Is This Art?

I’m sitting in a room with 30 other almost entirely white women and 1 white guy, and we are supposed to be discussing the Feminist Aesthetic vs feminine aesthetic and if such a thing as gendered aesthetic even exists. Unfortunately, before we can even broach that topic we smash up against a Homeland Security-reinforced wall that attempts to protect this relic of an idea–“what is art?”

Faith Ringgold

The above image is shown and the majority of the room, who are all quite young and not particularly well exposed to “art”(or rather seem to think they are not well exposed) are eager to bob their heads if only the teacher, oh mighty divulger of great wisdom, will declare “This is art.” But of course, in all her budding sageness she doesn’t say that. She leaves it to us to hash it out.

A white woman, who is a returning student and trained in the rhetoric of “Fine Art”— like me– speaks up and declares “It is not art.” Her argument has to do with sublimity and emotional connection, both of which this piece does not evoke. Now, here is why I am awake at this hour pounding away at my keyboard, because I did not in that exact moment throw this woman to the floor and rip out her tongue. I did hold my tongue because my thoughts were not well formulated and I did not want to appear to attack her; when really what I wanted to attack was that bloated misindoctrinated concept of what Art is.

So here is my feeble deconstruction. Firstly the colors are absolutely garish which is a not-so-funny irony considering that is The States’ flag—the one symbol that represents All of us, dear American readers, whether you like it or not. Yet its bold colors make it easily rejectable as Art. You see here below, in Washington Crossing the Delaware, we have an example of how the flag is used In Art, not burned or bloody or defiled in any other way. See, the flag has a voluminous drapy quality, the symbol is present, but not so big. And the colors are artfully muted, not their garish original.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Back to the quilt. You didn’t notice that Bleeding Flag is a quilt? Well, your brain probably did and it did tell you something.  I propose that the viewer’s eye, which if it has had even a minimal exposure to quilts, will at lease subliminally recognize that this is a quilt.  “Quilt” is an immediate signifier of “craft” and “craft” is an immediate disqualifier for Art. We have all been taught that.

Finally let’s talk about the black elephant in the room. There are people of color on that piece and people of color have well reserved positions in Art. Gosh, I’m not even sure if people of color are allowed to represent themselves in Art. Oh they are? Well then why isn’t this Art? Other than the garish flag and the crafty medium? Do you get the subliminal pun-crafty/witchy/womanly? Sigh.

When I first, not so eloquently, thought “her face is under the stars” I had that exact emotional and sublime connection that is the eminent qualifier of Art—All of our faces are under the stars. Maybe that is too universal and therefore arguably not Art. Note her face is partialy obscured by the stars of the American flag–the Symbols of our Unification. Notice she is smiling? And one of the kids too? What does that mean? Shouldn’t she look downtrodden? Hmm.

My sister says this artist’s message is “overtly political” and as the guy who runs that museum said, political is not Art. Was that a Goya behind him? Or a Picasso? Anyway, now sometimes African American’s struggles are depicted in High Art, of course I just can’t think of any right at this second as I have recently burned into my mind’s eye the images of Blacks in Orientalists’ paintings. And those block-cut Americana-type things aren’t Art, are they? But why is this piece overtly politically and not Art?

Not just the flag is bleeding. The woman, her identity obscured by our supposed unification, seems to be lactating blood while her young children clutch at her skirt. Her life source is pouring out of her from the orifices that should be producing sweet cream.

Lactation is frequently used in Art. Used as in ab-used to show some skin. In this same series we viewed tonight, I chuckled at Cindy Sherman’s lactating prosthetic breast, awkwardly positioned nearly in her armpit. Sherman is well cemented as a producer of Art, even though just a few years ago photography was a very questionable choice of medium, but I digress. If this woman were painted with her top torn open, exposed to The Gaze, and the lactation of blood more subtlety applied, perhaps with just a few droplets escaping her bulging (heavy, sighing, voluptuous) breast—then would that be Art?

No. This is Art. Now go burn some books that teach otherwise. And google Faith Ringgold. I apologize if my interpretation is really, really bad and you should give me a wee little kick if it is.


7 thoughts on “Is This Art?

  1. Art is expression. In Black history, quilts served as codes for survival during the Underground Railroad. This image is quite explicit. The woman appears to be a slave but there are 50 stars, which could symbolize the plight of contemporary Black women. All in all, it is a contradiction to the American flag’s meaning of freedom. She bleeds just as the red stripes of valor do, and it’s passed on to the children at her feet. The smile may be masking the pain of Black women’s oppression being interconnected to America’s advancement.

  2. This post was moved here from my old blog, here are the comments:


    Two points…
    First, the flag in the painting about the crossing of the Delaware is purposely muted. I think it was meant to symbolize the fading hopes and dreams of the rebels but that they remained despite the severity of the winter and the war up until that point. (the first time I saw this painting I was struck by how faded the flag was in comparison to the reds throughout the rest of the painting. You can’t tell me that wasn’t intentional.)
    Second, quilting is art. Women spend hours and hours choosing the pattern, the fabrics, and the topstitching. While time investment does not necessarily equate to art, the care and consideration that goes into the choices for their pieces are equal to the care painters take in mixing their colors to get the perfect tint for their paintings. That thought and precision is what makes it art.


    Right. Right. 😉


    So glad to discover you here, when I have time, I’ll come back and read this post!


    How I determine if something is art or not “can you do it?”
    no than it is art
    and that quilt is amazing!! I watched my mother create her works of art (quilts) and I know what goes into creating them. This one is a load of skill that so many strive to achieve. As well as a load of artisitc creativity so many will never have.


    Nzingha-I’m sure that if you completely gave up sleeping you could get in some time for quilting and/or painting 🙂

  3. I love your passion in the description. You make my art historical scenes tingle. lol But really, I think its would be ignorant to asses that this is not art. As a political science art history double major I can tell you that art has everything to do with politics and politics helps fuel art. Art is visual social commentary and this piece speaks to the black female aesthetic beautifully. The work speaks to the position of black women in America. She is shrowed under the stars or guise of justice and yet she is bleeding almost like she is disenfranchised and still her resilient soul musters up the joy to smile and protect her children. Very cool

  4. Chloe- You may have seen my reference then or would really appreciate it! We were watching the documentary about Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (that all female-made installation that references the Last Supper with domestic arts) and some male museum curator was saying that it was political and therefore not art–arghhh!

    Thanks for stopping by ladies. I enjoy all the perspectives.

  5. Yeah you Tell IT! Love your description. Faith Ringgold captures the truth of America. I’m an African American too. Although I’m pale, white, family from northern Europe I’m every bit as African American as anyone else (I can dance a little surprisingly and have some junk in the trunk, don’t be jealous lol.). My ancestors were just African Europeans first. But before that they were Africans. I’m more proud of my African part then my ‘American’ part. Color does not separate me from my brothers and sisters. Nor does nationality. African is my human part. American is my ‘given’ political part. We are all one people in suffrage to those who control us all. The struggle is not about black or white it is about us unifying rather then dividing and showing our owners our true colors. Hopefully we will realize (before technology changes it and we are lost) that the slaves have always been more powerful then the master.

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