Why is so important to label artists according to their ethnic background? I teach on a
reservation, but I made a concious decision years ago not to differentiate among "women
artists", "Indian artists," "Black artists," etc. In my classroom, art is art. If
we're looking at various ways artists have stylized their subject matter, there will be
slides from many different time periods and cultures all mixed together. I don't
mention an artist's race, cultural background, religion, sexual orientation, or
psychological profile unless those issues are pertinent to our discussion.
When my art history class is studying a particular time period, then of course we delve
into the social and political makeup of the time, as art is never created in a vacuum.
It's just that I think in the U.S. we have gone overboard with labeling people according
to ethnic membership as a way of overcoming prejudice. We promote stereotypes when we
assume all artists of a certain background have the same "vision" or goals.
Personally, I think it is condescending to distinguish an artist's or culture's works as
something separate from our own, as though it must be dealt with on a different level.
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