"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."
Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.
First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.
Monday, May 10, 2010
For Your Consideration: Artistic Appropriation
When is it fair or ok to appropriate imagery from other cultures? Is it ever fair or ok to appropriate imagery from other cultures? And what about materials – especially those intended for use in a spiritual practice? Are they fair game?
Take Joss paper, for example. It’s specifically created for use in Asian ceremonies honoring deceased relatives. Heartfelt prayers are written or breathed into the paper, after which it is burned, releasing the message to the heavens. But Joss paper is also shiny, tactile and colorful, and has been co-opted by artists all over the world for purposes that are almost always secular and sometimes even irreverent. Isn’t that artistic license? Why should an artist have to respect the cultural tradition? Isn’t it ok to use materials without any thought or reference to their origin?
And what about the wildly successful line of candles based on Catholic prayer candles, but with a twist. Gone is the full color Virgen de Guadalupe decal on the side of the 8” tall glass votive. In its place is a new decal with a funny picture and the logo Our Lady of the Dysfunctional Family, or Prayer for Unbridled Fun.
The issue of speaking what we know (or making art about what we know) comes up in my workshops all the time. Artists express an interest in developing a personal visual vocabulary – and that’s great. What’s surprising is the number of artists in a class who are drawn to imagery that has absolutely no resonance with their actual lives. Maybe it’s an escapist thing. Maybe it’s naive. Maybe they aren’t sure where to start or what they care about?
In any event, I think it’s a thread of thinking we should always challenge – whether it’s coming from someone else, or whether the thoughts are our own.
Consider this – as long as an artist can convince me that the impulse is heartfelt, I’ll probably go along with her choice - at least for awhile. I’ve had students who were sure they were Asian (hence the interest in all things Japanese, for example) or ethnic American in a past life, and this was the justification for their interest in using the imagery. I am not going to argue with anyone’s belief system as long as I think sincerity is at the heart of the impulse.
I WOULD however, point out that often people whose culture is being appropriated don’t appreciate it, and may feel even hostile about it. And they have that right. An ethnic American in the El Paso airport (working behind a shop counter as a clerk) really let me have it when I asked her about the Kachina dolls displayed on the glass shelves. Kachina dolls are holy to true believers in the culture and she considered it a sacrilege that they were available for sale.
I’m convinced that most of the time, we don’t consider the ramifications of our appropriation of imagery. So if you think it through and decide to move forward, or are counseling another artist who is making that choice, be intentional when it comes to owning and honoring the imagery as your creations manifest. And try on auditioning what you’ll say if you are asked about the use of your appropriated materials or subject matter. Try on for size the feeling of defending your choices.
One final idea: consider researching – through reading and writing – topics that DO resonate from a personal standpoint. The goal is to turn those topics into subject matter that will allow you to work from an authentic place, rather than an appropriated one. Whatever it might be.