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Art, Culture & Respect

Hey artsy/creative people,

I’d love to hear how you integrate cultural ideas into your work and if you have any thoughts on how to do this respectfully. I ask because there’s a concept/imagery from another culture that really resonates with me right now, and I’d like to explore it in my work. However, it’s a pretty deep/sacred thing and I don’t want to “cheapen” it.

Sometimes I see people imitate (or even just appropriate) my dad’s culture and it makes me feel angry and embarassed for them. My ancestors’ spiritual values have evolved over many (many) generations — some people dedicate their whole lives to learning and living these ideals. For example, dancers in the sundance ceremony often carry scars which reflect tremendous sacrifice and commitment to their community. So when some rich kid from the big city goes and gets scarification done in a nice sterile studio — as opposed to learning about the customs, making the corresponding sacrifices, and you know, actually DOING THE DANCE — it kind of belittles the whole thing (even if that’s not the intent). That said, I certainly don’t want to approach someone else’s beliefs in a superficial or irreverent way.

By the same token, we don’t live in a vacuum. Most of us are exposed to, and even influenced by other cultures on a daily basis. The term “culture” speaks to a community’s history, ideology, spirituality, music and art (and food! although that kind of falls under the “art” category in my book ;o) . These are all wonderful things to enjoy and explore — so why hoard them? Hopefully, sharing and understanding each others’ cultures offers humanity a way to connect and work together for a better world.

So my questions are, how do you approach the use of cultural ideals or symbolism in YOUR art? Do you strive for authenticity or loose interpretation? Do you let it inspire you but create your own thang, or?? Do you study the subject extensively, or just explore what it means to you? How do you walk that fine line of drawing inspiration without appropriating?


2 thoughts on “Art, Culture & Respect

  1. Hi Drea! I also struggle with this, for sure. I guess for me the bottom line is, if it comes from within you, then you’re not appropriating something that belongs to someone else. It sounds like this does, because you said the image really “resonates” with you right now.

  2. Hey Mary –

    Good point! And yes, the idea really does touch on something internal/personal. I’m intrigued by how this culture represents a concept that I’ve been mulling over for some time.

    After writing that post, it occured to me that my spiritual values are influenced by many cultures. I’ve never questioned this, or worried if this was appropriate — in fact, I find peace in it. Funny that I can feel so comfortable with this on an internal level, but I’m so much more careful about how to express it visually. It’s really important to me to be respectful tho, and not just pay lip service.

    Tibetan prayer flags are the inspiration I’m talking about, BTW. Such a beautiful, visual reminder of prayer — and a wonderful example of the ways that art and spirit intersect.

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