Mis(cis, white, hetero male)representation in Art

When was the last time you heard a rap song aiming to empower women? What about a film starring a non-heterosexual character? And how many paintings in the Met depict a scene featuring a non-white? A broad (and positive) representation of minority groups—such as women, the LGBTQ community and ethnic groups—was for a long time, completely nonexistent. While in the past few decades, there has been some progress in giving a voice to these groups, proper representation can nonetheless only be deemed, at best, as lacking. The art world is still heavily riddled with inaccuracies concerning groups and communities of people that fail to fall into the ‘white, straight, cisgender male’ category.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has experienced a more notable and long-lasting misrepresentation in cinema. Big-budget films fail to feature an LGBTQ character in a supporting role, let alone a featured role. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Wilson Cruz, an activist working with GLAAD (an organization working towards increasing LGBTQ visibility and tolerance in the media), noted that “moviegoers should be able to see LGBT people as integral players in the stories told by leading Hollywood studios.” By failing to portray these characters, movie studios are sending a biased message that undermines and denigrates LGBTQ people. In 2013 GLAAD released the Studio Responsibility Index based off a study conducted by the Stanford Research Institute that aimed to show the severe lack of LGBTQ portrayal in popular cinema. After studying 101 box office hits of a variety of genres, it was found that only fourteen of them featured a character that identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. None featured a transgender/transsexual character. There is something to be said about such a prevalent and accessible artistic medium failing to showcase such a large community of people.
Contrary to the LGBTQ community, women have had a lot of artistic representation within a large range of mediums. However, this representation unfortunately tends to be misogynistic, objectifying and belittling. Rap music is an excellent example of that. In 2001, Eminem won the Grammy for his album The Marshall Mathers LP, on which the lyrics make blatant references to violence and aggression towards women. Only a few years later, in 2005, Three 6 Mafia won the Academy Award for best original song in a feature film for their song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp;” a song that uses a multitude of derogatory terms for women and severely sexualizes them. These two songs are important examples due to the exposure they garnered through receiving the awards (thus perpetuating their messages), but countless other rap artists, like Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Jay Z, Lil Wayne and Big L use violent and chauvinistic lyrics. The sexism in rap doesn’t end with the songs themselves, but is also conveyed through their music videos. Women are often used as sexual props for the male rapper and any other men featured in the video. T.I.’s music video for his song “Why You Wanna” is a prime example of this attitude. In the video, T.I. and his friends are relaxing on the beach and surveying the different women walking past them. The camera focuses solely on the women’s rear end, which reinforces the message that women are really only good for sex. So many other videos feature scantily clad women and show the camera only focusing on their bodies that it appears to almost have become a prerequisite for this particular genre of music.
While rap music is a more recently-emerged medium, the more traditional medium of painting has failed to positively portray many minority groups, significantly non-white ethnic groups. For one, in many famous paintings, such as Manet’s “Olympia”, black people are depicted in servant or slave roles, which emphasize the idea of white supremacy. They are dehumanized, portrayed almost as props within the paintings, which gives the impression of unimportance. It was only in the 1960s that black contemporary artists’ work, in which they attempt to redefine the image of the black body, became showcased more. In Western society, we often think in “black and white” terms, however, this inexact portrayal extends beyond one ethnicity. Joshua Reynold’s painting “Sir Robert Clive with wife, daughter and local help,” depicts an evidently affluent white family with their Indian servant, kneeling and holding the daughter. This painting is another important example of the distorted power relations embedded within our society. This can be in large part attributed to the repression of minority groups’ artistic work for centuries. Though there is a more significant range of more diverse artists working today and showing their work, racism in painting is still a notable issue. As a very broad, generic example, many art classes, from elementary school to university-level, study important historical works, many of which depict this power relation. It is important to recognize the harm in this relation and educate students on the issues surrounding it.
As a whole, misrepresentation in art is a very relevant and dangerous issue today. Art, which we often and perhaps sometimes wrongfully, look at as generally open-minded, free, and tolerant can be misleading and damaging. While these examples look closely at three specific issues in three different mediums, these issues and many more are present in all art forms. We often look at it as a reflection of our society and its many components. While many artists, like local artist Travis McEwen, are presenting work that aims to break these ideas and redefine what gender, ethnicity and sexuality are, it is important to remain cautious and observe these works critically rather than take these messages seriously and/or lightly. Art is an extremely powerful medium that has the ability to reform opinions moderately to drastically. With its incredible influence, the messages sent through both historical and contemporary works need to be identified and analyzed to ensure tolerance and acceptance of all human beings.

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In Tune With The Music

On any given afternoon, music can be heard blasting from Kelseigh Boog’s small, cramped bedroom (Radiohead’s In Rainbows is currently on the record player). Band posters litter the walls, stuck with the traditional mix of Scotch tape and blue sticky tack. She is lying on the bed, often reading a book (today she’s rereading Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey), moving her feet back and forth to the beat of the music. Currently a psychology student at John Abbott College, Boog seems like your fairly average 18-year-old. She, however, has an impossibly extensive knowledge and incredible love of music that could rival that of any of the greats, like Lester Bangs.
“Growing up in the kind of family I did really gave me a love of music at an early age,” she says, sipping from a mug full of steaming Earl Grey. “My parents have this sort of shared uncanny encyclopedic knowledge about music from between, say, 1960 and 1990.” Their knowledge was evidently passed down to Boog, as this particular bracket seems to be her area of expertise and preferred period of music. Boog’s father had planned on calling her Jagger after the Rolling Stones’ front man,

Boog showing her appreciation for her quasi-namesake.

Boog showing her appreciation for her quasi-namesake.

his favorite band, had she been a boy. And just by shooting a cursory glance at her shelves, most of her CDs and vinyls date back to decades before she was born. She smirks as she catches me looking, “It also gave me a bit of an elitist complex when it came to musical taste, but I digress.” The love of music does not end with her parents, as there seems to be a musical gene passed down through generations. “My grandfather was this fantastic mandolin player. He played in an orchestral band for most of his life,” she tells me, taking another sip. Her parents followed suite, picking up their own instruments, her father playing guitar and mother playing bass. “My brother played in the school band, had his own garage band, and went on to study music at Vanier College,” she says, no stranger to an instrument herself. Inspired by her older brother, and having played the clarinet in elementary school, she chose to take up the bass clarinet in the Westwood High School Concert Band. Throughout her time in high school, she and the rest of the band won gold every year at MusicFest Canada, an annual national high school concert band competition taking place in Ottawa. She then taught herself to play guitar. “That part came later though, and grew out of my admiration of bands I listened to—I mean, really, what’s cooler than being able to play guitar?” she laughs, adding, “Even a mediocre guitar player is cool, I hope.”
She picks up her laptop and shows me her iTunes library. “My favorite music genre is probably classic rock, with alternative being a close second,” she says, as I scroll through the comprehensive collection of songs, all falling into a

Boog uses social media, like instagram, to connect with others through music

Boog uses social media, like instagram, to connect with others through music

complete mix of genres. “Lately I’ve been using Spotify and discovering a lot of really cool Indie bands as well. My tastes are always changing.” As I notice the genres varying from rock to soul to jazz to classical, I don’t find that hard to believe. “If one week I’m really into David Bowie and the next I love Radiohead, it’s hard to say that I prefer one over the other.” However, with the small shrine of collector’s CDs and records, t-shirts, posters, books and concert DVDs, it’s not hard to identify her favorite band, U2. “Buying band memorabilia is expensive, I’m not gonna lie,” she comments, nodding towards her collection, “But there’s nothing more satisfying than buying a vinyl, or a poster, or a t-shirt with your favorite band on it. These things become sort of physical extensions of your character.” Different pieces from different bands litter her room; there’s a vintage U2 t-shirt from the 80s folded neatly on her bed, her recently viewed Live Aid concert DVD on her nightstand, the band pins on her backpack, and the Doors mug out of which she’s drinking her tea, just to name a few. Nevertheless, her most prized investments are concerts; tickets are tacked up on her wall as reminders of the memorable nights. “It’s hard to explain the explosion of adrenaline and joy that hits you when you realize that, yes, the people who bring you so much happiness and pleasure are real, they’re right in front of you, and the people around you are just as ecstatic as you are,” she says, showing me a ticket from her most recent concert: Vance Joy at the Metropolis on October 30th. “Concerts are these outlets for every emotion you can possible think of: scream, cry, laugh, and sing— whatever.” We have heard of and seen dedicated fans line up outside a venue hours, and sometimes even days, in advance, camping out in occasionally near-unbearable weather conditions in order to score a spot as close to the stage as allowed by security. But is it actually worth it? Does it make a difference? “I’ve always said if I love a band, I’d be happy in the trashcan by the door,” Boog smiles. “But the best seats are definitely closest to the stage. Don’t kid yourself—you do want to be showered in spit by your favorite singer.”
It is easy to get carried away into the ostentatious nature of music fandom; to constantly show off with little-known facts on bands and artists; to spend entire paychecks earned at terrible minimum wage jobs on records and band tees; to walk into too many 8:00AM classes with dark circles due to late nights spent attending concerts and drinking slightly too much beer. When it’s all stripped away, what are we left with? What significance does music hold? “Music is like my emotional backbone,” Boog explains. “. I can listen to music no it no matter how I’m feeling in the moment. I mean, when you’re angry, or hurt, you can’t always pick up a book to get your mind off it. But you can put on a song and cry, or yell, or lie on the floor and feel completely understood—totally at peace. Music is just always there.”

In Tune With the Music

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Critical Cuts

According to a 2012 study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, students with exposure to arts programs do better academically and socially. Kids involved in these programs also have higher career goals and are more likely to be engaged in their communities. Despite having a positive effect on students, there continue to be severe budget cuts for art programs around the world. Statistics compiled by Grantmakers in the Arts, from 2011 to 2012, show that funding to the National Endowment to the Arts declined about 6 percent. State funding was also decreased of about 5 percent. Contributions from local organizations or businesses were also cutback.

Collège Charles-Lemoyne is a private high school located on the South Shore of Montreal. Its Longueuil campus offers a variety of extensive arts programs, including dance, music, drama, visual arts and multimedia. In 2013, the school cut its music program in favor of more athletic programs. Students from the school shared why they believed art programs are significant, and why they had such a lasting effect on them.

Emma, Linda. “Budget Cuts to Art Programs in Schools.” Education. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

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