Are White Girls Capable of Making Art That's Not About Themselves?
Girls, we need to talk. And by Girls I should say that i’m not speaking to the whole universe of us here but a select few. White, cis, non-disabled, all ages and classes; maybe not all sizes or jobs tho, so make a note of that for later. I’m going to address us lot as capital G Girls in this text because i am looking to speak to the Lena Dunham personalities of the art world; and specifically about how a lot of the art you make is boring to me. boring boring boring. I would like it to stop; i would like it to be better. It’s funny, a fellow white once criticised me for using the term ‘white people’ and ‘white girls' because they said I was trying to distance myself from my own identity, which was such a mad call out because their lashing out at me revealed a knowingness for how shit we really are. I feel like Villanelle when I say this: BORING. it is on us to sort ourselves out, so we better at least name it. ye it’s a descriptor first but I’m glad it’s also partly an insult, one we should accept and concede. We are responsible for making the world a horrible place, and we categorically need to do more for the people we have marginalised / need to b intersectional / support / finance / and vote smarter. So in this text I’m just talking to the white women of the art world, and in the vein of Hannah Horvath, I’m calling us Girls.
What I see time n time again are Girls whose entire artistic practice revolves around themselves. they might tag a < meaning > onto something at the end but more often that not it just feels like they think they look nice ,, and so ,, that can be their art for the day. For example, and im about to drop a lot of examples: Don’t i look like a pretty manic pixie dream girl in this Photo Booth video where I’m crying a little bit for a long time ?? Emotional labour is real, so by crying into the camera I’m taking some of that time for myself. Praxis. I have bleached my hair and it is different colours all the time and that is important okay. Take a look at this photo series I did of my body looking completely normative and failing to make a statement about the body positivity it’s claiming to champion - and check out the way I’m pulling at my bra to make it edgey. I’m doing a performance now where we do yoga together and use selfie sticks to take photos of ourselves from loads of different positions. And oh oh did I mention periods yet? Look at this fake blood and glitter on a sanitary pad I framed. I have also hung tampons dipped in paint along a washing line because #womankind and housework is work. Here is a picture of me in front of my art, it’s very important you look at me in front of the art. I am wearing this Forever 21 t-shirt with the slogan Girlism on to make sure you know my very progressive politics even though this top was not ethically made hehe. In this new exhibition, I’ve painted all the walls pink, isn’t that a cool idea. Oh, of all the art I’ve made on my three year undergraduate course that I paid a lot of money for, the best is definitely this portraiture series of my boring friends wearing makeup in QuiRky ways. I’ve photographed them in some Hotline Bling lighting to show the world that beauty is not just skin-deep :) Once at a crit, I showed work where I used Facetune to make my body look ridiculous to critique beauty standards! celebrities use it and wow it’s so wrong. There’s also these east asian photo editing apps that make you look really cute with big eyes, so I’m going to print off the selfies I took with it and that is my next exhibition - are you coming? In this piece I have dyed my armpit hair pink because of feminism. I’m a sculptor, and all I do is stuff tights so they look like sausages that have gone off because when you think about it, tights are a really like, feminine material aren’t they? I am doing a durational performance where I pretend to be a popstar and I wear pink dresses, right, and sing while everyone watches me pretend to be self-absorbed because I’m making a point about how self-absorbed celebs are or something. That’s it, that’s the joke. Anyway, I’ve also painted myself with my top off, and you’re not allowed to say anything except nice things about it because I am brave and that’s ALL that matters. Look at my A cup boobs, i am BRAVE. I’m doing an instagram residency anyway, and it’s so interesting because all I’m doing is posting my face, my face, my face til the cows come home. I’m getting so many likes! - - - Ye This bingo card is full I’m gonna stop now.
In all this Girl Art, it is as tho the artist’s interests do not extend beyond their own skin because their personality is, in fact, themselves. I think two things are happening here that get to me, that anger and bore me. The first avenue is this. When Girls make this art and think it is critical, it is always perpetuating the thing they are trying to critique. They become the problem they set out to tackle, probably realising how much they enjoy it and how valued it makes them feel. They put on this costume or attitude and think, wow I look good dont I. but the reason that feels so good is the white supremacy we created; you’re just instrumentalising it for your own power, vanity and fame. That’s embarrassing 2 me. go away. The world has decided Girls look best so this art is so overly self-centred in my eyes. when it comes to vanity I want to say I don’t care and live your life but I do think it can’t half be boring when it’s calling itself an art practice. it gets repetitive or something. People never mix it up, take risks, and Ugliness is more interesting anyway. Why can’t this content just stay on your personal instagram accountttt tho. I don’t want to go to a degree show and see your top 5 pix of yourself, we’re not trying to bang. Do you think that is interesting? If i like you as a person or I enjoy your style then i will follow you and keep up with what u do. But in an exhibition, what value does your image hold? Why do you have to impose your image on the audience? Do YOU think this makes for good art? It truly says so much that as Girls we think we hold enough inherent value that our very image is special, magic and < enough > to be art. We don’t even hesitate, and we don’t realise how other people might never dare.
The assumption that everyone automatically cares is what angers me, and it leads me onto the second reason I can’t cope with any of this. When Girls make this art and think it is radical, it literally cannot be radical - that time has passed. Our period discourse is dead and buried - the actual policies on luxury tax and period poverty need to be dealt with by law, not by your little exhibition. We’re over free the nipple conversations, long been white white white. Nudity is not this exciting rare thing. Not radical. Imo leave fat acceptance / happiness / and genuine body liberation to the world of fashion, where writers, fashion orgs and models are collaborating to change things (shout out 2 bethany rutter and navabi). Sex is normal and guess what, I’m bored of art that makes out it isn’t. Not radical. I wana say leave the sex work/art crossovers to sex workers who make art but honestly even then I have yet to see that done in an especially interesting way (though as always, feel free to disregard what the fuck I think, you’re not making work to please me, are you). There might not be gender equality in the art world (and i doubt there ever will be) but it is normal and safe for Girls to be exhibiting. It is normal for us to be on the lineup. Soooo, haven’t we now earned the privilege to not have to make art about ourselves and instead to do something else? like come on, paint dogs or memes, anything. create mad surreal performances about climate change or go full fiction and make sculptures of aliens. It doesn’t have to be You By You, why would you wanna pull a Marc Jacobs. In visual art, it’s like white men don’t constantly have to put themselves in their work, they GET to talk about other stuff - and I think deep down this text is coming from a place of jealousy, that white men have art subject privilege. They haven’t suffered the same structural inequality so they don’t have to process those neuroses through their art in the same way other identities do and need to. Isn’t that the aim for all of us, for identity politics in and out of art to not be such a necessity? an actual utopia where people are treated equally so we don’t have to turn ourselves inside out for these exhibitions, or expose the way so many systems work against us. The thing is, I think with White Girl Art it’s as though it is lagging behind reality, where a lot of those neuroses have already been dealt with in and out of the arts; we’ve been Saved in so many ways, so to harp on about relatively minor issues through the paintings we make is not only boring but a bit unnecessary - and offensive to everyone else who the world does not respect or value in the slightest. If I’m fucking over it, I wonder how it feels for people of colour, refugees, disabled people, and trans/nb people to see selfie after selfie of privileged white girls in exhibitions. Maybe so many white men art critics wouldn’t be deriding identity politics in art so hard if white women stopped thinking they could continue to be a part of it and diluting what it actually means for others? I know this is a sticky subject to touch on, but mind i’m saying it with a gooooood amount of agency having been a victim of domestic violence and a young student who made art about that very experience - I think that even when it comes to our physical trauma at the hands of others, we should be looking to leave ourselves out of it or work through it outside of visual art because at the end of the day, the systems we enter into in art are staunchly male and violent anyway. galleries and museums, curation, funding, the market, criticism, art universities, and collections are mostly led and ran by men. They hold the power still and they continue to capitalise on us as subjects - y give them anymore content? They don’t deserve your soul. Keep your art to yourself or share it with people who genuinely care. And get on a waiting list for therapy, it’s better to work it out there.
The shit thing is and the reason I think it’s pretty pointless me writing all this, is because I really suspect that regardless of this context or the shitty impact I’m describing, Girls will continue make art about themselves and Girlkind’s past hardships because they want all the sympathy and attention they can get; they want to indulge in white tears and fragility while they still can, before everyone catches on and tells them to get over it. That scares me. That’s why I think it would be more respectful now to more marginalised identities than our ours to extract ourselves from art, to hide, and to join men in making art about literally anything else.
I have literal sunstroke from this mad weekend heatwave so I’m ending this now to keep it nice and compact. Before you kick off about me subtweeting your entire practice, please read through this a second time, read Aria Dean’s ‘Closing the Loop’ from 2016 because she started this convo loooong ago and I’m circling back to it now because clearly a lot of you haven’t read it,,,, and then take a moment to consider the art world beyond you as an individual. I would appreciate it. Thanks for reading/listening.