really want other people, especially men, to understand it. I think most women naturally relate to art even if it’s not part of their daily lives.
Given that this is America, you’re free to believe that art is a “chick thing” or a “gay thing.” If that makes you feel more comfortable about traditional notions of masculinity and manhood ... hey, rock on.
However, the truth is overwhelming and unfortunate. Today, the art world is still dominated by men, most contemporary art solo exhibitions feature male artists, most museum directors are men and of course, most of the Old Masters were men. Poor Mary Cassatt is probably still rolling in her grave.
Of course, people who buy into those traditional notions of manhood might argue that many of these men are or were gay. If that’s the case, then whatever, but there really is a larger point here.
You know, something happened during these last few generations in America that forced men into this straightjacket of masculine existence. If we are truly red-blooded, American men, we’re supposed to stubbornly reject certain things – like art – and embrace others – like Sunday and Monday Night Football ... complete with pizza and beer.
"Real men" are supposed to be able to hold their liquor … not care about their appearance … have a tool belt within reach around the house … always be “one of the guys” and never take part in anything that seems even remotely “gay.” Again, art would be one of those things.
It’s so funny because I’ve always worked with groups of dudes who are staunch sports fans. You name it and they’re followers … the NFL, NBA, NHL and so on.
I have always been the lone guy amid the crowd who couldn’t care less about who scored what and how they did it, what team just traded whom and for how much money and why that particular coach should be fired. I simply don’t care.
Here’s what I’ve learned from all of this (women already know this) … when men are talking endlessly about sports, they really want to be talking about something else, but the NFL is the “socially acceptable” way that men can relate to one another without seeming weird. If other men see you as “one of the guys,” then that means you’re a “real man.” Really?
When most men I meet find out that I’m into art and do not follow sports, they get this look on their faces like they’ve been freed from the plantation. I kid you not. It’s as if they feel they’ve gotten an opportunity to have a conversation with another guy about something without it turning into something “weird” or “gay.” I always laugh to myself when it happens.
You know, part of being a man means that we’ve all got to learn how to walk our own path. We have GOT to learn how to be men outside of what convention considers manhood or masculinity. I’m not an expert, but I think that in some ways, gay men are more evolved than many straight men.
Many of us straight men want to hold onto this artificial, inauthentic notion of manhood that dates back to the 1950s or even way back to caveman times.
I think that as more gay, professional athletes come out of the closet, it’s really going to benefit all men in a somewhat unusual way. Professional sports will have less of this debilitating “pack mentality” and more men will be free to find their manhood within themselves and not through fake exterior sources. Yes, the truth will set all men free.
One thing I know for sure. It’s great to be “one of the guys,” but real men know how to stand alone. Real men know how to follow their bliss even if it seems like an unpopular or “unmanly” thing. For me, that unmanly – yet overwhelming manly – thing is contemporary art. Contemporary art has taught me that when you stop following the crowd, you become the leader of your own life.
You DO NOT find your manhood by following the crowd. That’s how you lose it. You claim your manhood by standing in who God created you to be. I don’t know what that is for you. I can only define it for myself and this I also know for sure; I’m becoming a greater man with the passing of each day. I’m an alpha male not necessarily by convention standards, but by what I expect and demand of myself.
I’ve titled this, “Why Real Men Love Art” because it really represents my own personal journey of choosing my own path in the face of what others might question. This is really everyone’s story … whether they’re male or female, black or white, straight or gay, Democrat or Republican, human or Klingon. Whatever. Stand in your own truth.
I’m thinking back to those dudes in Target yesterday. You know, in their own way, I think they’re very heroic. They’ve made choices for their lives that have put them in somewhat non-traditional roles. They were out grocery shopping alone with their kids in tow. Back in the day, this was considered "woman’s work," but traditional roles are changing, are they not?
What was once considered unmanly is becoming a more common scene. From conception to daily living … real men are making different choices these days. That’s what tough guys do.
Okay, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t really buying “pizza and beer” in Target. I bought chicken and chocolate cake.
Does it really matter?