Own Voices



  • I think I am just going to draw robots from now on. Just sidestep this whole thing.



  • I think all responses here have been insightful - casting lights on different aspects of the issue. And no, I do not think the topic has been sidetracked - all aspects are related. I am at SCBWI NY, and there was a keynote speaker addressing this topic for illustrators - it is really a hot button right now, my agent was right. It is not so much about not being able to illustrate cultures other than your own, it is more about making sure that these are correctly represented, in a respectful and considerate and truthful way. And is also, in a very big way, about being authentic, being true to who you are, where you come from and your experience of the world. This is for me the biggest take-home message.
    So art directors nowadays is simply not likely to hire an illustrator to illustrate a story that has a distinct ethnic or cultural connotation unless the illustrator is either from that cultural space or has a style that deeply resonates with that particular culture - there is therefore little point in putting such depictions into your portfolio, though you can freely do it for your personal work (with the risk, however, of misprepresentation). It does not mean that you cannot include different ethnicities in a story that has no specific cultural resonance. Several examples were made, and the books discussed were really embedded in a specific cultural universe - Mexican folklore or Native American family life. Clearly stories that I, for one, would be completely unfitting to illustrate anyhow. In this context, I can understand the "own voices" movement a lot better.



  • @smceccarelli said in Own Voices:

    It is not so much about not being able to illustrate cultures other than your own, it is more about making sure that these are correctly represented, in a respectful and considerate and truthful way.

    Several examples were made, and the books discussed were really embedded in a specific cultural universe - Mexican folklore or Native American family life.

    I would imagine that this would seem reasonable to most people.

    Thank you for the insights/clarification!


  • SVS OG

    Totally off topic, but I so wish I was at the conference this year. I feel like so many of my internet friends are there and I wish I could meet them! And it sounds like you're getting lots of good info. If it wouldn't be too much to ask, maybe when you go home you could make a thread sharing your biggest insights/lessons learned, for those of us who couldn't make it.



  • @Sarah-LuAnn I will definitely do that - it is quite exciting to be here!



  • I spoke with one of my friends today who got her YA book published, and I asked her about this topic. She said that it is one of the biggest topics right now in publishing, and she has had to bite her tongue a few times with her agent commenting on her book. She is half white and half asian, and designed her main character around herself. Her agent and the publisher both tried getting her to change her main character from half white and half asian, and remove the reference to her having freckles, because as they put it "asians don't have freckles", she replied by telling them that the character was based off of how she looks, and she does have freckles.

    So to be fair, this isn't easier or harder for one group of people. Everyone is seeing this trend as a bit of a hard pill to swallow.


  • SVS OG

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56UfBZzaM0w Will Terry and Tyrus Goshay little bit on this subject



  • What a great topic and great comments - I'm not sure if my comments will further this discussion but I felt prompted to try. I don't speak for SVS - these are my personal feelings. We are artists. Art isn't safe. Art doesn't always follow social norms but often challenges them. It is our job to tell visual and written stories. Stories are based on our own personal experiences and imaginations -but we can't know what it's like to be each character we illustrate because most of the time they have similar but different experiences. If we limit ourselves by illustrating only that which we have experienced we will cease to explore, innovate, imagine, create, conjure, describe, relate, depict, conceive, fantasize, and visualize - the essential components of art making. Art doesn't have rules and constraints to prepare and package it for consumption - it must remain unrestrained and unrestricted. We don't all value art the same - so how can we value creativity that conforms to a set of guidelines? If we self censor by creating only that which we have personally experienced - we would have to turn down 99% of all assignments offered. -Will Terry



  • I have my personal opinion about this case and it coincides with yours! http://bigpaperwriter.com/blog/cultural-identity-essay is talking about culture as a way to identify your country and nation!



  • @smceccarelli thankfully chefs do culture appropriation since who knows when and we get to taste their diverse flavor of cultural appropriation all the time. What about individual appropriation? How do you live in an ethnically diverse world and not appropriate from others you live and interact with? Sounds like a super killjoy. I love art and I don't live in Platos cave.



  • @Tyson said in Own Voices:

    @smceccarelli thankfully chefs do culture appropriation since who knows when and we get to taste their diverse flavor of cultural appropriation all the time. What about individual appropriation? How do you live in an ethnically diverse world and not appropriate from others you live and interact with? Sounds like a super killjoy. I love art and I don't live in Platos cave.

    I would love someone who feels strongly against "cultural appropriation" to give me a concrete definition of just exactly what they mean. The definition I have that I THINK some people mean is, frankly, daft, sickening, and completely against the experiences all humans have been having for the last several thousand years.

    But I'll refrain from telling everyone how I really feel....



  • I really appreciate how everyone has tuned in on this conversation - each adding a new dimension and new perspective on a topic which is multi-faceted and controversial. This, I believe, is exactly how we should face any discussion about art and society: openly and respectfully sharing our opinions.
    This is clearly a major topic in the publishing industry today (meanwhile, I have met two "sensitivity readers" - a profession that I did not know ever existed before). Still, I think it is important to put it into perspective: I believe it is a topic only or mainly in the USA (which is the major market for English-speaking literature, so it is not inconsequential). Identity politics and identity discussion have shaped and continue to shape Amerian society in many different ways, not all of them fully healthy. Racism and discrimination exists everywhere, but I believe that insisting on defending the integrity of an "own" culture (be it ethnic or sexual in nature) is not a weapon against it - quite the opposite: it is a way to fuel it.
    But, we are commercial artists, and the concerns of publishers (assuming we are interested in working for them) are our concerns too. I just hope they will get over the "walking on egg-shells" feeling soon.
    On my side, I will continue to be amused and not offended when Italians are depicted as "pizza-pasta-mamma-mafia", in pop literature, British as tea-loving aristocrats and Swiss as dull but prissy farmers. And the character of the dumb blond will not send me into a feminist rant either. Admittedly, being associated with three different cultures and three different professions helps to put everything in perspective 😉

    And now, just to put more fuel into the fire of this discussion, this is something that was on my FB feed today - not sure if they have a point - their analysis seems self-serving:

    Rebel girls video



  • I see both sides of this argument and maybe because I am biracial but don't really view people in colors/race but see it come up a ton. On one hand I think diversity is great regardless of what the race the illustrator happens to be. I think it is a great idea to include a multicultural scene especially since some races are definitely under represented clearly by the numbers in children's books. However I also get the argument that one authenticity should be valued vs just painting someone a color or worse really not hitting the mark and it become offensive out of ignorance. Also certain races will definitely be able to tell their stories better, there are racial nuances that someone will not just understand if they are not apart of that cultural /race. And there is also an economic factor to consider, I don't know the numbers but I believe Will Terry even mentioned this field is dominated by white males. It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.



  • Read some more of the posts response sorry for the double post. Also I want to comment on something else. I think it is important. If you are a brown person or a fill in the blank person even as a child it is very clear to you that you don't see others that look like you in books. So I disagree it should not be overlooked, it should be worried about vs just making books to sell if you truly are wanting to touch a child's life. I know I was grown before I ever saw a little girl in a book that looked like me. The world is not completely full of caucasian little girls with blond hair and yet that is all I saw in books growing up and whether you want to admit it or not it affects us as a society if this is not a good representation of us all in any form of media and affects children's self esteem.



  • @Stephanie-Hider said in Own Voices:

    I don't know the numbers but I believe Will Terry even mentioned this field is dominated by white males. It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.

    So, what you are saying is someone should be chosen simply because of their race? I'm sorry, I disagree.

    An AD should choose whomever they think will do the job, whomever will work as easily as possible with the staff/publisher/etc., whomever will meet the deadline with the least amount of drama.

    If it is a white male, great, if it is a female person of color, great. But to choose one over the other due to their gender or color, is bigotry.


  • SVS OG

    I agree that the person who can best do the job should be picked. And getting it done on time, without drama, etc. is important. But also having the background, history etc. to be able to represent well what the story is about is a factor in being that best person to do the job. So it is definitely not an unrelated issue.

    And if I remember right @smceccarelli said they talked about this very issue at SCBWI. The issue was NOT showing diverse kids in every day situations--i.e. in the class room, play ground, etc. The issue was books that draw deeply from a certain culture. Books where someone not part of the culture might easily use stereotypes in their illustration without realizing it, but someone actually FROM that culture would be able to depict it with real-world knowledge and experience. Not all books do or should have this deep cultural base where this would become an issue. BUT, for those books that do, I think it is legitimate for publishers to consider the background of the artist when considering whether they are the best person for the job.



  • @smceccarelli I feel similarly with you in that this is primarily a US concern. Even though I'm Canadian and we do have more influence here from our American neighbours, I've never once heard this topic come up from Canadian sources. I think we've always been more accepting and multicultural here though, which has translated into multicultural works for years already. I've never once felt a part of a white-dominated culture - even all the way back to grade school. In fact, in my years living in both Toronto and Vancouver I've felt like the minority.

    We're not without fault though - we still have racism and sexism concerns. Recently a transgender teenager faught the government to remove a person's sex from their birth certificate, and we were all touched by that and hoped it would pass.

    Another thing I've been thinking about a lot lately...I wonder how many immigrants actually read publications in English? For one, within this past year the last remaining bookstore in a wide radius to where I live has been closed down due to lack of sales. This has saddened me greatly, but I know it's because the area is primarily occupied of East Indians. And whenever I'm on transit I love peeking over their shoulders to see what they're reading on their phones - and it's always in Punjabi (even the young teenagers). Same thing with Asians (there's a large population of them here too). I can guarantee you it's NOT because there's a lack of diversity in our publications, it's the language that's the primary motivator in which works they choose to read. Now OF COURSE I realize there's loads and loads of immigrants too that not only learn English (and those who were born here and English is their first language) who would read English works. But what I'm saying is, not enough to keep a single bookstore in business here within a 30 minute drive.

    I've also never once felt lesser as a female as a kid - it's just now as an adult I'm noticing sexism so much more. I do think I was exposed to a great many female-empowered works as a child. That video you posted, while they do have a point, it's also not the whole picture. They pulled out all the princess books - but not every princess story has a little lady waiting on her prince! One of my all time favs is Robert Munch's The Paper Bag Princess. She's smart as well as bad-ass. And my fav Disney movie of all time is Beauty and the Beast (SO excited for the new one coming out!)...Again, not your typical female who's just waiting on her knight and shining armour. Also, little girls love princess stories. So I say, let's put out more, just with independently minded all around awesome princesses. Another thing I've heard time and time again, is that girls are open to reading a greater variety of books, they don't care if the protagonist is male or female. But boys only want to read about boys. So perhaps there's simply more boy books in order to reach a greater audience. And as Will has said before - and it's totally true - most of the picture books he's done have animal characters! Who have no sex or race.

    I certainly hope that someone isn't chosen over me simply because of race and not because of talent. If I ever begin to feel that way I just may go the self publishing route and my fire will be fueled to get sales and prove them wrong.



  • @jimsz You are welcome to disagree but a white male in his forties is no way going to understand somethings culturally concerning other races and cultures and therefore would not tell it accurately or rather should not be, which is the debate I believe, tell that story. I am not sure why drama and deadlines etc are being brought up. Are you implying only white males can do these type of professional things? Do I think someone should get the job that isn't qualified, no which I believe I stated as well.



  • @Stephanie-Hider said in Own Voices:

    It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.

    Very good point.

    This may or may not be relevant: but I think it's important to not mistake equality of opportunity with equality of outcome.

    In other words, if there is a discriminatory AD or agency or law or whatever, and it's keeping anyone (regardless of race, sex, religion, orientation, etc) from working--we should absolutely fight that.
    On the other hand, simply looking at any field and seeing a disparity in outcome doesn't necessarily mean there was discrimination.
    There are any number of factors that go into how well or poorly a particular "fill in the blank" is represented in any field--most of which are not "discrimination."

    I am not claiming that is what you are saying or implying though.

    I would also be very surprised if @jimsz was saying or implying that only white males can be professional. At least, I didn't get that impression from the post.


  • SVS OG

    Perhaps we should just breed until the whole world is just a nice shade of middle brown then we can just focus on the art instead of this complete insanity.......


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