When we think about appropriation, it seems in many ways that’s what art does. We quote other works, build on our influences. It seems that imagination itself works by synthesis, drawing on many elements. The poet Charles Wright suggests that even as we’re drawn to synthesis, we also have to resist it, not get too comfy with pulling everything together. Maybe the danger of appropriation comes in when we don’t look closely at the elements we’re synthesizing. These days many voices that have been silenced are now speaking up and shifting the cultural center. It’s a dynamic and fluid time, challenging, too, as it well should be. We have become acutely aware of the ways we can presume to know another culture, another being, reducing that other to what we can understand from our own limited perspective. Even empathy can be reductive, when we assume we know how another feels based on ourselves. Our culture has been blind to the values and voices that are excluded from the dominant perspective. Education can be expansive, but it can also be an oppressive tool. We think of the terrible damage done to Native American children by other’s self-righteous claims of understanding.
Maybe one way to approach the dangers is to start with humility and acknowledgment. And if we love elements from another culture to sit at their feet, to be a student of those things, not claiming to be an expert or owner. As artists, we should always inquire about the tensions between appreciation and appropriation, imagination and presumption. As artists and citizens, we’re all figuring out our identities, questioning, asserting, defending. Maybe a saving grace of art is that it is a self-forgetting, utterly free zone of process. We discover what subjects we have an inner authority to write about, subjects that compel us, challenge us, where we know that we know, around which we are not tourists but true locals. Later, we step back and look with a critical eye, ask the hard questions. But that free zone needs to be allowed to operate, protected from the danger of over-policing that makes people so afraid of making a mistake we won’t even enter into dialogue. Surely dialogue is one of the crucial places to meet across cultures and identities, where we can listen and hear each other, be vulnerable and magnanimous together.
Here are some questions to get you thinking:
Do you experience a tension around appropriation, perhaps between what we call influence and appropriation?
How do you deal with elements in your work that might be challenged as inappropriate appropriation?
What about collage, or homage, or allusion?
Is there a difference between referencing work from the past, and referencing work associated with a particular, present culture that has experienced a history of erasure by the dominant culture?
If the imagination’s impulse is to be free and unbound, what happens when we create boundaries around these issues?
Journal Submission guidelines for UMVA Members Showcase:
Deadline: September 1st, 2019
We invite MAJ featured artists to submit up to 4 JPEG or png images, (No TIFF files)
Include an image list and statement or brief essay in Word doc. format, not a PDF.
Label each image file as follows: your last name_Number of Image_Title_
(if you are submitting for a group put your own last name in first.)
Label your document file names: Last Name_Title
Image list format: Artist’s Name, “Title of Work”, medium, size, date (optional), photo credit (if not included we assume it is courtesy of the artist).
—Please wait until all of your material is compiled to submit.
Size of images: Images should be JPEG files, (approximately 2800 pixels on width, resolution 72dpi).
Put “Appropriation” in the subject line and submit by email to email@example.com by the September 1st deadline. MAJ will limit the “Members’ Showcase” section to UMVA members who have not been published in the past year.
We are no longer able to accommodate artists’ pre-formatted visual essays. Our editors will lay-out text and images submitted using the new guidelines above
It is the MAJ’s policy to request and then publish image credits. We will not publish images the submitter does not have the right to publish. However, it is to be assumed that any uncredited or unlabeled images are the author’s/submitter’s own images. By submitting to the MAJ, you are acknowledging respect for these policies.
MAJ Editorial Board
Natasha Mayers, Dan Kany, Nora Tryon, Christine Sullivan and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)
Image at top of page: Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016, Oil on canvas, 38.5 x 53.25 inches. ©Dana Schutz. Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York