September 10, 2014

What do you think it would be like growing up with artist parents who were both focusing on female genitalia?

"[Lena] Dunham’s mother is the photographer Laurie Simmons, her father the painter Carroll Dunham. Simmons, who’s known for photographing miniature scenes she stages with dollhouses and other objects, took a lot of nude self-portraits when she was in her early 20s. Carroll Dunham’s oeuvre includes sexually explicit renderings of voluptuous, often cartoonish women with genitals that look like mouths. Dunham has often said that despite having many hang-ups, nudity isn’t among them. And while it may be reductive to link that fact directly to her parents’ explorations of the female form, her bond with them sometimes appears to have the qualities of an artistic collaboration as well as being a source of safety and security."

From the NYT Magazine article "Lena Dunham Is Not Done Confessing." I found the slide show at the link — of family photos, showing her sister and her parents — quite fascinating. I know lots of my readers will feel compelled to inform me that they dislike Lena Dunham, so since I already know that about you, try to humor me by saying something else. What did you think of those family photos?, for example. And what do you think it would be like growing up with artist parents who were both focusing on female genitalia? If you turned into an artist after all of that, what kind of artist do you think you would be?

87 comments:

damikesc said...

The parents seem more than mildly creepy and I'd assume that the obsession over genitalia would make somebody find sex itself less special and a more disposable commodity.

Whether that is good is your opinion, natch.

madAsHell said...

my own distinctly feminist upbringing

There's that word again. It seems to mean whatever you want it to mean. Just ask Beyonce.

Kelly said...


The picture from 2010 struck me because Lena looks attractive in it. I honestly thought she was naturally very homely. That tells me her unattractiveness is an act. I wonder why her parents look so stiff and unsmiling?

traditionalguy said...

PUPARAZZO REDUX...The Dunham's at play.

Drago said...

snip: "To suggest that Dunham is too young, too privileged, too entitled, too narcissistic, neurotic and provincial (in that rarefied Manhattan-raised way) to be dispensing advice to anyone is to add very little to the ever-expanding, very much already-in-progress conversation about her place in the culture and her overall right to exist."

"Shouldn't we be discussing Lena Dunham's right to exist" said absolutely nobody anywhere at anytime.

EDH said...

Okay, sure, the one photograph by Laurie Simmons at the link, "Walking House", indeed looks like the house in "Leave it to Beaver" .

But if that's what counts as "focusing on female genitalia" you are quite confused.

It's the younger son's nickname, not the mom's cooch.

Ben Calvin said...

I'm more interested in her position as a privileged child of a self-perpetuating artistic "New Class", in the Milovan Djilas sense.

MayBee said...

I will say it amazes me people can get rich making art like that.

Michael K said...

As usual, the leftists are the product of self hating bourgeois. I was just reading about Lenin and she fits right in.

Chuck said...

Who cares, if they are rich artists? Artists who are featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, who sell their work for incomprehensible amounts in Manhattan galleries and who obtain cushy sinecures in effete east coast universities?
Sounds like a nice gig. Beats workin'.

Kevin said...

Yes, what Drago quoted and his response is precisely what is so insufferable about her. If it weren't for all that baggage I wouldn't care one way or another.

Lucien said...

Seems like the whole family avoided smiling in photos, leaving one with a rather grim impression of them. Maybe there's an underlying valuing of authenticity over superficial prettiness. (Which doesn't expressly have anything to do with female genitalia.)

lee said...

I was mindnumbingly bored reading the article. I think if the painting was representative of her father's work. He is a no talent hack. The photo of the house with legs--if that is representative of her mother's work, well, ditto.

But, they seem to have done well, to ship their daughters off to pricy private schools.

I am still mystified as to why this person is the bomb...

HoodlumDoodlum said...

As an artist, though, what is Lena Dunham actually saying? What is her point? The Times article talks about her thoroughly examined upbringing but I can't understand what about her (or her "work") I am supposed to find interesting! Her parents were unusual and her childhood was unconventional. Ok. What is her POV now, what is her idea? "uhh, this is real, this how how real people talk and look and think." Well, #1 no it's not, and #2 so what? People find her writing funny and de gustibus, but what is original or interesting about what she has to say?
I think at least part of the reason people feel strongly enough about her to be compelled to voice their displeasure is the way she's been put forward as an important artist who is the voice of her generation...while being so transparently empty. She's a loose cloud of "modern and/or Progressive mood affiliations without a coherent philosophy or ability to self define. There is no point to her.

Paddy O said...

If your parents raised you with sugary cereals and lots of soda and doughnuts and candy, eating twinkies everyday doesn't seem odd.

It's not healthy, it's not a good lifestyle for emotional or spiritual or physical health, but it seems normal. What's with all the hangups people have about food anyhow?

Paddy O said...

"I am still mystified as to why this person is the bomb..."

Kandinsky's bottom of the triangle.

Brian said...

With that 2010 red-carpet photo for reference, Lena Dunham is most interesting as a case study in "for the love of God, do not cut your hair off."

gerry said...

In fifty years, long after postmodernism has collapsed from its inert, boorish meaninglessness, the intelligentsia will pity us for lacking sense and having strange obsessions with genitalia. And they will realize that happened because our art really sucked, was insanely overpriced, but no one was willing to admit it.

Pretty much like the 1970's.

Bill Crawford said...

What I find intriguing about Lena Dunham is that, according to Rolling Stone, she and Taylor Swift are close friends.

I can hardly imagine two different upbringings.

The Crack Emcee said...

"What do you think it would be like growing up with artist parents who were both focusing on female genitalia?"

I'd hear things like:

"Why, of course, there are people starving and racial oppression - white on black theft that you wouldn't believe - but, damn it, we're white and even if we have to crawl over dead bodies, female genitalia needs it's moment in the sun!"

And, thus, the kernel for "Girls" was planted,...

Rick M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Crack Emcee said...

Actually, it could've been "Boyhood," too - anything with whites ignoring what's important to focus on themselves.

Rick M said...

Lena was a cute girl in the family photos. And she still is cute. The pics with mom, dad, kids, show a happy family.
(I know nothing of "Girls" and probably would prefer to keep it that way.)

The Crack Emcee said...

There would also be a lot of "We don't even THINK about race" talk, as they study slavery in school, see poor blacks in the cities, and hear Rap.

But they don't have a thought.

Or a clue.

Unbelievable,...

rhhardin said...

Lena Dunham apparently is an Oberlin graduate. Anyway she was interviewed as a serious person in the Alumni Magazine.

I would have to read it to find out.

Michael K said...

The community racist pollutes another thread.

lee said...

Oh, Hoodlum Doodlum, you have hit the nail on the head!

mccullough said...

A little weirder than having your Dad leave the Playboys out on the coffee table to peruse.

libertariansafetyguy said...

So is she showing her vagina to the world because she's really trying to matter to her parents? She's not even wearing a Freudian Slip...

FullMoon said...
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Anonymous said...

That's fantastic. The professor asked about Dunham's artistic upbringing, and got a bunch of racist spew about how Dunham was a white child; and white children hate blacks.

Which is exactly what she wants, of course. Remember her repeated attempts to explain her Obama vote: he was a "moderate." He was "competent" and "boring". No I think it's much simpler than that. She wants black people to like her, and so is perfectly happy when one of them shows up to crap all over any attempt to discuss something about a white person (because remember -- being a white child means hatred).

It's very enjoyable watching Crack do his little show.

Anonymous said...

@FullMoon -- I don't find that to be the case. The novelty wears off after awhile.

William said...

I saw her recently on the Jimmy Kimmel show. She looked reasonably attractive by real world but not by show biz standards. She told Kimmel how she chickened out on attending her high school reunion. She said that she wasn't so much afraid of encountering her high school classmates as she was of having to confront the person she had been in high school. That's a pretty smart observation.......She's got talent and her dumpiness is as much schtick as Gracie Allen's dumbness. I don't really dislike her, but I feel vaguely resentful. All my life I've had to pretend to be sane, but she gets to live in a world where every neurosis can be indulged and even sometimes gets actively encouraged.

n.n said...
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n.n said...

Actualization through a peculiar commoditization. Perhaps that explain progressive confusion and other forms of personal corruption.

The Crack Emcee said...

Michael K,

"The community racist pollutes another thread."

Wherever blacks go, you're there to criticize, so - yeah,...

Anonymous said...

Crack -- That's a very interesting comment. Michael is there "wherever blacks go"? But I thought that whites don't interact with blacks.

What are some of the other places blacks go -- other than famous black hangout Althouse -- where Michael is present to criticize them?

I mean, if we don't take your stupid little hoax seriously like that, and ask you to expand on your ridiculous little faux-intelligent comments, then what use is it?

Anonymous said...

You keep reminding us that our hostess is among the white people who like you. (Because it's very important for black people to assert that there are white people who like them!)

I'm curious -- when you can barely stutter out a coherent sentence, and it has no relationship with any reality (such as this magnificent idea that Michael, like his namesake angel, is "everywhere black people go"), does our hostess say "that's a very smart thing to say, dear?"

MadisonMan said...

Agreed with Kelly. Dunham is attractive yet she seems to downplay it so much. I wonder how that relates to her parents' professions.

At some point, of course, you must break through of blaming your life on your parents. They do the best they can, and then you have to take over.

Valentine Smith said...

The whole world's focused on vagina, why not Dunham and Simmons?

Lena was skinny as a kid. Must have built up that fat as armor against all the people around her without boundaries. Kind of like the leitmotif of Lena's "art."

Julie C said...

If she looked like a typical Hollywood female*, would anyone listen to her? Or would she even have the opportunity to do her thing on a major cable network? (I say do her thing because I have never seen the show. My son and his friends love it, and it clearly resonates with his crowd.)

When I saw the family photos I was struck by how pretty she is.

*Typical Hollywood female: 95 pounds, hair extensions, permanent fake tan, perpetually hungry looking.

PatHMV said...

I think like many (most) people, Lena Dunham assumes that HER upbringing is the normal one, and everybody else's is different and inherently less good. Here, her own upbringing is by artists, who are, on the whole, inherently weirder than the average person, so it stands to reason that her worldview is weirder than the average person's.

Many people rebel from parents who stand out from the crowd by conforming, just as other rebel from conforming parents by acting out. It's probably a testament to good upbringing that she resembles her parents' outlook on life and the human body. Not that I particularly agree with her worldview, but her embrace of the weirdness indicates that it was not, at a personal level, unhealthy to her.

But she's still weird, and not nearly as open-minded as she likes to think she is. She's really no different from an "uptight conservative" who thinks anything different from her own upbringing is inherently wrong and bad.

Unknown said...

Based on the thread description, AA seems to believe the Lena career today stems directly from her childhood experience. In a way, that reminds me of Crack. Anchored psychically to the past, unable to generate and move to a new, fresh personal viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

@Paddy -- was the thing about twinkies supposed to be an analogy, or is that literally something associated with Dunham?

If an analogy, what's the analogy? Vaginas? As our hostess says, everyone's always been obsessed with vaginas, so I don't know that the analogy really works.

Unknown said...

DS, surely you have had a twinkie. What makes it special is the soft and gooey cream in the center.

Fandor said...

I'd paint portraits of assholes, starting with my parents.

Anonymous said...

@Unknown if you bite it just right, the cream squirts out

rhhardin said...

Britania est insula.

Europa non est insula.

Genitalia paenae est insula. Genitalia est paenaeinsula.

Would have made Latin more interesting.

Matt said...

Wow, Lena is the most attractive member of her family. *shudder*

I did like her dad's painting of this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drinking_bird

Crack, when people say, "I don't think about race," I believe what they are saying is that race, to them, is immaterial to the person. That people's racial background is an interesting factoid about them but is not determinate of who they are as a person.

Titus said...

I love Lena and Girls. Of course you all hate her: liberal, east coast, NYC, different and new, smart, etc.

You have Duck Dynasty though!

J Lee said...

America's television viewers probably would be better off today if Lena's parents had taken and/or painted pictures of sad-eyed clowns and dogs playing poker.

Anonymous said...

One of the backdrops to keep in mind might be the continued isolation of the artist as figure from Western society, and the merging of the identity of the artist as celebrity going on in our culture. Perhaps in the Dunham mix is some 60's bohemia, hippie avant-garde parent types and feminist political ideology too.

Maybe it's a function of deeper trends in our society, but one trend-line might be from Warhol to Jeff Koons to Lady Gaga to perhaps Lena Dunham, and the performance artist, the popular writer of fiction and some sort of feminist/lady icon coming together. The individual Self, celebrity, and artist as one.

Is she known for her writing? Her artistic achievement? Her feminism? Being naked on T.V? Her feminist street cred amongst the older lady with vocal fry crowd?

Woman as now individual free to explore and assert her sexuality and identity, often through a certain 'acceptable' lens?

Artists are pretty much inward looking, but the popular themes of therapy as a tool to understand the self, the writer's bearing of the True Self, telling important, timely truths through fiction/drama, the existential doubt and confessional tone all seem pretty common, as well as common to the times.

It's why I'm generally looking for art, art criticism, and 'cultural' criticism further away from celebrity and the kinds of people who celebrate Dunham's merits and individual freedom with all these 60's coalitional ideologies and framework (I don't really read nor know Dunham's work).

That's my spiel, Althouse.

Freeman Hunt said...

I like the "Walking House" picture.

broomhandle said...

I found the slide show interesting, too. They look like people who can't seperate their vanity from the sources of their misery. So they stay vain and miserable.

SteveR said...

Titus, your simplicity lacks intellect. Humor demands better of you.

Kirk Parker said...

"Lena Dunham Is Not Done Confessing."

Ghu help us.

In a saner, more noble age we wouldn't be having these pictures (good or bad) trotted out for us to look at.

Clyde said...

It made me think of those Dita Pepe self-photographs we saw the other day, picturing herself with different men and thus different lives. Lena Dunham and her sister, Grace, are the product of that particular pair of artistic parents. Who might they have been if they had been academics or factory workers, bankers or lawyers or Indian chiefs? The forking path not taken changes not only you, but those around you as well.

Drago said...

Titus said...
I love Lena and Girls. Of course you all hate her: liberal, east coast, NYC, different and new, smart, etc

This is precisely the sort of blog post that Titus should be weighing in on.

Given the extent of his "knowledge" in other areas (history, the military, geopolitics, etc), perhaps the only sort of blog post he should weigh in on.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Titus said...
I love Lena and Girls. Of course you all hate her: liberal, east coast, NYC, different and new, smart, etc.


So just a "loose cloud of Progressive mood affiliations" then, right? I wish I'd thought of that.

Big Mike said...

And what do you think it would be like growing up with artist parents who were both focusing on female genitalia?

I think girls would have been less of a mystery back when I was an adolescent.

Not that women aren't still a bit of a mystery, and I've been married 40 years this January.

David said...

Why should I hate her? I pay no attention to her whatsoever.

If I had a teenage daughter, I might pay attention. But they survived their adolescence in reasonable shape so I imagine they would have survived Lena too.

sydney said...

I couldn't see the female genitalia in the art, so I'll have to take their word for it. Thought the father's painting looked like a sideways rooster. Maybe there was a hint of male genitalia there, but couldn't see the female.

What would it be like growing up in a family that focused on genitalia? Depends on how much of that focus was shared with the children. If it's a mania and an everyday topic of conversation then it would result in kids who think it's normal to talk about genitalia all the time, even in polite company.

You know, there are families where sexual abuse is so generationally pervasive that the kids grow up having sex with each other and think it's normal to have sex with their kids. They can't recognize it as abusive. The genitalia obsessed would just be one rung down on the spectrum.

Drago said...

Blacks invented female genitalia.

Joe said...

So the whole family makes money producing shit. On the one hand, that's annoying, on the other, kudos to them for selling their crap to snobs.

Unknown said...

Rotten.

Titus, if she's so "smart," what job/s would you hire her for if she walked out of Hollywood and into your office? What big special things could she do for your big special firm? Without nudity or her rolodex? What intellectual ammunition could she offer you?

Fagga please!

Birches said...

I'd like to remind Althouse that according to one of her earlier posts about Lena Dunham, all those vaginas didn't seem to educate her at all about sex.

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2013/03/id-come-up-with-theory-that-i-thought.html

The Crack Emcee said...

DS,

"You keep reminding us that our hostess is among the white people who like you. (Because it's very important for black people to assert that there are white people who like them!)"

Really? That's important to blacks? That whites like us? Link, please. From anywhere. Even a white supremacist site. I don't care. Search the archives of the entire Civil Rights Movement and produce a single quote from anyone stating we care if whites like us. I dare you.

I think the closest you're going to get is Rosa Parks on the bus saying, "Why are you always pushing us around?"

"I'm curious -- when you can barely stutter out a coherent sentence, and it has no relationship with any reality (such as this magnificent idea that Michael, like his namesake angel, is "everywhere black people go"), does our hostess say "that's a very smart thing to say, dear?""

Ha! You think I care if you understand me or where this is going. Look at my blog. Am I explaining anything? Trying for your famous "coherence"? Or are you imagining you understand anything that's happening - as whites always do - as they keep losing ground?

You're talking to ME, DS. Was it you, yesterday, who tried to swing Haiti's bloody history into a glorious example of black failure - and not what it was:

A failure of white's humanity?

Now THAT's what I call some serious incoherence, right there, my friend,...

Drago said...

Blacks invented understanding and caring.

The Crack Emcee said...

Matt,

"Crack, when people say, "I don't think about race," I believe what they are saying is that race, to them, is immaterial to the person."

I know what they're saying, but why are they saying it at all? Are people in Japan walking around, compelled to tell others what they're not thinking of?

This is Eric Holder's "nation of cowards." Of course whites are thinking about it - even if they're trying to deliberately put it out of their minds.

And, what good does not thinking/talking about it do, when it's a regular feature of this racist country with a 400 year history of whites abusing blacks?

And what of blacks? The more we say see us, the more whites say they won't - is that trying to be helpful? Or a continuation of the same old obstinance?

Did blacks ask for this? I know whites like to point to MLK, but his "color not character" was based on the idea America had given blacks "a bad check". Have whites improved THEIR character in THAT regard? Or are they merely continuing to fuck with blacks by putting the cart before the horse?

Fuck colorblind racism,...

Titus said...

Lena loves her gay sister and believes in science...hate her.

Why can't she say God hates the sinner like a normal person?

tits.

Drago said...

Titus said...
Lena loves her gay sister and believes in science...hate her

LOL

Lena "believes in science".

She just doesn't happen to know any.

Sounds familiar.

Drago said...

Blacks invented colorblindedness.

Drago said...

Oh, and color too.

Darleen said...

Saw the one oil painting by dad in the slide show ...

My answer: http://youtu.be/lNI07egoefc

Darleen said...

Poor Crack

Wearing his melanin like a chip on his shoulder.

Someone 5150 him, eh?

chickelit said...

What do you think it would be like growing up with artist parents who were both focusing on female genitalia?

I think it would be like that episode of "Sex And The City" where Charlotte visits the farm/studio of that old man painter whose work she admires. He greets her and shows her some of his latest work which are oil canvasses of vaginas. Charlotte is of course stunned by this. He asks Charlotte to sit for a painting and she, obviously disturbed, is about to refuse him when the old man’s elderly wife walks in the studio holding a tray of lemonade and says sweetly, “I bet you have a beautiful cunt, dear.”

I bet that's what it might have been like growing up in the Dunham family.

Donald Douglas said...

Well, I actually think Dunham's kinda hot, even though mostly I hear that she's a "skank."

Anyway, that's my "humor" for the evening, lol.

Todd Grimson said...

There's a tendency here to push a certain kind od of Old-Fartism on any subject that involves or touches on the young.

I'm uninterested in her public persona, because like anyone in Show Business these days she has kiss ass and avoid offending certain demographics. You're no more free to offer nuance than one was in the Soviet Union. That's just the facts of life.

As for her show, it's been brilliant so far (though I didn't see the latest season), relevant rather in the manner of a young Woody Allen -- let's say Woody Allen through the 70s, where even if he was wrong about everything he illuminated the culture in the same way the wrong about everything Norman Mailer revealed the culture of the 1960s, to the point of (absurdly) being given a National Book Award for his "history as a novel/novel as history" almost unreadable now The Armies of the Night.

And by the way, within its context, there's certainly nothing subpar about Carroll Dunham's art. It's decorative.

Dan Hossley said...

I don't know. My father was an engineer and my mother an accountant. I wonder why I don't wonder why it would be like growing up in that household.

Maybe I an not self absorbed.

chickelit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chickelit said...

There's a tendency here to push a certain kind od of Old-Fartism on any subject that involves or touches on the young.

How young, Todd? Do you have kids? I have two teens, a boy and a girl. They are pretty clued in and I learn from them.

But as an old fart, I'd like to suggest that this love for Dunham's show and "Girls" in general stems from a palpable loathing for normal "straight" America -- otherwise known as square America -- by the usual suspects. Of course, I base this not on having watched the show but rather from weighing the opinions of its most ardent fans here -- to wit, Titus and Althouse. So, if someone normal and trustworthy, e.g., not Althouse or Titus would speak on its merits, I'd listen.

wholelottasplainin' said...

Ever notice that only "artistes", actors and Joan Rivers can say "cunt", but in real life a man using the term even in a complimentary way ("you've got a beautiful cunt, dear") will be consigned to the inner circles of feminist hell?

And, of course, as an epithet, "cunt" is to Fems what garlic is to vampires.

And I wonder if the perv photog Mom asked his posing subjects for a "Vertical Smile, Please?"

For me, Lena Dunham's a butter- bodied butterface, not worthy of even a passing notice. As Kathy Griffith would put it, she's the kind of girl you screw with a bag over her head and a hole through the sheet.

Oh wait!!! Is that sexist????

snork

chickelit said...

It really doesn't matter how right, true, or beautiful something is -- today's artist will fuck with it and mock it because it's "cool" to do so.

Todd Grimson said...

"But as an old fart, I'd like to suggest that this love for Dunham's show and "Girls" in general stems from a palpable loathing for normal "straight" America -- otherwise known as square America -- by the usual suspects."

The subject-matter of the show is what be termed The Making of the Intelligentsia, which includes "artistes" and writers -- in general the sort of demographic who wants to and imagines they might "make it" in New York. This didn't exactly begin yesterday.

Do these young people "Loathe" those they conceive of as squares? Is "Of course" too obvious an answer. Part of what they think they're doing is escaping Kansas -- or Milwaukee, even if this is only the Kansas or Milwaukee they've invented.

And this is how each generation asvances, stagnates or regresses in the arts.

Edgar Allan Poe in his literary criticism of the 1840s spoke eloquently about tryi ng to escape the New England literary salon-dominated idea that all literature should be "uplifting" -- which is pretty close to the idea in the 1930s that art that does not "contribute to the struggle" was/is irrelevant or simply worthless.

In this paralyzingly puritanical age, "Girls" sneaks a lot of interesting and yes, to use that used-up word "subversive" material into her show. Only we're not talking about fighting the long dead and Jerry Falwell or his clan -- rather those who pretend to fear him, thus pretending to fear the Kansas or Milwaukee allegedly still lurking out there, wanting nothing so badly as to pull that bullwhip out of Robert Mapplethorpe's ass.

Dunham is aware that these people are fools, even as they comprise a good portion of her audience and need to be, shall we say, "buttered-up" and reassured.

gerry said...

It's very enjoyable watching Crack do his little show.

Naw. It's like watching "Leave It to Beaver" for twelve hours.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"You're talking to ME, DS. Was it you, yesterday, who tried to swing Haiti's bloody history into a glorious example of black failure - and not what it was:"

Um no, Crack. It wasn't me. That's stupid.

Us whites aren't all the same. Kinda like blacks.