An Ethical Assessment of Cultural Appropriation in Fine Art

6236 Words May 21st, 2015 25 Pages
Appropriate Appropriation:
An Ethical Assessment of Cultural Appropriation in Fine Art
Gabriela Amaya-Baron Ethics and Visual Representation Diane Zeeuw
09/2012
Cultural appropriation is a concept that seems to carry with it a negative connotation. I think this is understandable since the practice often involves the recognition of certain societal divides, which can be highly sensitive and political. This can make people uncomfortable, and in the context of the arts, it has been known to cause offense. This sensitivity has been used as a superficial counter against cultural appropriation, especially by those who feel their culture is the one being appropriated from.
It is an easy argument to apply against artists who appropriate. It
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and relations of power.”2 He goes on to conclude that “like ‘race’, ‘culture’ is a social imposition on an unruly world.”3 At first pass, I would almost agree, especially with the added assertion by Kwame Anthony Appiah, noted writer and Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, that the concept of culture perhaps has no application since the overlap of cultures makes them difficult to define; perhaps if there is no obvious delineation, it is not something we can truly reference in discussion. He remarks, too, that in some areas where the concept was introduced (sometimes by the political “creation” of a group), having not been conceptualized by the locals previously, the increase in self-determination and allegiance to a particular “culture” has led to an increase in tension and violence.4
If we hold that the notion of culture is this problematic and undefinable, maybe a discussion of cultural appropriation is futile and an argument against it ultimately non-existant. But I do not believe this is so. I don’t find it a legitimate refutation to simply deny an offended party’s concerns with the rationale that culture is undefinable, therefore cultural appropriation cannot occur and so there is no case and no reason to voice opposition to an artwork.
Turning back to Young to support my contestation, he states, “Western anthropologists...may have developed the concept of culture [but] members of certain groups of people are more likely to have certain beliefs,
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