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Race and Gender Representation in Art Essay

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Updated: Oct 31st, 2021

Race and gender play key roles in the arts as art so often evolves from culture, while race and gender play critical roles in the development of culture. Race and gender are also inspirational in art as expressions or creativity not integrated with culture, which may or may not be specific. While race differences and gender differences are evident and are common issues across different cultures across the world, the interpretations of these issues are crucial in understanding them, and thus translation is essential to our understanding of foreign creativity, culture, and art. Creative writer Marilyn Chin, of Asian descent, has translated many works and is sometimes criticized for her efforts in doing this.

Many translators are commonly criticized to some extent, so the fact that criticism takes place alone is not indicative of an error or miscommunication necessarily. As Chin attempts to bring extend the creative arts in Asian culture as far across the world as possible, it would not seem that she has made any serious errors in doing so. The issue of translation can lead us to another relevant issue in the expression of art across race and gender: ownership. It is often considered debatable whether or not specific cultures or genders should maintain an ownership or effective copyright of popular ideals in the art relating to the specific races or genders. The following discusses a variety of issues regarding race and gender in the arts, touching on popular concepts in modern times while also considering the translation efforts of Marilyn Chin and the concept of ownership.

As the art world varies quite differently from other areas such as science, history, politics, and other areas where information is cut-and-dry and less conceptual, people need to realize that the methods and notions which apply to these fields do not generally apply to the world of the arts. Related topics in the art world are by nature more conceptual while there is always room for interpretation and speculation. While this is true even when the meaning and literal elements are known and agreed upon, when such factors as time, translation, or anything else which adds additional potential for variation it is especially important to realize that there was likely room for speculation to begin with, and thus it is impossible for there to be single and wholly correct or incorrect interpretations.

Art is an art and thus is commonly symbolic and uniquely meaningful to the eyes of the beholder. Furthermore, art is not something that can be “owned” conceptually in any case. While racial and gender connotations may be responsible for cultural trends that commonly give rise to specific flavors of creativity or notions and expressions from within the art world, to take this a step further and attempt to place symbolic copyright on such expressions is limiting and thus contradictory to the entire concept of art and free expression. The closest one can come in attempting to assign a sense of ownership to specific races and gender phenomena is the recognition of certain phenomena in the art that originated from these racial or gender-specific trends.

Trends in African American arts have a great deal of culture related to them, unique in that the trends which arise in African American culture are unlike the cultural art of other races from any country or any era. The hardships faced by the African Americans both from slavery and the slow acceptance as equal citizens in America are further illustrated in their culture and art as they evolved in the United States. Plays, music, and visual forms of art commonly convey powerful messages for Africans to be proud of their culture and heritage, and to furthermore celebrate this daily rather than to be reminded by some holiday, event, or dedication. It would seem that many people tend to forget this lingering sense of pride and thus are only mindful of such cultural concepts on special occasions.

While much of the art world revolves around these central ideas of hardship and pride, it would not be fair to say that Africans “own” the tribal art or “own” the evolution from hardship or slavery types of art. Other cultures have their roots in slavery and hardship, while nearly every non-Caucasian culture has a documented history in tribal roots with their forms of tribal culture. There is simply no need to try to put a label as saying Africans “own” of this either for the reason that African art will always be African art, while Asian art will always be Asian art and Latino art will always be Latino art, further categorization or ownership is an extension that not only does not need to be made but ultimately complicates the concepts and evolution of non-culture specific art and others categories.

As mentioned, Asian writer, artist, and translator Marilyn Chin has been accused of improper assessment in the translation of certain pieces of art. She has been reported to criticize her criticizers in their attempts, in addition to defending her efforts and standpoints in the translations. In June of 2008, Chin responded to such criticism with criticism, stating her criticizer’s choice of words with regards to her was awful and incorrect its respect. This level of defensiveness and assault from someone with the achievements and reputation of Marilyn Chin would normally suggest some type of mistake or other lack of professional traits, however, it simply seems that Chin only has the passion of an artist rather than a reason to overcompensate for any lack of ability.

The critic had claimed that Chin’s translations were likely only partially accurate while not adding to the depth or overall value of the meaning in the translated work. Chin’s rebuttal was that her translation was indeed accurate and further justified her defense with reasoning. Chin then took this a step further by outright attacking the criticizer’s choice of words. Overall, while Chin was quite defensive and even offensive towards her criticizer, it would appear that her assessment overall is more accurate. Her evidence as provided is more complete and sound than any criticism. It would seem that one would have to have more expertise than her and her critics combined to have a definite answer, but based on Chin’s passion for her work combined with her reasoning in her defense, it is seemingly safe to assume that Chin indeed conducts accurate work.

Art was designed to be celebrated and communicated as effectively as possible. The goal of any form of expression is to gain reach, and maximizing that reach is, in that sense, maximizing the goal of such creations. Translated works are an attempt to add to extend the effectiveness of reach, and to do so with the same accuracy as was originally intended the translator must thus ensure the ideas have not been “lost in translation.” It would appear that Chin has successfully captured the ideals and meaning of the work she has translated, while she has thus succeeded in increasing the effectiveness of such pieces of expression.

As art is designed to be celebrated and communicated as effectively as possible, barriers should not be placed on forms of it as being “owned” by specific races or genders. Such barriers are unnecessary and contradict the meaning of creative expression by placing a form of limitation on it. It is unlikely that credit will be lost with the origins of the art world, as those with the passion to keep in touch with it will be able to recognize where it originated from. Cultures, races, and genders all have played key roles in the development of certain kinds of art, and this has been and will continue to be quite evident. There is no apparent danger of art losing its meaning without specific groups claiming ownership. Art will continue to succeed in its expression just fine as it conveys exactly what it was intended to: meaning.

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