How to Rebel Like an Artist

Stories, Jan 26


The Feeding, 2007
    Most of the things I learned from the work of Louise Bourgeois come from her psychoanalytical writings. I take great enjoyment from reading the notes of this wounded woman who uses those very wounds to create good art. Her work is deeply personal, subconscious, and intuitive, but most of all its rebellious. Her sculptures are not only beautiful, but they stand as works of resistance. Here are some things that a rebel can learn from the work of an artist.

Louise Bourgeois

1. The Absurd and Art

    For Sartre, the absurd is nothing but the relationship between man and the world. The absurd man is the one who is opposed to the world and it’s  affirmed through revolt. He lives amongst strangers, but he, too, is a stranger.1 In his philosophical novel Nausea, Sartre is writing about existential crises and favours the art and the man’s creation as the only way to give the life some meaning. If you read the book you’ll remember how Roquentin reacts to the jazz song Some of These Days and what it means to him.

    Bourgeois first starts to feel alienated as a daughter in her home and her alienation and angst continue in her life when she becomes both a mother and a wife. In her art she is channeling the feeling of nausea, but she is also fixing it and it’s giving meaning to her pain. Can she change the world by being an artist? She can change her world through her art (by reconstruction of the moments and memories) and maybe the ones of her audience, but she cannot really make a difference. The change is personal. So, if you want to rebel like an artist, the first thing that you need to learn is the absurdity of your rebellion: most things are never going to change.

1Sartre thoughts on absurd are based on the novel Stranger by Albert Camus

Untitled, 2002

2. The Language of Art

        In a letter addressed to Nemesio Antunez, a Chilean artist, Bourgeois invites her close friend for the opening of her newest exhibition placed in New York.

c. 1947

I know you do not
see that I am talking to you
I know that you do not
hear my voice and that you
do not know my 2
languages french and
english because you
would have too much to do to
understand all the
languages of all the countries
but I know you will understand ,
my statue,
because it does not make
any noise, it does not
bother you, it does not smell
bad, it is not possible that it bother you
or offend you…2

    Forget about being a rebel without a cause; that’s not enough. Language is so important in your rebellion and to stand up for yourself and others. For  Bourgeois, the sculptures are the form of art that does not speak, but sends some kind of message. Her language is the language of the subconscious, therefore her art is the story of reconstructed traumas, painful memories, and dreams collected from the life of being a woman, daughter, mother, artist, and wife. She, being the sculptor, is recreating the act of the same violent processes that shaped her. Art, like the inner world, is built on the polarity between destruction and reparation. So if we are capable of sculpting our art, perhaps we can forgive ourselves for not being successful in dealing with the violent creation of our self?

    We can go on and on about art organized as an act of treatment and how in our art we are making a compensation about the things in our life that we decide to be silent about or are too big of a deal to be confronted. But choosing a unique language of freeing a difficult memory (individual or collective) is an artistic mechanism to rebel against that which is wrong.

2from the Bourgeois journals in Volume II: Psychoanalytic Writings in Louise Bourgeois, The Return of the Repressed. London: Vilolette Limited,
2012. 23-24.

The Destruction of the Father, 1974

3. Art against Patriarchy

    In The Destruction of the Father, Bourgeois is re-enacting a childhood revenge fantasy of revolt against her father, who gloats and brags at the dinner table and whom, in exasperation, she dismembers and devours.3 The installation shows the remains after the cannibalistic act in which the kids and the mother ate the father on the dining table. The destruction of the father, executed from the member of his family, is not only revenge against the father as the head of the family. The Loud Father is a symbol for the ideological Father, the fascist, the authoritative figure we should all obey. Bourgeois rebels against the patriarchy that requires silent digestion while it gloats and brags. She stops being a victim by reconstructing the past with her own defiance. Most of her art is build around the idea of her being the disobedient daughter.

3 Philip Larratt-Smith, Intoduction: Sculpture as Symptom in Louise Bourgeois, The Return of the Repressed. London: Vilolette Limited,
2012. 7-14.

Maman, 1994

4. Art and the Things we Hurt

    Maman (Mummy) is a monumental sculpture by Louis that depicts a spider. The spider is a representation of her caring and loving mother who always protected her. Her absent father never really belonged in the house, as she writes in her journals, but the home felt more like a hotel to him. Her mother feels like her only family from whom she never felt betrayed and she, just like Louis, waited for her father to show up, always waiting for the husband to come back. The spider is often small, almost invisible with its net, in the dusty corners of the home, but for Bourgeois art is huge. It’s noticeable and monumental, so it can’t be featured in a house or a museum, only outdoors. We can stand under the sculpture of the spider and feel protected by the long, almost fragile legs.

The Family, 2008

5. The Language of Art

c. 1958

My piece of sculpture (usually figures)
do not represent only study in forms. they
represent  emotional states usually of painful
kind - such as 1) impending engulfment (under
water) very old theme -
                     2) feared visit - apprehensive
expectancy conflict of 2 equally strong and
opposite feelings. apprehension makes me look for
defensive weapons
                     3) fear for the well being of
someone else
Those are my subjects. I do not wish to
have this published because anxiety as such
seams to me to be still a new subject.
I am interested in talking about methods, means,
techniques limitations and production - also
relations of sculptors to their peers critics public

4from the Bourgeois journals in Volume II: Psychoanalytic Writings in Louise Bourgeois, The Return of the Repressed. London: Vilolette Limited,
2012. 93. 

St. Sebastianne, 1947

* The images of the art are scans taken from the book Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed.


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