Posts Tagged ‘feministy’

art vs. craft vs… a lot of stuff

My friend recently wrote a blog post in which she shared what she dreamed it would be like as an artist vs what it’s actu­ally been like.

I was in a pretty seri­ous band for many years and have a back­ground in fine arts (with a focus in paint­ing and sculp­ture) and I def­i­nitely wres­tled with some of the same issues while try­ing to fig­ure out how to actu­ally live out a cre­ative pro­fes­sion* (the ideal vs the real­ity). There are two aspects of the how-to-be-and-be-happy-and-even-be-successful-as-an-artist issue that I want to address here: art vs craft, fem­i­nism, & the cult of the ama­teur, and the cur­rent trend col­laps­ing art/craft & consumerism/consumption.

Your Mom’s a Fiber Artist**
(the art vs craft debate from 3rd wave fem­i­nism to the cult of the amateur)

In the past 8-ish years, there has been a huge main­stream resur­gence in a cat­e­gory of cre­ative activ­i­ties tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered more “craft” than Art. Knit­ting, cro­chet, sewing, etc are expe­ri­enc­ing a post-modern renais­sance where it has become cool to play with fiber (and knit­ting has pos­si­bly even jumped the shark since every­one and their mom does it). Out­side of the realm of fiber arts, activ­i­ties like paper/printing arts, jewelry/metal work­ing, home craft, and cook­ing have gained a degree of legit­i­macy that even 3rd wave fem­i­nism couldn’t have imagined.

[As an aside, it is worth doing some read­ing about the art vs craft debate (or even just on women and art in gen­eral) from the per­spec­tive of fem­i­nist writ­ers. I am not going to pre­tend that I am aca­d­e­mic enough any­more to do this topic jus­tice, but suf­fice to say that the asso­ci­a­tion of many crafts (and espe­cially fiber crafts) with women’s work/domesticity has his­tor­i­cally rel­e­gated them to a lower posi­tion in the hier­ar­chy of all-things-aesthetic, whereas fine Art-with-a-capital-A enjoys a legit­imized (and his­tor­i­cally largely male-dominated) posi­tion at the top of the aes­thetic pyramid.

Here is a poster by the Guerilla Girls and some links for your aside enjoyment.

…end aside.]

Aaaaaaaaany­ways.

Back to the explo­sion of pop­u­lar­ity and sub­se­quent main­stream legit­imiza­tion of the craft-y arts. I am cer­tainly not here to crit­i­cize the pro­lif­er­a­tion of craft-as-art-and-even-Art on the whole, but I do want to point out an unfor­tu­nate side effect: much like we have seen with music over the last 10+ years, we are in a period that J some­times likes to call “the cult of the ama­teur.” It has become incred­i­bly acces­si­ble to become a cre­ator, a maker, some­one who con­cerns them­selves with the prac­tice of aes­thet­ics. In a world where you can buy Garage­band for you iPad for $4.99, a search for knit­ting pat­terns turns up over 8.3 mil­lion results, and Urban O*tfitters has a DIY sec­tion, how do you deter­mine who is actu­ally Good? What is actu­ally Authen­tic? How is value/meaning/significance assigned to art now that the angle of par­tic­i­pa­tion has widened sig­nif­i­cantly? I don’t have the answers to these ques­tions (nor am I try­ing to sug­gest that we res­ur­rect the cult of Genius). How­ever, I think it is impor­tant to acknowl­edge that as we swing away from the myth of artist-as-special, we risk swing­ing too far to the other side, where we value the ama­teur over the pro­fes­sional, the casual over the seri­ous, the mediocre or even crappy over the skilled. And that is not a world that sup­ports and val­ues cul­tural pro­duc­tion by Artists.

Con­sum­ing Anti-Consuming
(or why Etsy is not all that it’s cracked up to be)

This brings me to my sec­ond topic. I have refrained from men­tion­ing Etsy thus far but it is obvi­ously a result of the value of hand­made enter­ing our main­stream con­scious­ness. Etsy encour­ages peo­ple to buy items from what they term small-small busi­nesses (“human-scale economies”) and places an empha­sis on author­ship and prove­nance in the items mar­keted there. In the­ory, Etsy is really, really great and I am whole­heart­edly happy that it exists and espe­cially proud of my awe­some friends who have shops here, here, and here. But (yes, I just did another “yes, but”).

Here’s my prob­lem with Etsy. It’s cool that it’s rooted in ideas about alter­na­tive economies. In prac­tice, though, I see a race to the bot­tom (after all in cap­i­tal­ism cheap­ness wins). In an effort to com­pete (or per­haps out of igno­rance about their value as cre­ators or even in spite of their value), sell­ers must suc­cumb to mar­ket pres­sure and the pre­mium for arti­san and hand­made gets thin­ner and thin­ner. Sara Mosle wrote about the false fem­i­nist fan­tasy ped­dled by Etsy two years ago. The NYT ran an arti­cle ques­tion­ing the effort required to run an Etsy busi­ness as well. Since then, I haven’t exactly seen things get bet­ter. Searches turn up a pro­lif­er­a­tion of list­ings made with ques­tion­able mate­ri­als (cheap & made in China), ques­tion­able author­ship (every­one copy­ing every­one else… owls and deer any­one?), and even ques­tion­able sell­ers (is it really a small-small busi­ness and is it really hand­made if you are clearly out­sourc­ing your labor and pro­duc­tion?). I mean, it’s not like all of Etsy is like that, but it’s def­i­nitely there as the dark under­belly of the indie com­merce machine. At the end of the day, I think that the mar­ket pres­sures you see in play on Etsy might be the undo­ing of craft-as-Art, and iron­i­cally of hand­made as a viable cre­ative pro­fes­sion. It’s very dis­ap­point­ing because it’s so tan­ta­liz­ingly Almost.

Finally, let’s not for­get that even for the best that Etsy has to offer, it’s still about CONSUMPTION. I’m going to go way out of my league here intel­lec­tu­ally and aca­d­e­m­i­cally and say that my gut reac­tion is that when Art/art/craft/Craft seeks its val­i­da­tion through con­sumerism, artists aren’t really com­ing out ahead.

It’s my bed­time but I plan to read more about this last point (this, this, and some good old marx seem like decent start­ing points), to make sure I’m not being full of sheep. Please call me out if you dis­agree, I’d love to have the con­ver­sa­tion or some links to read.

*It turns out that I became a UX designer, which was a good fit for me cre­atively, but try­ing to fig­ure out how — and whether — I wanted to “make it” as a musi­cian or a fine artist took a lot of soul searching.

 ** Dear Mom. I don’t mean this as a dig against moms.

Posted: September 13th, 2011
Categories: making
Tags: , , , , ,
Comments: 1 Comment.

is my hair un-feminist?

[I wrote this a lit­tle while ago so the days are off. I have been scared to post it, because I don’t know if I have made my point ____ enough…]

Exactly 29 days from today, I will be board­ing an air­plane with J to fly to Reno for our first ever trip to Burn­ing Man.

Exactly 25 days ago, I got a head full of human hair exten­sions from my oh-so-very gen­er­ous styl­ist, who offered them at cost* because she is build­ing her portfolio.

Jenna and I once had a con­ver­sa­tion about how we have “librar­ian hair”. I don’t mean this as a knock to any of my awe­some librar­ian friends, some of whom prob­a­bly have incred­i­ble hair that belongs in the cat­e­gory we labeled “fer­tile”, but really we meant this as a joke to say that our hair is thin, unruly, and in my case, con­stantly frizzy (clearly with such frumpy hair it is amaz­ing that I have got­ten so far in life). In real­ity I was sim­ply not blessed in the hair gene depart­ment (I blame Grandma, but the trade­off was that I got her long neck so I think it’s fair). So any­ways, my styl­ist offered exten­sions, I jumped at the chance, and voilà, my hair grew 10 inches overnight and is now the longest it has ever been.

There are all kinds of con­sid­er­a­tions to keep in mind when it comes to human hair extensions.

One is where the hair comes from. My exten­sions are made from what they call tem­ple hair, which is gath­ered from women in India who par­tic­i­pate in a rit­ual called ton­sur­ing to show devo­tion to god. I will admit that I did not read much about tem­ple hair before I under­went this process other than to read the exten­sion company’s web­site, which claimed that the prof­its from tem­ple hair sales go to local schools, hos­pi­tals, and orphan­ages. As it turns out, the prac­tice is far more controversial/questionable than all that, and I can truly say that I am uncom­fort­able to be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the tem­ple hair indus­try and likely won’t ever do it again.**

Another impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for wear­ing hair exten­sions is the amount of main­te­nance required. I now have to brush my hair 3 times a day with a spe­cial boar bris­tle brush (lest it get mat­ted in the bonds) and I have to use spe­cial sham­poo and can’t wash every day (the no poo move­ment would tell you that’s a good idea any­way). To look like I did when I left the salon with silky straight hair, I also need to blowdry and straighten and use a lot of expen­sive “prod­uct” (not usu­ally part of my daily rou­tine thank you very much).

I feel like the hotness!

I have a com­pli­cated rela­tion­ship with beauty rit­u­als. Let’s just say that the ver­sion of me in the above pic­ture is a ver­sion of me in drag. The high-femme me who wears sparkly makeup includ­ing blush and eye­shadow, paints my nails, car­ries a trendy-looking purse and wears high-heel shoes (well, not so much any­more because the stairs at work are treach­er­ous) is totally play­ing with the idea of a fluid iden­tity that I can put on and take off as I please, a cos­tume. (But, I have been think­ing about how this self-described ver­sion of “being drag” sub­scribes to the notion of what is pretty and a socially accept­able self-presentation of my gen­der. And maybe it’s a just “pretty mask” that I get to put on as pro­tec­tion against the world. Y’know, like that Crass song called Real­ity White­wash. What­ever. I just wanted to ref­er­ence Crass twice in a row.)

Back to Burn­ing Man. I will soon be spend­ing five days in Black Rock City, a highly alka­line pre­his­toric lake bed desert envi­ron­ment where white­out dust storms are com­mon. The playa is not kind to hair, and I am try­ing to fig­ure out how that all works now that I have elected to take part in this oh-so-high-maintenance world of hair exten­sions. Accord­ing to a vari­ety of posts on the eplaya boards such as this one, since I have “high-profile” hair I should prob­a­bly shave my head before I go, or plan to spend hun­dreds of dol­lars build­ing a playashower,*** or plan to come back with dreads. Or not even go because I’m a “high main­te­nance sparkle pony”.

(Hm. Love those kinds of assump­tions about peo­ple who pay atten­tion to their hair. Cause it’s just so much more shal­low than this or this, which are admit­tedly cool but no less sparkle­pony. And what’s wrong with ponies any­way? I love ponies!)

I bought you a sparkle pony  but I eated it

The real­ity is that I am not really wor­ried about the idea of not show­er­ing for 5 days and get­ting dirty and uncom­fort­able but I *do* work in a pro­fes­sional field and like it or not, there are cer­tain stan­dards of upkeep that I have to main­tain. Exten­sions aren’t one of them, but dan­git a lot of blood, sweat, & tears have gone into this vir­gin hair from the devel­op­ing world that is cur­rently glued to my head and I feel guilty enough about hav­ing it already and I don’t really want to come back with my exten­sions mat­ted to my skull. I want to have my cake (go to Burn­ing Man) and eat it, too (not come across as too much of a hip­pie to be taken seriously/professionally).

Today I was at the cof­fee shop across the street from work and these two crusty/gutter punk girls came in, set down their packs in one of the booths, and ordered crois­sants with egg and cheese. One girl had bleached out dreads with shaved sides and furry pits and really dirty legs. She bought break­fast for the other girl who had blonde, clean, spiky hair and seemed a bit self-conscious when she ordered (“I don’t know what to get, uh, I’ll have what she’s hav­ing,” she said. “I have 15 dol­lars” said the first girl, “you can get what­ever.”). There were two guys in line star­ing at the hair on these girls’ legs. I found myself con­struct­ing a nar­ra­tive in my head about these girls based on their hair (one butch/strong/savvy, the other femme/vulnerable/naive).

I don’t think the gut­ter­punk look would go over very well in the office but it has appeal. I know it comes across as very unkempt but it is so delib­er­ately and care­fully put together.

When I was in col­lege I dyed my hair green, then pink, and then had my friend Regina cut it all off for $5. She lis­tened to Le Tigre while she cut it and her room­mates talked about mak­ing a vegan din­ner for the house. My short hair sig­ni­fied babyfem­i­nist. When I turned 30 I had a cri­sis and cut it off again; I then hated it because I felt**** like a soc­cer mom or female politi­cian, where you can’t have long hair as you age.

I’m so tired of women’s hair as a politi­cized space, espe­cially when it is politi­cized by other women. It’s a lose/lose sit­u­a­tion when women silently or not-so-silently judge the appear­ance of other women and what their coifs sig­nify: the play­ers on both sides of the equa­tion are never ____ enough. (Fill in the blank — fem­i­nist, nat­ural, cool, pretty, fem­i­nine, butch, tra­di­tional, fer­tile, healthy, well-kempt, etc etc etc).

It’s enough to make me want to shave my head. But you know what *that* will mean… ::eyeroll::

*For those of you who don’t know, get­ting exten­sions put in takes 6–7 hours of labor.

**This is not the first time I have pur­chased human hair, though. When I was work­ing on my New Col­lege the­sis I had friends donate their hair and teeth for use in sculp­tures and paint­ings, but I also pur­chased at least one blonde pony­tail on eBay. I think at the time (2001) it was mar­keted for cre­at­ing dolls and I don’t really know the ori­gin. Here’s what I wrote about using hair as a mate­r­ial for art at the time:

The Func­tion of Bod­ily Materials

Mate­ri­als layer one’s work with mean­ing.  I have become increas­ingly con­cerned with mate­ri­als in my devel­op­ment as an artist, find­ing myself drawn towards that which is organic and from the body.  I am able to say more with a piece of horse­hide or a vial of spit and hair than would be ever pos­si­ble with line, form, color, and word.  My choice of mate­ri­als war­rants dis­cus­sion here, although to essen­tial­ize the way any one par­tic­u­lar mate­r­ial func­tions in my work would be to triv­i­al­ize that material’s power for lay­er­ing and transcendence.

I am attracted to horse­hide, leather, hair, and glue because they embody the horse.  The rela­tion­ship between these mate­ri­als and the ani­mal is both one-to-one and more than one-to-one, the part stand­ing for both the whole and much more than the whole.  A piece of hide rep­re­sents the horse as a phys­i­cal object, rep­re­sents the spe­cific horse it once cov­ered, rep­re­sents the fact that it “once cov­ered” (past tense, sig­ni­fy­ing the lack of horse present and simul­ta­ne­ously the pres­ence of the horse in spirit), and rep­re­sents the process of death (a tem­po­ral event involv­ing the pas­sage from one phys­i­cal form to another).  The pres­ence of hide, leather, hair, and glue in my work makes phys­i­cal that which is not – death, time, and decay.  The metonymic rela­tion­ship of these mate­ri­als to the ani­mals they once were is espe­cially sig­nif­i­cant.  Susan Stew­art points out that “the pos­ses­sion of the metonymic object is a kind of dis­pos­ses­sion in that the pres­ence of the object all the more rad­i­cally speaks to its sta­tus as a mere sub­sti­tu­tion and to its sub­se­quent dis­tance from the self.”[i]  The inher­ent com­ing apart, sep­a­ra­tion, or frag­men­ta­tion in a rela­tion­ship between part and whole rep­re­sents con­cep­tu­ally the phys­i­cal­i­ties of death and decay; when I cut into the pieces of horse myself, I dou­ble and explode these lay­ers of mean­ing.  Other mate­ri­als such as human hair, blood, fin­ger­nails, spit, claws, teeth, and bones can sim­i­larly evoke the com­ing apart or frag­men­ta­tion of bod­ies.  As sou­venirs of the mor­tal body, they mark death and “the end of the sacred nar­ra­tive.”[ii]  Although such mate­ri­als may not sig­nify directly on horses, they can aug­ment, com­ple­ment, and stand in for mate­ri­als which are harder to come by.  The inclu­sion of these ele­ments in my work also plays on the blur­ring of bound­aries between artist (human, self) and sub­ject (horse).


[i] Stew­art 135.

[ii] Stew­art 140.

 ***No grey­wa­ter dump­ing on the playa please! It’s a leave-no-trace kind of event.

****This is not the first time I have writ­ten about hair here. Note the ponies.

Posted: August 14th, 2011
Categories: Daily
Tags: , ,
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The Modern Failure

You are my hero­ine! And by hero­ine I mean lady hero. I don’t want to inject you and lis­ten to jazz.”

—Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

Right now my lady hero is my friend Chanelle, who is writ­ing an awe­some blog called The Mod­ern Fail­ure. In it she explores “the areas in which the mod­ern woman may feel like a fail­ure (the work­place, the work­out, the home, preg­nancy, being ‘green’, etc), the ori­gins of the mod­ern woman’s expec­ta­tions of her­self, and why we wake up every day feel­ing like we are already behind.”

I pretty much think that if you have ever been, cared about, or even met a mod­ern woman human being on this planet, you should prob­a­bly read it. Right now.

Posted: February 17th, 2011
Categories: things i like
Tags: , ,
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