This post was originally written as the artist’s statement for my series of paintings From Cradle to Grave: The Color White.
From Cradle to Grave: The Color White
When some hospitals, in the name of customer service, decided nurses would again wear white, I began thinking about the symbolism of white clothing in western European culture. Patients complain it is difficult to tell nurses apart from other hospital staff. Interestingly, color-coding nurses was chosen as a solution, rather than promoting the professional identity of this primarily female occupation.
The burden of the color white for women of western culture is laden with moral innuendo. For nurses, it conjures images of Nurse Ratched, Hot Lips Houlihan, and Jenny Fields, the nurse/mother in John Irving’s novel, The World According to Garp. It is paradoxical that when women wear white it represents virginal purity, yet evokes sexual fantasy, fear, or both.
From Cradle to Grave: The Color White depicts the rituals for which I’ve worn white. Baptism, First Communion, two weddings, and the iconic white nurse uniform of the “pinning ceremony,” marking the completion of nurses training.
I considered rituals or occupations requiring men to wear white clothing:
- House painters
- Meat packers
- Ice cream vendors
- Medical professionals
- Colonel Sanders
- The Navy
- The Pope
The robes of the Ku Klux Klan take the color white to its sinister extreme.
The color white comes with expectations for women who wear it: only the pure and virginal, never before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.