anatomy of arousal

“I didn’t hear words that were accurate, much less prideful. For example, I never once heard the word clitoris. It would be years before I learned that females possessed the only organ in the human body with no function than to feel pleasure. (If such an organ were unique to the male body, can you imagine how much we would hear about it—and what it would be used to justify?)”
― Gloria Steinem, The Vagina Monologues

 

“The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure.”
Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues


Christine, based in London, is completing a training (here in the states) to become a Fertility Awareness Educator. Interested in using my artwork (the reproduction system) as teaching material, she contacts me.

While the work is grounded in scientific medical illustration, it is also abstracted. I use symbolic color and line suggesting the subtle energy of the human body. As it turns out she is also a Massage and Craniosacral Therapy practitioner and understands why I explain – it may or may not work as traditional teaching material.

We share some goals, in this particular case, to educate and empower women.

I admit since beginning our correspondence, I’ve learned what (almost) feels like a new language! Christine asks if you were to draw something up from scratch for us – for example the internal anatomy showing the full anatomy of arousal, what is your rates? I respond in a practical way giving general information for a commission and prices.

Though all the while I’m wondering…what exactly is the full anatomy of arousal?

Eventually while speaking with her (where are my notes!) I realize I think sensual as she clarifies sexual anatomy. She explains more and I really do feel like I am hearing a foreign language.

She emphasizes the clitoris, crura (2 legs extending 9 cm into the pelvis), and bulbs of the vestibule (two – one laying to either side of the vaginal opening). She directs me to reference material, including images and books.

I respond to the information Christine sends. The plexus of veins and the arteries (like a hammock), and the nerves among all the forms also catch my attention. I know they will make for added (and beautiful) detail, shape and texture.

I am further educated by my friend Tara, a Pelvic Floor Specialist. I say to her, I don’t like pink, I don’t want to paint anything pink. She explains color indicates health (pink it is). Once again she lends me her medical pelvis model with ↓bladder, uterus and colon (I plan to include). And she too, provides me with reading material.

I start to organize a composition and I can’t help but recall The Dinner Party and the work of Judy Chicago ↓. I am further reminded of the politics of the female body as I continue to research other artist’s work.

Judy Chicago, test plate, 1978 National Museum of Women in the Arts (photo by C. Lavender)

Right now the study sits on my drawing table. I might add one more element. And then I’ll consider the title of the small painting on mylar.

I leave you with a few interesting facts…

  • The clitoris has at least 8000 nerve endings (a man’s penis has about 4000).
  • The clitoris and the crura are referred to as the wish bone because their structure resembles one.
  • One single gene on a Y chromosome and a clitoris (female) becomes…you guessed it…a penis (male).
  • Clitoris is Greek for key. It has only one job.

I plan to ask Christine if she wants to say anything about the anatomy of arousal. If she agrees, look for a future post.

There is so much to our body – take care to know it.

a drawing of the nervous system and a poem titled signal

I send a note to Kelly: Kind of spontaneous thinking…you mentioned once – maybe us working together on body stuff. Are you interested? I am working on the nervous system. It’s so beautiful! It feels like the hardest thing I think I’ve taken on.

Kelly responds: What a lovely surprise! I too remember that conversation we had, have thought back to it, intrigued by the possibility. So yes, perhaps this is a time to see what would turn out, turn up, emerge, your images and my words.

Today: Monica, here is, below, a poem, inspired by your nervous system art. I hope you like it! It’s been mind altering to think, even this small bit, about our bodies and how they work.

I love it Kelly. Thank you!


Nervous System – Female (posterior view)

 

Signal  by Kelly Nelson

Noises, plenty—

steady bass line of the heart, wheeze
and let go of the bellows, gasp

and trickle of your last meal
switchbacking your gut.

Yet when brain tells
hand to play the G above middle C,

when skin mentions
the stove is still hot,

it’s all nudge and nod, quiet
wink of the nervous system.

I want my messages heard.
At the intersection

of my left arm and rib
cage, place a herald with the voice

of Maya Angelou to recite the red
threads and bird wings that radiate

through me—Hear? She’s already begun.

 


Kelly Nelson is a poet and teacher.
She is the author of the chapbooks Rivers I Don’t Live By and
Who Was I To Say I Was Alive.
She lives in Tempe, Arizona & teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University.
More → Kelly Nelson

….and yes, we’ll be doing this again.

coyote in the hood means coyote in the studio

In pre-Columbian timelessness, the coyote inhabited only the west-central portion of North and Central America. With the advancing tide of European settlement across the continent, the coyote and its cousin, the wolf, were seen as a threat to livestock, crops, and human life, and were summarily persecuted, with bullets, traps, clubs, poison, and bad press. The wolf declined, and eventually required “re-introduction” to his old haunts. But the coyote increased, spreading his joyful song beyond the old possibilities, right into the noise of the urban world.
Joy Martin


And in the urban world – he thrives.

Photos on social media show (urban) coyotes across the city of Phoenix Neighbors photos places one in our general neighborhood and eventually one sitting in the yard of someone on our street. That’s close.

Coyote strolls by as Issa watches from lower corner, left side, on the sidewalk.

My husband and I catch the coyote on video (stills↑). We watch it meander across our front yard, while our cat Issa, sits in the patio. Issa sees the animal, gets up quickly, hides in the shadow of a small bush (2nd photo, lower left, on sidewalk) and looks at it. She’s territorial, I’ve seen her charge dogs. I suspect she senses this guy is different.

I have mixed emotions about a coyote in my hood. I understand neighbor’s concerns. But my curiosity and respect for wild-life does not subside.

Three days later, on a morning run, I cross paths with the creature.

Tall. Lean. Ears, face, body – angular. I decide he’s male. As he passes me, I watch his shoulder-blades ride up and down his back. Photos have me thinking he’s blonde. And while he is tan, close up I see the gray and light brown. His bushy tail hangs low to the ground, reminding me of a German Shepard’s.

This predator is beautiful.

I finish my run and return to the studio to work on my painting. I have seen the coyote.

I read about the 4 chambered heart and 2 lungs. Recently I’d studied the human diaphragm, now I want to know how the coyote’s lays out. I identify  both diaphragm and windpipe. I note spleen, stomach, large and small intestines, kidney and bladder. The coyote in my drawing assumes maleness, as I add the sexual organs.

I look at the teeth, the glands in its nose, and the tiny bones in its ear and
wonder about his senses.

Excellent eye-sight (sees limited color).
Acute hearing (detect prey and avoid danger).
Movement and position of ears communicate mood and rank.
Keen sense of smell – Jacobson’s organ (detects prey).

I rework the area until satisfied.

Feet: are quick!
Five digits on the forefeet, including the dewclaw (a fifth digit similar to a human thumb) and four digits on the hind feet. As a coyote walks, only the toes touch the earth (digitigrade).

Coyote’s scientific name Canis Latrans. Canis is Latin for barking dog. Member of the Canidae family. Average lifespan is ten years (Is this is also true of the urban coyotes).

In myth:
The name coyote originates from the Mexican Spanish word, coyote.
Nahuatl: coyotl. Mayan: koyotl.
Aztec name and associations:  Huehuecóyotl (Old Man coyote).

In the latter mythology he is the god of music, dance, song (the howl!), and mischief (the cunning and playful trickster). Coyotes also symbolize wisdom and pragmatism.

In American Indian symbolism the coyote is the shape shifter, animal magician, miracle worker, and totemic ancestor associated with the moon. He is the opener of the way.
To the Crow tribe he is the Creator of the World and all that it holds. He is the First Artist, the First worker.

According to the Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, he assisted in the creation of the human race by scratching open the hide of Mother Earth to release the first people from her womb. 

The coyote: Sacred and extraordinary, adaptable and resilient, intelligent and tenacious.

I don’t like the label urban coyote. But the coyote is here and he is living in our city (cities). They endure.

Can we adapt? Will we coexist? And how do I explain all this to the cat.

Sources:
My random note taking.
Song Dogs of my Soul by Joy Martin
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects

As I complete this post, I find a useful website. It’s informative and includes wonderful photography and I will be forwarding it to my neighbors.  → The Urban Coyote Initiative.


Five years ago I completed my first animal anatomy study – An Homage to the Cat (Issa-Cup of Tea). Inspired by daily walks with our cat.

Issa too, moves on my street. And while the coyote and the cat are very different animals, there is some sort of wild I know they share.

lesson in observation and commitment

Man who wishes to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. – Heraclitus


The assignment focuses on natural objects with complex (and beautiful) structure and texture. The students set up a composition  balancing positive and negative space, using sea shells and insects – either or both.

Careful observation is key. I suggest they use a magnifying glass. I ask they consider the quality of the lines they use. What sort of lines represent structure? What sort of line represent texture? By now they want to have a larger selection of fine(r) markers.

A couple of students have a particularly challenging time and I suggest short breaks for them. The weather is so nice now, walking or moving will help to settle them.

Here are fine examples of the drawings.  Note composition, quality of line and the attention to detail.

Close up and personal by Virginia

detail

Bug Portrait by Marco

Detail

Shell Game by Kat

Detail

Bug and Shells by Is SaK

 

 

Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore by Angela

Detail

The Starry Fish by Vince Van D’oh! by Virgil

Detail

Sea Dreams by Anita

Detail

 

Equanimity by Amareli

Detail

Deux Ex Machina by Anthony

Three Stooges by Adonis

Advanced students use scratchboard. Here is one example by Victoria – still in progress.

Victoria’s shells on scratchboard (in progress)

Detail

 

the pelvic bowl

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It looks like a bowl, my husband says as my neighbor Tara, a Pelvic Floor Specialist, hands him a pelvis anatomy model. She’s lending it to me for the weekend.

I say to him In fact,  it is called the pelvic bowlEddie. He watches on as Tara pulls it all apart and puts it’s all back together, identifying anatomy as she reconstructs the model.

Aren’t we perfectly designed? I say as I watch them.

My recent drawing begins with an outline of the bones of a pelvis (on the front side).  I place into it uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Only then do I decide to bring in the lower spine, the psoas muscles, and eventually the diaphragm.

This weekend I work the back of the drawing ↓ and complete the composition. Highlighting the reproductive system – I’m right back where I started.  The two-sided mixed-media drawing  basically depicts the core of the female body.

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completed back side of drawing 24 x 18″ mixed media

Do you need the model again?, Tara asks. Thanks, I’m complete, I respond.

With this study I learn more about menstruation, conception, pregnancy and menopause. With Tara’s help I learn about hormones, muscles, nerves and the value of breath work.

We are so perfectly designed. You are so perfectly designed. Embody this.

pelvicbowl

More about Tara and her practice (btw – she offers lots of practical information) →  pelvicfloorspecialist.com.


Side note:
Contacted by Carmencita from California who’ll be using an early stage of this drawing (front side) to promote a staging of That Takes Ovaries! Bold Females and their Brazen Acts. The performance will raise funds for Myalgic Encephelomyolitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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a ceremony of appreciation

Invited by Dr. Jen Hartmark-Hill,  I make my way to downtown Phoenix for a Ceremony of Appreciation. The event, organized by the Medical and Allied Health students at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, honors individuals who donate their bodies to the anatomy lab.

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Upon arriving I meet Dr. Rebecca Fisher, the director of the Clinical Anatomy lab. She tells me about the personal connection students have to a willed body donor. She shares both the educational aspects as well as some of the emotional impact the experience holds for everyone. I look around the room as we talk and I see students, faculty and their families (newborns are in the mix too). The energy is celebratory as everyone prepares.

The evening includes art, poetry, prose, and music (ukulele, piano, song and dance).

One student names his donor Bruce. You looked like a Bruce to me, he reads into the microphone. Another student tells of holding the hands of her donor and notes the nail polish, chips of color. One guesses the age of his donor and wonders out loud, are you a grandfather?

There is practical (medical) information they gather from their donor’s body along with a natural wonder and  curiosity about the life it held.

kidneyhand

I can’t help but make connections between art students and medical students and their draw to the human body. I have to wonder, do they learn about Leonardo da Vinci in medical and science labs?

The medical students describe the learning experience as 2D (text book or diagram) and compare it to 3D (real-life) experience. Artists use a similar language. Art students study Anatomy (for the artist) to understand the skeletal and muscular system. The study is followed by Life drawing where art students apply what they’ve learned to a live model. Learned and necessary skills to both medicine and art are observation and attention to detail.

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And speaking of detail…
The student who draws this skull and heart ↑ is named Dylan. I introduce myself to him and congratulate his fine work.

I appreciate the imaginative way he personalized the drawings (of his donor). Dylan includes the usual anatomical description seen in medical illustration like frontal bone and then he adds more individualized (and more telling of the human-being) descriptions like bank teller, sweet toothjeopardy loversingle mother, grandmother…etc.

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detail

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detail

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detail

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detail

As I thank Jen (Dr. Harmtark-Hill) for inviting me, we agree the evening is moving and meaningful. And before we part for the evening  she mentions an approach to education that she calls  Appreciative Inquiry.

 I often speak with my colleagues about the fact that we are privileged to teach these medical students—they are incredibly good and altruistic individuals. If we can find ways to protect that compassion, kindness and caring throughout their medical training, while instilling knowledge and skills, we will have done their future patients a great service.

I understand Appreciative Inquiry to be a way of seeing (worldview) and a way of being (process) that supports the goodness in people (individuals, organizations and communities).

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A letter written to a donor and expressing gratitude.

Thank you Jen for inviting me to this most extraordinary ceremony. And thanks to the students for a creative and moving evening.


As I come to the end of my post I can’t help but think of a phrase that influences the work I do. I know with certainty it directs me to unique experiences like this one.

Summum bonum is Latin and translates to the highest good.

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who’s pulling the strings?

The fact that this is a print gets a little left behind. You still see the plate marks but  I’ve added collage elements and casein paint, pencil and micaceous iron oxide.  It was hand-pulled but at this point it’s mostly hand-painted.

I don’t have a title for this version of the print yet.

img_9754Puppet, marionette…
I discover the word Greek word for puppet is nevróspastos  and it means drawn by strings, string pulling.
Neuron translates to sinew, tendon, muscle, string or wire.
Spáō implies to draw or pull.

When you read about puppets or marionette’s you also read about horizontal control and vertical control…all something to think about these days. There’s even something called American Control.

Anyway…here is the new version of this print. Who’s pulling your strings?