Monday, April 29, 2019

Arachne: The Spider and the Queen Bee

Arachne: Predator and Prey…left panel
Available through Zhou B Gallery on

Arachne: Predator and Prey. The Arachne story from Greek Mythology, is a little known one, so I shall tell it here.

In the ancient world of the Greek Gods, Arachne was a mortal woman and an extraordinary weaver. She boasted of her skill, declaring that she was better at weaving than the Goddess Athena.

Pride in her accomplishments was Arachne’s first crime.

It is the crime that has disempowered many talented and intelligent women since…well, since women could speak. She knew she was good and told people so. In a man, this is respected as confidence in one’s own abilities. For a woman, however it is seen as undesirable bragging. Even contemporary women of great skill tend to hide their light lest they be seen as too cocky.

Athena, Goddess of Arts and Crafts (among other things) also demanded that Arachne declare her weaving prowess to be a gift from the Gods.

Arachne wouldn’t hear of it. She had built her skill through hard work and persistence, not magical divine intervention. For me, as an artist, this really hits home. I always bristle when someone tells me I’m “blessed” or “gifted” with the skill to paint…when in fact I am consistently working very hard to master it as a lifelong goal in progress.

Athena took umbrage at these perceived insults and challenged Arachne to a weaving duel…if only all disagreements were settled this way.

In this competition, both woman and goddess chose to weave complex scenes of figurative art…a detail I adore.

Athena’s weaving was predictably grand: a scene of Olympus and a tribute to the glory of the Gods.

Arachne’s weaving, however was profoundly moving, truthful, beautiful, realistic and earthly…and far more skillful than Athena’s. Arachne depicted the Gods as carnal beings whose whims, passions, and petty jealousies create suffering in the lives of mortals.

With predictable pettiness, Athena was disgraced that her own work could not best that of a mortal. She became enraged with the very jealousy that Arachne’s vision of the Gods depicted. She tore Arachne’s beautiful weaving to shreds.

Thinking this was only the beginning of Athena’s godly wrath, Arachne attempted suicide by hanging herself right there on the spot.

Athena thwarted the suicide and removed Arachne from the rope she tried to hang herself with.

Then, in classic vengeful-God style, Athena declared (I imagine with great sarcasm and false fanfare) that since Arachne was such a superior weaver, she should hang from a rope forever and weave for all of eternity.

Arachne: Predator and Prey…center panel
Available through Zhou B Gallery on
Athena* summoned her almighty Goddess powers to turn Arachne into a spider…for the crime of beating her at a weaving competition…nooo, the gods weren’t petty…

My triptych casts Arachne as the beautiful and diligent weaver of her spider web. She is also prisoner of it; wrapped with the same silken webbing she uses to create it… even as she sprouts the multiple arms of an arachnid to complete her metamorphosis.

The Arachne Triptych…measuring almost 10 feet when seen together…it made its debut at the Zhou B Gallery in Chicago as part of Secondary Meanings, a Poets/Artists Exhibition and Catalog curated by Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, sponsors of The Bennett Prize.

And, since it’s a triptych, there’s also a third panel…but, because she’s been in hiding for so long, I’m going to keep her a secret for a while longer. You can see her though, if you snoop around on the Zhou B Gallery site on!

Order the stunning Poets/Artists Secondary Meanings catalog here.

The Arachne triptych is available…as a set or as individual paintings…
check her out on…leftcenter…and right!

*Future paintings in this series will address the other cultural myth implicit to the Arachne story: the “Queen Bee” concept, as personified by Athena.

As I examine mythology, I often find powerful Goddesses, Queens, Sorceresses, and Witches smiting young women who have angered them simply by being beautiful, talented and clever and intelligent. The capable young women in these stories are punished, persecuted, thwarted, enchanted, manipulated and murdered by the very women who should be their mentors.

The concept that there is only room for one powerful woman at the top has repeated itself in mythology, religion, literature, fairy tales and also in the corporate and political world. It affects how women view and treat each other and validates the humiliations and injustices women have suffered from society as well.

The world has also suffered greatly for the “queen bee” concept as well. If you look at how history is riddled with testosterone-induced wars, conquests, pillages and enslavements…you’ll notice a distinct absence of women leading these charges. And also how women in positions of power often seek to emulate this swagger in order to be seen as strong…when in fact, strength also lies in setting ego aside and seeking peaceful solutions; a skill that wives, mothers, sisters, teachers, nuns, nurses, nannies and all unsung female heroes have practiced for millennia.

This “queen bee” myth…and practice… needs shattering and future paintings will attempt to do just that with my paintbrush.  I will also write about them…because I want to make sure you all get the point! J

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