Up until a couple of years ago, I’d never been really into fashion before and I hadn’t realized the art behind designing clothing. Then I learned about Alexander McQueen. I looked up images of his clothing, admired his work when Lady Gaga wore it, and was devastated that just as I was learning about this visionary he took his own life.
Thankfully, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City put together a beautiful collection of McQueen’s work to highlight his accomplishments and honor his genius.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person…but walking through this exhibit, entitled Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, was a deeply spiritual experience for me. I don’t much care if that sounds crazy. To see the work of an artist right in front of you and feel its power and its message is as meaningful to me as (I imagine) any kind of religious text has to its adherents. I believe in art; in the power of human creativity, of human passion and love.
McQueen’s work exemplifies true dedication to one’s passions and such an exquisite exploration of human emotion and action that can only be described as breathtaking. As a master of his medium, he forces viewers to see the clothing in front of them as more than just fashion, but as a glimpse into the soul of another human being struggling to find truth and beauty in this pain-filled and often grotesque world.
Yet, McQueen’s works are full of hope, honesty, and acceptance: of the actions of the past, of the state of the present, and of the adaptability that must occur to guarantee a future. His acknowledgement of the perverse and the disturbing, deeply-buried thoughts found in any and every person’s psyche enabled a redefinition of beauty and what it means to accept oneself.
What does this say for an artist who chose to end his own life? Sometimes, I think, we seek a rational explanation as to why death occurs, but perhaps McQueen himself said it best:
It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholy but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle – everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.”
In a way, McQueen’s death and the Met exhibit have given me “new things” – or at least a new way of seeing things. I double-majored in women’s studies and art history and considering that I decided against working in a museum or teaching, I wasn’t quite sure how art would fit into my life after college. Yet my fascination with McQueen’s work and life brought me a reason to spend a historic night in NYC and rediscover my passion for art.
The feeling of getting lost in another human being’s work; of staring, of searching with your eyes and with your mind for meaning and truth that has not only personal value, but a kind of universal truth is exhilarating. I enter museums and exhibits like Savage Beauty with a yearning and excitement to be enlightened and transported and leave in a mesmerized state of appreciation and awe with a deeper understanding (or confusion, depending) of the human condition.
These thoughts and the powerful ways in which artists communicate can lead us to idolize these people; to view them as larger than life and above basic needs, wants, and flaws. But they’re human – or were human—just like the rest of us. And that’s the beauty of art, whether you “get it,” or like it, or not: some other living, breathing human being that is just as uniquely fucked-up as the rest of us took that which was around them to convey a message – their own message – and impart upon us their individual experience. There is power in truth, in human connection, in expression of oneself. And so, there is power in art.
This post brought to you by Dawn, who doesn’t need any deity other than art.