Recently I’ve been thinking about my practice and how it revolves around the concept of the “Other”, particularly in relation to notions of “difference” concerning gender, race and class. To contextualise this in in relation to Western culture, it encompasses divisions that only seem to have become more entrenched in the post-Brexit climate.
One of the problems of forming a practice around the notion of the “Other” is that the cries of “Appropriation!” are never far away. However, if I stay in my “white privileged” box, what kind of art will I make? How does the pigeon-holing of artists and practices help social division and the deconstruction of harmful stereotypes?
I do not condone the exploitation of disadvantaged people, whether for material gain or any other reason. I do not endorse the colonisation of black history by white artists (see Hannah Black vs. Dana Schutz, Whitney Biennale). However, it seems to me that in the art world this cry of “Appropriation!” has become a knee jerk reaction whenever a person approaches and interrogates, the notion of the “Other” from a “white privileged” position.
In my opinion, the only way to change the unjust dominance of the white male presence in the canon of art history is to increase the visibility of female and black practitioners/theorists.
I am left wondering how much slower this process will be if everyone is discouraged from thinking outside their own box.
The work featured here is that of John Baldessari who in 1970 famously burned many of his earlier paintings, having become disillusioned with the processes of painting and the art establishment. This piece is in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the label for which reads:
“In 1971, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, invited John Baldessari to exhibit his work. However, the college did not have the funds for Baldessari to travel to Halifax, so the artist proposed that the art students in Halifax act as his surrogates. The students were instructed by Baldessari to write “I will not make any more boring art” on the gallery walls for the duration of the exhibition (April 1-10, 1971). By enlisting the art students to slavishly write the phrase over and over, Baldessari poked fun at the entire system of art education, which he felt encouraged students to imitate rather than experiment and innovate. The artist also sent along a handwritten page of the phrase, from which the students produced prints. After the work’s completion, Baldessari committed his own version of the piece to videotape. The subversive, graffiti-like action of drawing directly on the gallery walls reflected the artist’s dissatisfaction with the limitations of traditional painting in the early 1970s. His interest in language-based performative actions that could be realized by others was a hallmark of early conceptual art.”