Two Minds of Love: @kdlang and Ellen Day Hale

Ellen Day Hale. Self Portrait, 1885

Nothing like an intense self-portrait by a woman artist and song by k.d. lang to get one’s intellectual juices flowing. At least, this is what happens to me when I look at this portrait. I examine it and the whole experience is so intensely raw and gutting that I think immediately of its melodic “self-portrait” counterpart; Ingenue. And more specifically I think of the track, “The Mind of Love”.

The point I want to drive home is that this painting and kd’s song are two variations on the same “mind of love”. In some ways each are about grunge-level self-loathing. In others, about a  precarious affirmation of herself in the face of a gender vernacular neither wants to hear.  I am no art expert, and I know that many of the kd fans for whom I write, are. So feel free to comment accordingly.

The main feature of this painting that strikes me is that Hale’s hand is brighter and more prominent and elongated than any other element. To me it seems as if Hale is saying,  “I am able to do things, and I want to do things, but they are not getting done”. Just as her hand has all fingers close to one another and it is drooping, almost like the proverbial dead fish, so too is her head tilted away from it, albeit almost smugly. A closer study shows that her wide-ended sleeve is draped at the same angle as her head; opposite a hand that could be paralyzed. It is her “constant pull towards ache” that kd sings about; the ache of non-action, the ache of unknowing and the ache of non-acceptance.

Other features leap off the canvas. One is the fact that her body is clad in a black-feathered something or other, whose definition is not important. This dark cloud envelops her very soul, dissipating any semblance of traditional sensuality. This is what tends to happen in moments of intensive self-loathing. Even her head is encumbered with a hat that appears over sized or too big for her. Her hair is boyish looking as is her lack of jewelry (save for one ring on her index finger). Clearly, she is pressing the boundaries of 1880’s American traditions about the way a girl should look. But more critical is her expression of herself as stuck between the innate love of self we all have, and the Other’s disapproval of who she is; a disapproval that has been internalized.  In the background is an odd choice of wallpaper. To my mind, this “heavy” pattern represents how others see her. This, in contrast with her black clothing, underscores the tension between her own insecurities and society’s. Each of which are mere creations; an arbitrary definition at best.

It seems to me that kd could have been looking at this painting when she wrote “The Mind of Love”, and that if nothing else, this painting is the poster child of this song.

“The Mind Of Love”

Talking to myself
Causing great concern for my health
Where is your head Kathryn
Where is your head

I’m trying hard to escape
This constant pull towards ache
Why do you fight Kathryn
Why do you fight

Surely help will arrive soon
And cure these self induced wounds
Why hurt yourself Kathryn
Why hurt yourself
Why hurt yourself

Can your heart conceal
What the mind of love reveals

I’m taking to myself again
It’s causing great concern for my health
Where is your head Kathryn
Where is your head
Where is your head Kathryn
Where is your head

Can your heart conceal
What the mind of love reveals
Can your heart conceal
What the mind of love reveals
(Can your heart conceal)
What the mind of love reveals

1 Comment

  1. Yet again, you nail a place I have been and did not understand at all at the time. As I grow older, these things become more clear and I have to be careful not to fall into that trap of “Why didn’t I know this at the time?”
    You make so many things even more clear for me, and I appreciate it. Thank you.


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