The Frustration of Categorization

Do you ever feel like people are backing you into a pigeonhole? Stereotyping you? Forming judgments on who they think you are and what you should be? It’s an uncomfortable feeling when it happens because we are individuals and not labels. We are unique to ourselves with our own reasons and motives; our own quirks and personalities. We resist stereotyping and have in place human rights laws governing prejudices that arise through oppression based on these stereotypes; and rightly so.

But what about other forms of stereotyping? I often feel frustrated and angry when I’m asked to categorize my art practice. Yes, some of it can fall into a nice little category alongside others. But what about when it doesn’t and I’m asked to tick a box to validate what my art should be? I don’t like being forced to agree to be something that I’m not. I don’t like to be backed into a ‘best-fit’ for my art.

I know the boxes are there because art is a product, a commodity, for people to look at and consider buying. They want to know what it is just as much as they wish to know the reasons for its existence. I understand this. If I was selling in a hardware store then I should be able to tell shoppers which shelf the nails are on and they shouldn’t expect to find anything else there. Similarly I should be able to tell a gallery which category my art falls so that my printmaking, for example, ends up alongside that of other printmakers. I should be able to tell people exactly what it is they are about to buy with as much clarity and precision as the description on a box of nails, shouldn’t I?

The catch is that art is not a hardware store. Artists are expressionists and philosophers. We aren’t selling something hard and definable. We should be free to put our goods on any shelf we like. We should be encouraging ourselves to paint the nails and display them under a fluorescent strip-tube tree if we feel this is aesthetically pleasing to us in our metaphorical hardware store. We shouldn’t be forcing each other into tick boxes and argue with each other to explain our rationale in a feeble attempt to ‘educate’ our shoppers as to what they should be looking at. We should be brave enough to say, this is it, like it or lump it. I’ve mixed my disciplines, subverted my media, forced traditional methods out of their little categories and I’ve ended up with something pretty sweet. If you like it then talk to me about it. If you like it more then buy it.

The art establishment attempting to straghtjacket me into categories into which I don’t fit is frustrating to say the least. I am a creative not a computer technician. Give me the liberty to express myself and stop stereotyping me into a poorly structured database which suits nobody. Allow me the tools to be able to say, this is something different to the norm. This should not be placed in this pile or that pile but should be allowed to flourish and be nurtured. I should not have to write a 1000 word proposal to receive support. I should not have to be validated by a hierarchical committee trained only in looking for the next upcoming fresh, new, … stereotype.

Anyway, enough angry ranting. Here’s a picture of something calm and soothing. It’s watercolours over an embossed piece of paper. The embossing was made using printmaking techniques. The printing plate was made from card and cut photograph. Oh and that original photograph was of NGC 1300, a barred spiral galaxy about 61 million light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. The final image you see here follows the lines of that galaxy and is an abstract representation of NGC 1300 itself. So go on. Tell me. Which box am I to force myself into on this one. Is this Painting or Printmaking or Photography or possibly Astronomy?

Gaaaaaaaaah!

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