Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cultural Appropriation in Art & Jewelry Design

Cultural Appropriation in Art & Jewelry Design

As artists, we are inspired by everything around us – from nature to books, other designers, other cultures.  Inspiration abounds.  Artistic movements like Art Nouveau, Impressionism, and Art Deco where inspired by nature and the female form, geometric shapes and a need to see beyond the surface.  Those movements were also inspired by the art forms of other cultures.

Art has always been about expressing ideas and feelings in a way that captures the imagination and touches the soul.  Human beings are compelled to create things that endure.  To question the world around them as they endeavor to create beauty. 

But there is always a fine line between appreciating and celebrating a culture other than your own in your work, and cultural appropriation.

Cultural Appropriation is defined as the adoption or use of only certain elements of a culture not one’s own in a way that demeans or is disrespectful because of lack of understanding.

Artists have to be especially careful when marketing items they have made that are inspired by other cultures.  There are specific Federal Laws, like the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Arts & Crafts Act of 1990 which protect cultural arts from copycats and misrepresentation.  If you are not a recognized member of a Native American tribe, you cannot market your art/craft as Native American and to do so will subject you to fines and/or prison terms.  That goes for meta tags and hashtags as well.

We, as artists, also have to be respectful in how we are portraying a culture not our own in our work and should endeavor to educate ourselves in the culture that inspires us so we don’t inadvertently create something offensive.  If you have questions, ask.  Be curious.  Open a dialog.  Learn and appreciate the many cultures that the U.S. has to offer – but realize that each culture has their own unique narrative.  And cultural appropriation can overshadow that narrative.  

 So be mindful and respectful.  And be inspired.

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