Accepting Cultural Diversity in the Arts
Accepting Cultural Diversity in the Arts
Yesterday, I came across a post by a fellow artist that touched on being judged for his culturally diverse sources of inspiration in the arts. He is a painter who expressed his frustration with an online art group that is a supposed to be a platform to support African American artists. In this group, he stated he had varied inspirational interests which included classical Renaissance artists. But being part of such a group, he was questioned for it. This artist doesn't personally define his art as "black art". Although being a black man living in the Caribbean, his art reflects his culture and surroundings. So more than likely you will see his paintings filled with black musicians in the countryside or a boy with dreadlocks by the ocean. His work is inextricably linked to his personal experience. But to be classified as a black artist instead of an artist that happens to be black is an issue for him and many artists of color. Being judged as not staying true to your roots by finding inspiration outside of your own culture is disadvantageous for a person whose form of expression lives through what moves them.
The above statement is often abridged and attributed to the wrong source. The text was in fact written in a letter to Queen Victoria as a warning about artists from her Uncle Leopold. Below is the original quotation from which it was pulled.
"The dealings with artists, for instance, require great prudence; they are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that very reason dangerous; they are hardly ever satisfied, and when you have too much to do with them, you are sure to have des ennuis..."- Léopold Louis Philippe Marie Victor
The initial intention of this message differs with its derogatory classification rather than the empowering way it is currently used. But the notion remains that an artist has indiscriminate associations. And by his innately insatiable nature, the artist opens himself up to all sorts of people and therefore influences. To segregate that would prove limiting to the artist's work. Mixing with and observing all sorts in society is how a writer's characters are developed, an artist's model is chosen and how the layers of a musician's melody is created.
Countless artists with formal training in their field will recall being taught with historical examples created by classical masters or what is considered canon literature. This is how the foundation is built. Historically, the majority of these works do not include people of color or they aren't properly credited for them. A much more diverse education is definitely needed as a whole. And I believe this lack of representation causes indignation. One that leads to marginalizing groups and focusing on embodying one's cultural history alone.
Up to this day, people of color haven't had the same opportunities for exposure. You can find in a state like Arizona that books are banned by certain authors of color. Denying not only a state, but a generation the experience of work by cultural writers such as Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya. This restricts not only students of color but all students from being exposed to and inspired by culture both familiar and unfamiliar. Librotraficante helps provide underground libraries so these literary works can still be accessible. Yet, it is sad that in this day and age, we aren't allowed the freedom to make choices on what we educate ourselves with or still judged for it.
Still, if it weren't for the classics, films like Orfeu Negro wouldn't exist. The storyline merges Brazilian culture with the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. It utilizes black actors and Portuguese tongues and reaches an audience who may not have read this classic piece of literature but made it relatable. The success of Lin- Manuel Miranda's latest play Hamilton shows us the same thing. It carries the influences of his youth by intermixing his love of hip hop and theater while telling the story of Alexander Hamilton in a contemporary way. I doubt either of these works of art would have been created without a love for certain classical works.
We as artists are always pulling from different influences and reinterpreting them through our own personal relationship with them. To limit the pool you draw your inspiration from just to prove your solidarity with something is a careless way to nurture your talent. So the next time you find yourself around the unfamiliar or the too familiar, be open and see where it leads you. You may just discover a new source of inspiration. Or at least be the kind of danger that Uncle Leopold was warning the Queen about!
~ Nia Andino ~