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.

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

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Bug Portrait by Marco

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Shell Game by Kat

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Bug and Shells by Is SaK

 

 

Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore by Angela

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

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Sea Dreams by Anita

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Equanimity by Amareli

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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)

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drawing on the ovary and what it represents

On the one hand…
I think about lineage, in this case, the one that connects art and the human body. I look to artists whose work focuses on anatomy. I observe the image and information that surface through time. I’d like to think I hold a place in that picture.

And then there’s the life stuff…
I recall 2 events piqué my curiosity about the human body and how it works. I draw connections between anatomy, education and the power of the visual. And speaking of visuals…I draw the ovary.

Flashback…
Sixth grade. Catholic school. Teacher: Mr. Robert Fecas (Bob). Nuns run the school.
And sex ed goes something like this …
Boys stay in the classroom with Mr. Fecas (for their information session). Girls go into the library to see a video and have a talk (with the nuns). Girls return to the classroom with a small booklet. Look, I still have mine↓.

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Mr. Fecas sets time aside the following week (during our lunch hour) and will allow us to come into the classroom (boy and girls together) and ask any question we wish. Most every one of us shows up every day with curiosity and questions in tow. We giggle, we learn. Bob is the best kind of educator! (I also credit Bob for introducing me to reading, meditation and journaling at the end of a day – all in that order.)

Flash forward (college days)
In my 20’s, a medical procedure (amazing technology) allows me to see my ovaries (right in their environment). Is that me?, I ask the internist. What a powerful visual! I don’t forget the undeniable proof of a small (so small) world existing right inside my lower abdomen.  I leave the hospital with both a sense of awe and vulnerability (and my health).

Notes on…
The ovary – from the Latin: ovarium, meaning egg or nut.

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Ovaries sit below the fallopian tubes, on either side of the uterus. The small, pearl colored organs produce eggs (once a month). A female has the greatest number of eggs (about 20 million!) while growing in her own mother’s womb (think about that for a minute!). And if you can imagine they also begin decreasing (called atresia) from that point on. Know the typical female is born with all the eggs she will ever have for life, and she also has more eggs than she will ever need.

We know ovaries are part of the reproductive system. Do you know they’re also endocrine glands?  They secrete estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. As a woman ages and her ability to reproduce  lessens, the inner structure, a highly vascular stroma in the center of the ovary containing blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and nerves, becomes active for the first time. It appears one function winds down while another begins. Ovaries maintain an ability to produce steroid hormones for several decades after menopause. They stay active and useful maintaining some balance in the body as time goes on.

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About the energy of the ovaries…
Ovarian energy – think points of creativity. Are you doing something difficult and or challenging out in the world?  Ovarian energy supports you.

According to Women’s Bodies, Woman’s Wisdom, Christian Northrup MD who writes from an energy medicine perspective, says ovarian wisdom represents a woman’s deepest creativity. Ovaries hold that which waits to be born within us, that which can only be born through us. They support a female’s unique creative potential, especially that which we create out in the world outside of ourselves.

Consider, initiate, allow. Yield to your creativity, Northrup tells women, allow it to come through you. She directs a female to her own internal rhythm. The ovaries (and their energy) are dynamic organs that are part of the body’s wisdom throughout her life.

What do you bring forth? What do you allow?

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down syndrome awareness month

Portrait of Sophie – Studying Trisomy 21 is complete. Amy, Sophie and Annabelle come to see the drawing in person. My husband, eager to meet Sophie, is also present. We gather in the studio and enjoy pizza.

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Part of me wants to write about the conversations I have with people about this study, about Sophie, and about Down syndrome. It affects more families than I can know when I begin the work.

My hairdresser, for example, has a brother-in-law with DS.  She tells me about his mother who advocated for him. He could have been institutionalized considering the era he was born into. Instead he grows up at home alongside his brothers and sisters. Now in his sixties, he lives in an apartment that he shares with a roommate. I listen, ask questions and wonder why I didn’t know this before now.

I’m in a waiting room this week and come across a magazine dedicated to Down syndrome. Has the magazine always sat here and only now do I notice it? I read an article about research and funding that reminds me…

I know someone who writes (beautiful poetry) and she also happens to research immunology. A few years ago we had a conversation about the immune system and rheumatoid arthritis (her area of study). I contact her and ask what she might know about Trisomy 21 and the immune system. Arpita responds generously.

(A note: If you follow my work, you know I only focus on details directly related to Sophie. This post is more general education about DS, in particular it is about the immune system.)

Trisomy 21. If you say these words to a complete layperson, they will find it lyrical, enchanting, exciting and even beautiful. But then you tell them what it is, and their smile fades.

Not a lot of people know that T-21 can have immunological abnormalities associated with it. As you rightly pointed out, not much info is available regarding the immune system in DS. It’s only now that we are getting an idea of what’s going on in these patients.  The immune system develops, but poorly. There is reduced numbers of cells of the lymphoid system. Those cells that do develop respond poorly to antigens and are unable to travel to site of infection or injury to do their thing. The cells divide poorly when they are activated by an infectious agent. Some cells are supposed to secrete antibodies of a particular type when they are activated and this process is also impaired. And thymus, the organ in which T lymphocytes develop, is rather small and underdeveloped in these patients, suggesting that the immune system doesn’t really get a chance to develop from the very onset. Again, the fascinating thing is that the immune system is not completely broken; it is just not strong enough to protect the poor child. 

I thought I finished the heart and lung area but with Arpita’s words, I come back to indicate the thymus gland (bright blue circles atop the heart – the lymphatic system strings throughout the body). I understand from a previous study, the typical thymus is larger when one is young and becomes smaller as one ages.

A body worker once told me it crystallizes suggesting the change a positive.

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Arpita continues…
There are other indirect causes postulated for the immunological abnormalities. These patients have poorly developed or malfunctioning digestive system, which makes it hard for them to assimilate nutrients. This could lead to deficiencies causing immune perturbations. Also, children with DS most commonly experience lung and heart infections, and many groups claim that this is because the architecture of the respiratory system is abnormal and the natural barriers which filter out infectious agents are less effective in such a setting.

What I find fascinating about DS is that despite the presence of a purportedly underdeveloped immune system, these patients are susceptible to autoimmune disorders. It actually makes me mad, you know…why would an already weak immune cell waste its resources in fighting its own body, when it should be fighting invading pathogens? Sadly no one knows why it happens. My guess is that it has something to do with the abnormal architecture of the organs where the immune cells develop early on. Events in thymus and bone marrow shape the repertoire of immune cells ensuring the survival of cells which are not only most potent, but also which will almost certainly not react against the body. If these organs have developed poorly or are missing certain vital components, this will undoubtedly affect the development of the immune system.

Are you familiar with the process by which immune cells move within the blood, within organs and across tissues? It is fascinating and beautiful documented through images and time-lapse imaging. It is an intricate dance of communication between molecules. There are bits and pieces of information that this movement and migration ability of immune cells is impaired in T-21. Again, no one knows why this happens, but lack of proper direction and mobility can significantly impair immune responses.

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Portrait of Sophie – Studying Trisomy 21, Mixed media on Paper, 80″ x  45″

So…I ask questions, research, and present what I come across and never know what’s to come next. Arpita and I end our conversation but not until she expresses something I take for my self.

…there is so much that we don’t understand about the human body, in particular how different parts communicate and intertwine with each other functionally. I think part of the reason is that because as young students we are encouraged to accept dogmas and hold on to them rigidly.

However, someone like you, an intelligent person with no dogmatic notions of the medical field, can look at the existing information with fresh, unbiased eyes, and hopefully help the rest of us to see important clues that we have missed. …good luck with your drawings.

I can hope. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

The web of life…today I understand better everyone brings something to the table.


I want to take a minute to thank everyone who helped with the research for this work. In particular those of you that helped me gather and understand the information so I could work with it and write about it. Thank you Amber, David, Dominique, Arpita, Elisa, and Amy. And thank you Sophie, for the spirit you bring to the picture.

For information about Amy Silverman’s book visit the website→ My Heart Can’t Even Believe It

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Big sister Annabelle taking a long close look at the portrait.

structures and textures, insects and shells

Watch the greater image materialize. You need that thing over there to tell you what to do about that thing over here. -Robert Genn


img_9315Structure – a complex system of parts arranged together (to form a whole)
Texture – tactile quality of a surface

The student’s task for this assignment is to learn to distinguish different types of lines. They look for those that form a structure and those that define a surface. I bring out large and small sea shells. I also bring out my collection of insects and lizards. Secretly I wish they will all choose the creatures, but I know better than to insist on this.

Aside from looking at the lines that make up a complex natural object they also work to balance positive and negative space.  And they continue to develop patience.

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Karen’s shells

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detail

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Victoria’s dead lizard and a spiral shell

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detail of lizard

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Brittany’s Bees – Two of them

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detail

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Kanata’s See shells, Sea shells

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detail (amusing tarantula wasp)

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Kevin’s (maybe ready to kiss) cicada and palo verde beetle 

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first sketch – too small

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Robert’s shell studies

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Maygin’s shells and mantis

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detail mantis face

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Alma’s shell corner

3D printing – artists (and arts education) are on it

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my 3D self with my 2D mitochondria


A year ago:
I listen to an interview about bio-medical engineering and the printing of body parts. The program discusses the successful printing of ligaments and nerves while noting hollow organs (with volume or space), like a bladder, present particular challenges.

What is three-dimensional  printing? How do they do it? Can I print out a two-dimensional  art work and turn it into a three-dimensional object? I want to understand.

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what we see as we enter a student area

Fast forward to last month’s Art Detour:
We come across Andrew, a grad student at ASU’s Grant Street Studios,  who  facilitates  a scanning workshop for the weekend. Before I know it, I find myself standing on a hand-made spinner  (think turntable or lazy susan). I am directed to hold still (for I can’t recall how many full revolutions) while Andrew explains the process to me. This is his make shift area.

Oh! The printing derives from full circle photography! I understand!

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Photo process begins.

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Photograph process as it appears on the screen.

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Andrew explains process.

 

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Andrew photographs the subject (an object), in this case me, in circular pattern, top to bottom.  He collects a file of digital images and directs them through a receiver to build the print.  He re-shoots my feet, he wants to get them right. He explains he wants my printed self to stand firmly and evenly and not tip over. Funny, I want my real self to do the same.

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The printing occurs in a form of additive manufacturing (AM) – depositing layers of plastic or resin until the three-dimensional object (a form) is complete. I learn this printer is a type of industrial robot.

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An image is being printed from an earlier run that morning. It takes time for the completion of prints.

When I receive my printed portrait (a few weeks later) I ask Andrew if this is the same process they are doing in the medical field with the printing of body parts. My sense is this material is too stiff.
He responds:

This sort of 3D printing is being done in the medical field in town! Dr. Ryan, a recent PhD graduate from ASU, has used this same technology to assist in surgical preparation. Here is one of several articles on it: → Cardiac 3D Print Lab This project in particular is being used for educational purposes. But there are other types of 3D printers that can print in more flexible and organic material. And there is research being done on bio-printing, allowing actual living organs to be printed with real human tissue, but this is still young.

 A changing world indeed. And artists and the arts are moving right along side with it!

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my printed self in the nucleus of the cell


Next month I will participate in an exhibition titled STEAM  – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math. The exhibition at the Tempe Center for the Arts will showcase artists who work within some of these parameters. I will connect to the Science with my anatomy work.

Andrew Noble will be giving a 3D printing demo on July 16 from Noon-2pm. Andrew and Dan Collins will have a 3D body scanner in the exhibition from ASU’s PRISM lab.

no woman is an island

Mary leaves the studio with my house fly. It comes as a surprise when she asks about my bugs and ends up with this small mixed media painting on panel. She looks at two of them. I think she said she liked the creep factor in this work.

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I particularly enjoy this afternoon meeting with Mary Erickson. Our paths crossed years ago when I did some things with the Bilingual Press (ASU) through the Hispanic Research Center. More recently I know Mary through the Tempe Center for the Arts, where she is the coordinating consultant for online curriculum. We meet to discuss art, education, and in particular – STE(A)M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) –
yes both the bold lettering and color enhancement here are mine.

Before we get to work I learn things about Mary – mostly that she is a force. And she is generous. She shares much with me, including that she grew up on a farm. I get insight into how she processes. She tells me how she chooses to situate herself in meetings. As we speak I have to wonder, could I learn to maneuver through life in the way she does? I’d like to.

Our conversation includes health and body awareness (naturally), feminism, culture, as well as age, work and education. I learn the word andragogy, associated to adult education and learning.

We get to our discussion about art and education. She is designing curriculum for a STEAM inspired exhibition organized by the TCA that will include art installations, scientific displays, educational text panels, videos, hands on projects and workshops. My anatomy studies will be a part of the summer presentation.

We go back and forth looking at samples of my work and talking about process and materials while she considers lesson planning. What I forget to tell Mary is that I know of her curriculum through my sister who directed me there some years back – Creating Meaning in Art.

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More and more I realize how my work allows me to cross paths with interesting folks. Dr. Mary Erickson is one of those people. She is a Professor of Art at Arizona State University → more.
Thank you much Mary, for everything. I enjoyed our afternoon.


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.