Working With Kids At Home
Art by Miranda Branley
How do you illustrate a culture without appropriating? Is there a “right” way to learn art fundamentals? How do you balance raising kids and an illustration career? And what if you get bored drawing the same thing over and over again for a children’s book? This week, Jake Parker, Lee White, and Will Terry discuss these questions and provide their answers.
K.Flagg last edited by
The illustration for this podcast is awesome! The little hang in there rabbit on the calendar is the best! Great episode as well. I love the topic of should you illustrate things when you don't know much about the fandom or culture.
mellanrumsformer last edited by
Big thanks for answering my “question”! I remember feeling a bit bad the day after I sent in this question, it´s basically a lot of different questions in one, but I appreciate the effort.
My takeaway is that I should aim to do my exercises to the level I want to be working at, and not over do them. Some related questions for the forum:
How much time and effort do you spend on basic exercises?
How do you get motivated to do them?
And what balance do you have between doing basic exercises and “just” doing Drawings/Paintings and getting the exercises that way?
I think my plan with these questions was to be able to get down a effective training program for drawing fundamentals...
KayPotter last edited by
Interesting conversation about appropriation etc! I don’t know much about Tarot, but I’m glad Lee has a cool project to inspire more of his art. But I think the point got lost in the weeds- Lee is researching the heck out of it and talking to experts and listening to them. That’s the take away, not that we should be allowed to do whatever we like and ‘mix culture.’
An easy example is the Plains’ Indian Headdress. Culturally, headdresses hold a lot of respect, honor and are spiritually significant. You can compare it to a Medal of Honor. But then you see non-native kids wearing some sort of rendition of a headdress at a music festival, or feathers draping down a Victoria secret model... and it’s not such a cool mixing of cultures anymore. It’s not necessarily malicious, it may even be an attempt to seem positive, but it’s also not responsible or respectful. It focuses on how non-Native people see the headdress as opposed to how it actually acted in the culture that created it. And considering the history of Native culture being violently assimilated and silenced by White Christian colonizers, it also seems pretty brutal to take a top significant symbol from their culture and use it so flippantly.
It’s a really complicated topic, and I always wish there was a really easy nice neat bow to tie around it every time the topic comes up, but a quick easy answer isn’t the right one. Acknowledging and being aware of deep historical roots you may be involving when using symbols or whatever from other cultures is really important. Like Jake said, if the illustrator got something really wrong in the Bible, he wouldn’t love that. But so often, when a subculture says “hey, we don’t like the way you are using our symbol’, they are met with vitriol or deaf ears because of the years of oppression and racism. Further, if a white person was hired to illustrate a book about the variations of headdresses or something, in the argument of equity, I might ask, why not hire a Native person? Native people have been stereotyped and oppressed to the point where they weren’t allowed to be hired, or even seen/heard, and that is inequitable, so we need to make extra effort to create equity, which might look on the surface like creating bias towards them for a while.
Anyway, again, I don’t really think Tarot fits appropriation, as practitioners, to my knowledge, have not been victims of racial and cultural oppression. And When it comes to fandoms and things like that, I don’t think you can count them as the same kind of appropriation as actual cultural appropriation. Nobody’s grandparents were ripped out their parents arms and sent to boarding schools as kids because they liked Batman.
Anyway. Glad y’all are having these convos!
@KayPotter You draw some interesting distinctions between the different kinds of appropriation.
Further, if a white person was hired to illustrate a book about the variations of headdresses or something, in the argument of equity, I might ask, why not hire a Native person? Native people have been stereotyped and oppressed to the point where they weren’t allowed to be hired, or even seen/heard, and that is inequitable, so we need to make extra effort to create equity, which might look on the surface like creating bias towards them for a while.
In the scenario you outline I agree. But here's something that I've been wondering about for a while:
What if a white person wasn't "hired" but rather decided on their own that "I'm super interested in native headdresses. I would like to write and illustrate a book about them!" And then they proceeded to throughly research native headdresses and create something that added to the cultural understanding of Plains Indians.
Would that be appropriate (allowed) or is it cultural appropriation? Should content like this really only be created by artists and scholars of Native American decent?
I can see fairly compelling arguments on both sides.
Binski last edited by
@davidhohn this is an incredibly interesting thread! I find myself asking things like this a lot because me and my partner write and illustrate as a partnership (they are mixed race Scottish/Indian - from India not Native American and I'm boring old whiter than white). I illustrate their work where race is not a focus of the story. ie, they are writing a book of fantastical short stories that never brings race into the narrative directly - therefore, I'm illustrating it. However, they are also writing a book specifically about being mixed race - highlighting some of the awesome mixed race people in Britain - and I deliberately said "I think you need an illustrator who is of colour for this one" because I personally feel that it's not my story to tell.
In the case that you are talking about, I think you absolutely must approach a project like that with caution - especially if you are writing and illustrating it with no partnership/input from a person of the culture you wish to depct. I agree that you can be curious and extremely knowledgeable about a culture that is not your own but you must recognise that it is not your own and no matter how much you research you're still not going to know as much as a "native" person might. A good example is "William Dalrymple's City of Djinns." He is white but writing about Indian culture and though he is well revered, he still comes across as a bit colonialist - in my opinion. You could even blatantly mention in the book that you are not of that culture (I personally like this approach if you use the right tone, however, I can see this having problems too).
Another thing I came across recently is "Diversity Readers". This is when you hire someone of that culture/group (LGBTQ+ groups are included in this) to read the work you have created and give opinions as to its suitability from their perspective. [DISCLAIMER; in my opinion, this should be the last step in any person's thought process when trying to reckon if they should write/illustrate about someone else's culture/group and not a way to hurdle these issues and simply state "well if I get someone of that culture/group to read it I've done my best and now it's ok for me to write about them." because this could just turn into another way to quiet voices of people from underrepresented groups.] I think another thing you have to be aware of is that you may well do your darn best to represent that culture and be inclusive and even have it checked by someone of that culture and still have a negative reaction from the group you are portraying. This is absolutely their right! You are, when all is said and done, still writing about a culture that is not your own and if some members of that culture don't like it, you have to remember that you are the one who decided to tread there.
In conclusion, it's a very delicate balance between appropriation and appreciation. Sometimes just because you appreciate something doesn't mean it needs to be your voice telling that story. I think we should all be asking ourselves "is this my story to tell" a lot more.
KayPotter last edited by KayPotter
Me too, and that’s where everything really gets murky. But I think the answer comes down to personal choice and ethics, and with what each individual is comfortable with. I agree w what the guys said about following your interests and getting to really learn about things while also making your art. One might ask themselves, “what is my motivation for this project?” to check in. And again, I think it’s going to be a different answer for different ppl and I’ve got to respect that. Also, it’s none of my business to assume someone is of a certain culture or race, and to try and ‘police’ someone on that.
My personal leaning is to proceed with the following understandings: First, that ‘content like this’ has really only been allowed to be created (or more accurately, seen) by people of white descent thus far, and so it’s more a push to get more voices involved than it is a hard fast rule about saying “you can’t do this.” It’s also reckoning with the fact that the content thus far created has been, historically and generally, incomplete and racist, and dismissive of the people.
Second: it should be noted that it takes some real work to realize one’s own internalized racism about subcultures. Like @Binski said about that author, “he still comes across as a bit colonialist.” For an example, it makes me think of what I believe Will said in his class about portfolio building (I could really be mixing lessons etc up lol). He said to include people of all different ethnicities and genders in your portfolio, but also make sure you’re not creating caricatures of those different ethnicities and genders. Like, it’s important to realize you might do that if you’re not paying attention. (My point here is that we might accidentally be racist, and we need to be ready to look for it, ask for feedback, and accept that we might have gotten something wrong.)
So for me, I’d probably not do that project, because I’d rather just cheer on artists like Ben Pease. Were I more inclined to do that project, and was going to make it public, I might look to see how I can make it a collaboration with someone who has a much more personal knowledge/ experience with it, and I’d, in essence, take a bit of a back seat- illustrating and learning to my heart’s content, and really making sure I’m not falling into the ‘white savior trope.’ Or, keep it private.
Again though, I’m not trying to tell anyone what they can or cannot do, because honestly, I don’t know. And I think that wouldn’t help anyway because artists are curious and love to explore and that’s wonderful. It’s just a matter of being conscious of context. And I do like @Binski question, ‘is it my story to tell?’
Also, thanks for the great place to have discussion and adding to it. I felt pretty nervous posting that first comment because Where I live, there is a lot of appropriation in art, and these topics generally get heated real quick.
KayPotter last edited by
I’m glad to read your account and experience with all this. I basically said the same things you did in different words . So, sorry about that lol!
Awesome artwork for this episode! Really captures that one question, lol. (The bunny on the calendar is also my favorite )
I was thrilled that Lee, Jake, and Will took on the appropriation question--and they did it with their trademark compassion and common sense. I really appreciate that, and I think they all made great points. There’s not much to add, really, since they make so much sense, but my big question is “Where does it end?”
Just take tarot as an example, since that’s what started the discussion. From what I know about it, tarot started out as a Renaissance-era card game. Then along came mystics in, like, the 1800s or something--centuries later--who appropriated it for divination and cartomancy. Nowadays tarot is pretty much synonymous with their culture--no one who hears the word "tarot" has as their first thought "card game." And we can go farther back. What about all of the symbols in the original cards? Those were ripped off from a handful of other cultures. Should the creators of the card game (which has now been enjoyed in various forms for, like, 600 years by an uncountable number of people) be posthumously castigated for that? Or should we persecute the occult users of the cards now because they’re not using the cards for their original intent?
I just don’t get it. It seems like such a lose-lose mindset. And for what? People are being cyber bullied on a public and massive scale right now for offending a handful of victim groups. And keep in mind that the bullying doesn’t end with just the person being bullied, because it’s public. Public bullying becomes an implicit threat to everyone who sees, reads, or hears about the bullying. So these “busybodies” (as Will so kindly called them) are literally hurting and tearing down thousands of people at a go—in some cases destroying their lives—just because a couple people got bruised feelings. When did tearing people down become a valid way to make yourself feel better?
It’s so negative. I really truly don’t understand why people want to live like that. Why on earth can’t they be grateful for anyone who shows an interest in their culture, on whatever level? We’re all on a journey, and we’re all at different stages and levels. Isn’t it the best gift in the world to meet someone who shares an interest in something you are interested in? Who likes something about you, your history, your experiences? Even if it IS just “Hey, that looks cool!” which is just about the most superficial of an interest you can have. (I mean, doesn’t it feel great when we get likes on Instagram? What is that but a momentary intersection of interests?)
Culture isn't static. It's always in flux. It's always being remade and reshaped. It's not a thing so much as the sum of the interactions of thousands and thousands of people. Content creators are a big part of that. So shouldn’t we consciously think about it? Is the culture we want to make one where everyone walks on eggshells and has to stay stuffed in narrow little boxes that other people define for them?
I read and hear all over the art community about people battling negative voices and stuff in order to create anything at all—and yet, the “cultural appropriation” issue seems to say that it’s okay to manufacture those negative voices wholesale by publicly shaming certain groups and people, telling them variations of "You don't belong here," and "You're not allowed." So THANK YOU, Lee, Jake, and Will, for being a positive and uplifting voice for artists on this issue!
I really loved the episode overall. Some awesome questions. Thank you so much to the whole 3-Point Perspective team for putting out such great, thoughtful content. Can't wait for the next episode!
@MarksByMallory Glad you are liking the podcasts. It's tricky terrain for sure, but we feel like we have to get out there and talk about these things because we are all dealing with it.