30 June, 2011

Privilege, art and asshattery

Warning, rant ahead!

I was going to do a nice post tonight with a couple of shout-outs and a picture or something but I've got something on my mind and I think I need to talk about that instead. Unbeknownst to me until today, there has been some sort of hate-in going on Heather Ross. Were you aware of it? The first I knew was on her blog today, which led me to True Up (which I also read but must have missed that post), and then, and I really wish I hadn't, on to the offending blog posts. I'm not going to link to them because I don't want it to up their numbers, you can get there through True Up! I think Kim at True Up said it really well, and I'm not going to rehash the whole argument, but if you have a few minutes and feel like reading up on it a little, then I'd love to hear your thoughts. My thoughts are this:
  1. I'm obviously white and privileged because I'd never noticed most fabrics with people in them show white people. This bothers me and I'm really pleased that I've had my eyes opened to it. Not that I ever really buy fabrics with people in them, but obviously it's really important to other people to find themselves represented there and fair enough.
  2. Why do they think that telling Heather Ross how to draw her pictures is in any way ok or even vaguely reasonable or sane, or that it's ok to call for a boycott of her products until she starts including other skin tones than white? 
  3. Would they demand that other famous artists change the way they create art so that it suits them a bit better? Makes them feel more comfortable? Is prettier? Has more blue in it? Would they tell a black and white photographer to use colour because it's more realistic? 
  4. Does having a privileged (as in, not a disadvantaged minority), white childhood mean that it's not acceptable to talk about or depict it? Isn't that also racism? Am I expected to disown my childhood?
  5. Should we expect people to alter the past to fit in better with that is considered acceptable today? Does that mean we should stop looking at art created by people in the past? What about books?
I think that this topic, the one of inclusivity, should absolutely be talked about - and when I started reading the original posts I was actually feeling quite positive about it. But by the end of them, and the comments, I was so angry I had to walk away from the computer. Not because of the inclusivity issue, but because of #2 above, the general self-absorption of some of those commenters, and the always present fact that the internet is full of rude, nasty and angry people. Suggesting that someone shouldn't represent their childhood, or some version of it, because it doesn't resemble yours and you, personally, don't relate to it? I mean really? You said that in public? And thought it was a good thing? I mean, god forbid that people should take this issue to the people who really need to address it, that is the manufacturers who buy or commission the fabric lines from the artists, or to, I don't know, society as a whole? Why make Heather Ross responsible for the fucked up state of race relations around the world? And I think the thing that really made my brain hurt the most, was the fact that people have actually emailed her and told her she should be altering her designs and her style and that she's doing it wrong. I just...I mean...I...I'm not getting my head around the effrontery. Not that she's like, perfect or anything, but isn't the normal thing to just not buy the stuff? Or go and design your own fabric at Spoonflower? You know, put your money where your mouth is? And then, when the person you're lobbing great lumps of turd at gets mad at you, and leaves a grumpy comment or two, why would you then say things like "well, she's not nearly as nice and full of light and happiness as her drawings suggest!" No, she's not - she's a real person, with feelings and a brain. Do these people not realise how unpleasant they're being? I'm assuming they actually think they're being constructive, or helpful or something. And then there's the academics in there, being clever and snide, laughing at all the plebs and using big words. It's not a good look, and as an academic I bloody resent how it tars the rest of us with the same brush.

Sorry, I've gone all ranty here, but jeez I'm really mad at all those rude people. When I rule the world rude, self-absorbed people better watch out. And bad drivers...

Yeah, so how was your day? Before I got all mad and ranty I started making Hazel some togs! It might be a success or a  huge disaster. Only time will tell. I'm very nervous though!

30 comments:

  1. Seems I miss all the fuss on the internet, I must not be reading the right blogs (except yours).  Wowsers.  SOme people just need to get a life.

    Not sure what's up with your comment thing, tried to comment on the last few posts but it keeps failing??

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  2. There are some debates I'm really quite happy to remain ignorant of! But on the other hand the whole inclusive thing is important to be aware of.

    Not sure what the deal is with Disqus sometimes. I partly switched from blogger comments because people said they couldn't comment. And now people are saying the same thing about Disqus... I know there are a couple of blogs on my reader that just don't seem to like me, but I do occasionally sneak a comment in! It's very frustrating. What does Disqus do (or not do)?

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  3. Here here!  Could not have said it any better, we all just need to accept that we all have different backgrounds and therefore different points of reference - I say AMEN to that because that is why we have great artists like Heather Ross because she is an individual and there is no one else like her.  It is not good or bad, we are all just different and that is what makes the world go around.  However there are those that just want to mess with it, how sad, imagine what fabulous things they could be doing with that time instead.  Enough said, I need to get back to my own fabulousness :-)

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  4. I find it unbelievable that people can be offended by illustrations of horses and fairy tales.  can't get through to True Up at the moment so not sure of the exact basis of their issues, but it  sounds a bit like Phillip on Survivor last night taking a general comment as a racist slur. Sad...

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  5. i don't understand the mindset, either. it's like 'fans' of an author writing to tell her how *her* characters should be behaving. if you don't like it, don't buy it. use the energy being expending on being rude, ignorant fool to hunt up artists who are designing fabrics/etc. that you enjoy.

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  6. Jesus-tapdancing-Keyreist. Ashley needs to get over it and stop with the "America owes me" mentality. It's art. If you don't like it, don't buy it.

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  7. That whole argument makes me so mad I could explode! What person in their right mind honestly thinks they can dictate someone else's artistic expression in order to make themselves feel more comfortable?! People are idiots. I hope Heather Ross continues to express herself in whatever way she imagines. Also I hope that if people of color want to see pictures of themselves on fabric or in books they will make some instead of complain about other people's art!

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  8. Wow. An outstanding example of "First World problems"! I don't think I'll bother to get mad about this one.

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  9. Ha! yes, that's probably about it :)

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  10. I guess you could make the argument that if you're not in the privileged section of society then things like designing your own fabric, having access to the internet, having the money to buy the fabric or to promote your designs etc. is going to be out of reach. On the other hand, if a white person tries to depict other cultures they usually get slammed - or do a really heinous job of it. It's a bit of a no-win situation. But yeah, I'd be more sympathetic if people were complaining about having their multicultural designs knocked back by the establishment than if they're complaining because someone won't do that work for them.

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  11. I'm not against the concept of recompense for historical wrongs, but I really do think I draw the line at art. As you say, if you don't like it don't buy it. Buy the stuff you do like, tell them why, and vote with your wallet. But asking artists to change the way they do art to suit you personally is just nuts.

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  12. Exactly - I can't even think how much someone would have to pay me to write a letter to one of my favourite authors, say China Mieville, and say "I didn't understand the ending of your last book and I think your books would be a lot better if you explained things more clearly - oh, and maybe don't be so weird and creepy sometimes, I don't really like that". It makes me cringe just typing that! And here's all these people proudly proclaiming these sentiments in public! It's a bit like watching the early bits of American Idol with all the awful singers thinking they're great - kind of like not being able to look away from a car accident as you drive past.

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  13. I think it's the latest lot of fabrics with the little girls playing with horses that really has people going - but I guess when I think about it, all the fairy princesses are white too aren't they? But then, they are European stories... Perhaps it's a bit hard for us, outside the States, to really understand the racial politics and how fraught it all is? Or would it be the same here in NZ if we'd actually ever talk about it?

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  14. I think there are a surprising number of people in the world, privileged or not, who can't see past their own frame of reference. The rich, white, middle-class males who got themselves out of a state house and are now millionaires can't see why everyone can't do that, just as people who had a very deprived childhood can't see past that to accept someone else's childhood might have been playing horses in a cowboy shirt. This debate hasn't lessened my love of Heather Ross's designs one iota, though it has made me more aware of the larger picture. I don't think the two things are necessarily linked though!

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  15. I kind of wish I hadn't come across the debate too, sometimes ignorance is bliss! I managed to miss the whole "what is modern quilting" debate, which I gather got a bit nasty, but on the fringes you can just pick up some of the good ideas that float free of the fray and benefit from them, without having to get het up over the topic! So I'm glad to have had the opportunity to consider inclusiveness in fabrics and crafting, but wish that it could have come without all the displays of online silliness! Oh well, I had my rant and got it out of my system :)

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  16. Ellie -PetalplumJuly 2, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    I too only found out about this whole crazy rude thoughtless and horrible situation when I read Heather's blog. (being on the library 1hr time limit Internet Kent I didn't read all those comments -can't waste my time on idiots and rude people). I totally agree with you (as usual; being the witty intellec you are, you always say it just right!). People aren't respecting those designs as Heathers artwork -undressing thinking she's just designing for them and not for herself as well. And yes, Spoonflower people -then you're sure to see yourself on the fabric.
    Yes, I'm white and so self-absorbed (and privileged) that I dont think so much about the lack of different skin types represented.
    I hate the way the Internet seems full of people voicing these rude thoughts and words, without editing themselves to take into account the person on the other end is a real perso . And oh yes, don't take it personally we're only talking about your personal artwork and childhood, but don't have a reaction like that or anything.

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  17. Ah, but there's the rub... it's not "public". You're in your home, on a computer, no eyes upon you - just a whole lot of HTML conveying words that can be read and interpreted any way people feel is appropriate. It seems to me (and I totally see this happening to me sometimes, so I'm not trying to wag my finger as though I'm so blameless...) that we get in such a grip of Group Think on the interwebs sometimes. We find someone who is kinda saying what we're saying, so we amp up the crazy, and then someone takes what we're saying and *they* amp up the crazy and before you know it people are shitting kittens.
     
    I read a blog once where this gal made a comment about breastfeeding that came across SO SMARMY, I mean my computer monitor was coated with smarm grease after reading her comment. Well, everyone else reads it and is like, "Woah bitch, chill out!" calling her all kinds of things and being generally really mean. She had posted the original comment anonymously because she had been having issues posting under her username, which totally happens. Well, she came back to the post, saw all the awful stuff people were writing, and contacted the blog writer to apologize. She even left another comment, this time with her blog name or username or something, apologizing to all the offended hens on the site and explained herself in a more congenial tone. Well, that wasn't good enough for some of those commenters. They continued to smear this girl. Some folks even went to her Facebook page and left her awful comments. All because this poor girl hadn't any idea that her commment would be so misconstrued. And honestly, had she *spoken* those words vs. typed them, I bet the misunderstanding wouldn't have occured.
     
    Long story short - I think people feel their initial emotion, then they either start the ball rolling by being the first commenter or they add to the grief and anger of other commenters, and before you know it everyone's blood pressure is through the roof. It sucks because there are all kinds of ideas and topics ranging from big to small that should have room for an open, intellectual debate WITHOUT the need for people to turn into two year olds. It makes me sad and it riles me up. I don't know that we can do much to keep it from happening aside from getting everyone a webcam and making comments like photographs in the Harry Potter books.
     
    But I did love your post. I wish we lived on the same continent. I think you and I would be great life friends, not just webby ones.

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  18. The comments are where it all really started to go downhill - or the self-absorbed started to gather in numbers anyways. For awhile it was a chorus of "I agree!" and "You're wonderful for posting this!" and "Heather Ross sucks!" but then a few brave souls started to say "WTF??" and by the end it was fairly equal for and against. You didn't miss much :P

    It's such a pity it descended into a bun-fight (and that the original posts were a bit inflammatory) because it turns a very important topic into something that people either get really upset about, or stay away from, and neither of those are very constructive.

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  19. I think you make a couple of really good points - lots of people forget that the internet is public and even more importantly, that text is a really crappy way of conveying emotional subtleties and meanings. It's so easy to get offended by something totally innocent because they didn't put in an emoticon or use clearer language. I have a friend who is really very good with words, but sometimes I really have to take a deep breath and not fire back a hasty reply to something rude she's written, because I know she doesn't really mean it that way. Would I give some stranger the benefit of the doubt? I'd like to say yes but in reality? Maybe not. And I think I'm reasonably clued up on things like this, so it's no wonder things can go so badly wrong online. The internet lynch mob is pretty ugly. Sometimes it serves the greater good but mostly - not so much!

    The only problem with Harry Potter comments would be that I'd have to wear makeup all the time! And yeah, being in NZ means I'm pretty distant from most online people! Though I have made one very very good friend in West Virginia through the internet, and I've managed to visit her twice - so it's not impossible :)

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  20. I was happily ignorant - no - I had my head under the sand. I didn't want to read it when I saw a mention of it on True Up when it happened. You piqued my interest again so I skim read the main articles.  I agree with you, why was poor Heather singled out? 

    lovely to hear from you and thanks for the ice tip. That's good!!

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  21. I've read the lot now, including the comments and the follow-up post.  It seems like a witch-hunt to me; those are big issues that one designer cannot fix.  It's obviously a sore point and something that should be discussed, but maybe if they left all the emotion and swearing alone it could be constructive.  

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  22. (but not nearly so entertaining)

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  23. What I find worrying about your mentality is that being an "artist" means that there is no social responsibility in your work. Heather Ross creates patterns which are sold commercially to a wide audience. She is a designer, or an illustrator according to her own about page. These people have responsibilities to their audiences. The situation is probably causing extra rancor because a line of princess designs is marketed towards young girls, but if there are no depictions of girls of color it is implicit that they cannot be princesses or that is not even a consideration. 
    I can assure you that there are designers creating patterns with people of color that are being denied because they are told that such things are not commercially viable. It happens in any field that you can imagine. Also, there have been white people who have depicted people of color with sensitivity. Just as there are men who write books (direct movies, create art, etc) with women in them that are not simply stereotypes. It is just unfortunate that racism (and sexism) is so widespread that this is not often the case.Anyways...While it is not cool to pile on and hate on one lady, the issues that people are raising are valid. 

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  24. I think you've misunderstood me at some level - I too agree that these are important things to discuss and I'm not in any way suggesting that the concerns - at a wider level - aren't valid. What I do take issue with is the target that people are aiming at is not a useful or valid one. I wouldn't be annoyed if they were complaining about Moda or Westminster, or any of the big companies - because they are the ones that ultimately produce the lines. Target the marketing dept. who tells the artist that their work isn't commercially viable. To target an individual, and to make it so personal, is not only illogical, but a seriously bad look. As far as I'm concerned, an artist has no responsibility to their "audience" whatsoever - they produce the art and the audience chooses whether they will buy or look at or otherwise interact with it. If no-one wants to then that artist doesn't have an audience. If some artists choose to produce art that challenges the mindset of that audience then good on them - but it isn't some sort of moral imperative. Artists who produce pretty fantasy landscapes are just as valid artistically as those who paint realistic depictions of urban decay. The pretty landscapes may not suit your taste, but the artist producing them doesn't have to change what they do because the real paddock they've depicted is full of nitrates and run-off from dairying. I don't really understand what people want from Heather - she does what she does. If they want to see themselves depicted in fabrics then she's obviously not the one to look to.

    Just as a side note - I don't know if you meant to come off sounding rude or not, but the phrase "What I find worrying about your mentality is..." is not exactly the best way to start off a conversation in someone's blog. I respect your right to disagree with what I've said above because it's more in the way of a philosophical question about art, and I'm happy to debate things in a friendly way, but I do expect a modicum of politeness.

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  25. also have we forgotten that it is fucking fabric?

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  26. 'Fucking' fabric? Never! Seriously though - you're quite correct, it's definitely a first world problem this one. Although it must be pretty bloody hard to take when even fabric doesn't represent you - let alone more important things.

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  27. I never intended to appear as anything but polite, and I am at pains to imagine how that phrase could have been taken rudely, yet I apologize for any insult.
    I only say that because it is indeed worrying because it is, in my eyes, used as an excuse to absolve people. Obviously we disagree about the role of artists in society. 
    I think you misunderstand me as well, I agreed that it is not right to target her in the way that she has been.
    However, structural racism/myopia is supported by individual racism/myopia, and individual racism/myopia is perpetuated by structural racism/myopia.

    Anyways,I just wandered down here looking at Japanese sewing books to buy before I move out of Japan and thought your posts were pretty nice. 

    I just thought as a person of color I should point out that it really isn't fair to call these "first world problems" because although of course the medium may be fabric, the issues at stake are high.

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  28. I accept that you meant no offense, but my mentality is the entire sum of the way I think and feel, my thoughts and experiences - saying you are worried about that is...well it's a pretty sweeping condemnation of me as a person. I think it would have been better to not personalise it the way you did and simply say you are worried about this situation or debate or whatever. I'd also like to state very strongly that I am not, nor have ever been, an apologist for racism or racists. I realise that this is a symptom of a larger ill in society, but I do honestly feel that if we can get this worked up about racism in something as trivial and first world as quilting fabric, then it's missing the point and a complete waste of well-intentioned energy. I imagine the fabric companies would perfer to let the debate rage at an inconsequential level because it means they don't have to actually worry about changing anything. Perhaps it's at a level where people feel they can make some difference, I don't know, but getting angry at the fabric designers isn't going to make a blind bit of difference at any level that going to make a real difference to the lives of people who suffer under a racist system. The stakes are indeed high, but big changes are not going to be achieved by worrying about the piddly stuff like this - and keeping the attention at this level means that the larger issues remain unaddressed.

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