Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Art and ethics

Michelangelo Caravaggio Self Portrait. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Should we separate artworks from the artists who made them and ignore the artists'  ethics, even though they might have been sexist or racist or abusive people in their private life?
It is an interesting question, which has been widely debated from different perspectives. What triggered it for me was Naomi Campbell posting on Instagram a video clip of her music video with Michael Jackson, directed by Herb Ritts, with the caption "We miss you #legend".   Miss Campbell has been careful to never comment on Jackson's alleged paedophilia. She never severed her friendship, on the contrary.  As far as she is concerned, the making and screening of Leaving Neverland, the explosive documentary which details the sexual abuse to which Jackson subjected the (then) children who worked closely with him, never even happened.
I do not personally think that Michael Jackson was a genius, nor a legend and I would barely regard his work as art, even though his music played a major part in defining the popular culture of the 1980s and early 1990s. Nor do I particularly care for  Miss Campbell's opinions.
We have recently had a Naomi Campbell overload in the news and her philanthropy has been rammed down our throats. I shall gladly leave her to her commendable humanitarianism,  I am not going to discuss her at all in this post, her actions have been, as I said, just a trigger. Another person who never believed in Jackson's paedophilia and strongly defended him is none other than Donald Trump, who also calls himself "an ardent philanthropist".  Naomi Campbell is definitely in excellent company.

Oprah on Leaving Neverland
But I am digressing. The idea that people should dissociate themselves from Jackson's music is intriguing. It is definitely not a straightforward matter. Again, I was never a great fan, so I can live with a radio/TV ban on his music - apparently in place in New Zealand, following the paedophilia allegations. I never owned one of Jackson's albums, I preferred other musicians. But what of it?
Let's look at other instances.  Woody Allen, for example. It was never proven, but there were allegations of sexual abuse in connection with one of his adopted daughters. I confess I like his films, even though when I now think of him, the idea of his abuse puts me off. Roman Polanski too was involved in a 'relationship' with a barely teen girl, legally only a child. In his case, the fact that his wife was butchered by the Manson family is often seen as warranting leniency for his 'unorthodox behaviour'.  For me that's no excuse, sex with a minor, regardless of issues of consent, is still a crime. A responsible adult should know better than engaging in sexual behaviour with any child.
Anti-semitism seemed to have been an indulgence of many 20th century artists, from Wagner to T.S. Eliot. Picasso was violent to women; going further back in time, Caravaggio was a murderer. The list goes on. How should we regard the work of these artists?
The view that art is separate from and above the people who make it is but a way of regarding art as disconnected from its context. Also, the idea that the artist is a 'genius',  hence above reproach, is open to question.  I do not buy it,  the personal circumstances of the artist become relevant because an individual is still connected to his/her social environment.

Artemisia Gentileschi. Susanna and the Elders Image from Wikimedia Commons

 I can think here of Artemisia Gentileschi who in the 17th century, at the age of sixteen, had the daring to denounce her rapist, undergoing torture during the trial to prove her innocence and nearly lost two fingers as a result. Knowing such circumstances makes me look at her work with different eyes. She was a female painter who excelled at her art in a world that was so much anti-women. Her subjects were drawn from the Bible but she infused them with her own sensibility and turned them into a  subtle commentary on her own experience. Gentileschi is a positive example, for whom we are ready to acknowledge that her personal circumstances and the violence she experienced because of her gender made her into the superb artist that she was.
Why then, at the other end of the spectrum, are we so willing to dissociate mostly male artists with the violence of their actions and their crimes? Can we really say that Wagner's music does not have a note of anti-semitism in it? Perhaps not his 'pure music' but his operas, well, they do.
I cannot be prescriptive. At the end of the day, it is also, very much so, a matter of personal choice. Banning art is not desirable. But I would spend some time learning about who made a particular work and then decide whether I can live with their sins or not.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The age cage #1

Preparing for the IA London shoot

How important is age?
From the number of articles discussing age which one comes across every day, it would seem that age is very important. The emphasis on youth and the ageism that seems to pervade the fashion industry: these are being constantly debated.
There is no way around it, age matters.
Age has acquired greater visibility than it ever did and though this is not a bad thing at all - let's talk about age, why not, and let's represent older people in the media - more worryingly it has also turned into an excellent money-making proposition.  From books full of exhortations to defy style rules and follow one's inklings of what a personal style is, subtly recycling, excuse the pun, age-old advice, to encouraging older women, in particular, to be eccentrically dressed, to apps for mature dating, to the grey-hair-dont-care movement and its spinoffs: you can take your pick. I shall return to this in a different post, as in my view what is really lacking here is a proper intersectional approach to age. We all age but ageing does not make us equal. Some of us can afford to age better than others.
I recently did a shoot for IA London, the designer for whom I walked at LFW19. It has been published by Huf Magazine, issue 86, out this week.  It was quite an experience for me, different from more commercial takes on age.  I was able to render, visually, through movement and with the help of the magnificent clothes designed by Ira, the idea that age is indeed a cage. By that, I particularly mean the negativity attached to age and the ageing process and all its contemporary accoutrements.

A preview of the article in Huf Magazine

It was actually refreshing for me when I went again to the Dior exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum to find on display an old magazine of the 1950s, possibly Woman's Illustrated, for which Dior had penned an article on style. I did not make a note of what issue it was (I will do so when I go there again), but I took some photos.

What did the great couturier say?
There are no old women, only women who accept old age: being old or being too old for anything is really all in the mind. His concluding paragraph is also rather contemporary: everything you see in fashion magazines is good for you.

My point precisely, as I wrote in an earlier post. Clothes are neither pro-age nor anti-age. It is up to the individual to create a style that suits her/him. And you do not need anyone to tell you what goes or does not go. There is agency in styling, only you know how to style yourself.
Other things Dior wrote in that article are not so consonant with the our contemporary times. But those two lines:  they are indeed words of wisdom.

Dior : Designer of Dreams continues until 1st September 2019. It is sadly sold out.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Femvertising and such like

From a recent shoot for @socratesint #ladefenselatitude

We are all familiar with 'femvertising', the type of advertising which supposedly empowers women. It's been around for some years, and there are even awards given for the best ads.
There is merchandise that has grown around the idea of being pro-women, with an abundance of feminist-logo-carrying t-shirts.
I take it for what it is, a marketing strategy. Women want to feel empowered; embracing feminism on paper helps to sell.  But it will not change the reality of unequal pay, and loss of choice over one's own body, which we, as women, have to contend with. Nevertheless,  it feels good to walk around in a t-shirt that affirms individuality and is pro-women.
Alongside femvertising, there is now a plethora of pro-age products. Again, I do not think it does any harm, but it does not do much in terms of improving perceptions of older people.
Ok, your beauty brand now sells a pro-age cream rather than an anti-age one - in all likelihood, it is the same cream now marketed with a brand new name. Big brands seem to have embraced diversity and it is clearly done to help them flog their products.
There are endless podcasts and talks given at various fashion events, sometimes by people with little or no experience of the industry. Feeling enraged about your grandmother being treated condescendingly in a clothes shop is perfectly legitimate but this does not mean you can set yourself up as an expert on age-related issues in the fashion industry!
Clothes can be adapted to suit an individual style, and age, therefore, becomes immaterial in that context.  To claim that one is selling pro-age clothes is a non-sequitur. All clothes are intrinsically pro-age. It is the way they are worn that, if at all, makes them suitable for a particular age. and ois there such a thing as 'suitable for a particular age'? Do we need to be prescriptive?

I do agree that the representation of older women and men in fashion and advertising is unsatisfactory. But I also believe that denying older women and men are grandparents or have physical ailments is unrealistic. Nor am I convinced that older women and men have more disposable income because that is not necessarily the case, certainly not in the current political and economic climate, in a Britain that is so divided. It depends very much on class. Middle and upper-middle classes may have more disposable income, but not lower-middle and working-class women and men.
Age is real, denying its relevance does not make any sense, we all agree on that. What we should be against is discrimination on the basis of age or representation of ageing based on a few stereotypes. Thus the article by RBH Creative Agency "How do older generations feel about marketing?" makes some excellent points but when they write "Stop showing women over 50 as grannies knitting in a chair, stop showing women over 50 as elegant cruise-taking cougars and stop showing women over 50 as poor pensioners opening their purse to see it empty" I think we are not quite there yet, these suggestions need to be further nuanced. Instagram is awash with over-50 influencers representing themselves as elegant, cruise-taking cougars and it is worrying to see how the stereotypes are embraced and perpetuated by the older generations themselves.
And now the industry seems to have taken a liking to the 'greyhairdontcare' movement, many years after it started, so much so that we are inundated with models sporting long silver tresses. It makes me feel like colouring my hair pink and indigo or chop it all off. I am happy with my hair, but I do not wish to be defined by it!

The bottom line is: no one has got it right yet!

Monday, 10 June 2019

Politically assertive bloggers

At the recent anti-Trump demonstration in London,  with the Handmaids

I follow a few blogs. Let me rephrase that. I am on Bloglovin and I receive news in my feed of new posts in blogs which Bloglovin thinks I should be interested in since I have labelled mine as a 'fashion and lifestyle' blog.
 Let me say at the outset that my blog is not linked, directly or indirectly, to specific brands. I am one of the few independent bloggers now left, whose blog is not monetised. Over the years there have been noticeable shifts: 'influencers' (bloggers have now been absorbed in this category) tend to use Instagram a lot more than blogs. Instagram, with its bite-sized posts and its strong visual content, is better suited for the purpose of advertising. Here I feel obliged to disclose that some of my Insta-posts have been linked with brands, like the series of photos I posted in partnership with Accessorize. There will be a few more in future.

Outtake from my series for Accessorize. Photo: GreyModelAgency

The point of all this is to reflect further on a post which I saw in my Bloglovin feed this morning in which the writer wonders whether a fashion blogger can have an opinion, in particular, a political opinion. Apparently, she was chastised by one of her readers for saying something about the elections in Northern Ireland.
It goes without saying that I totally support her stance. A blogger is definitely entitled to an opinion, even though she or he may write to endorse specific products. I mentioned that as an Instagrammer I have endorsed products. This has never stopped me from expressing my political opinions loud and clear, like when I recently joined the Handmaids Against Trump to demonstrate against the US President official visit to the UK and posting images on my Insta-feed.
Provided your posts are not slanderous I think that regardless of what relationship you may have with brands, you should still be able to have an opinion.
One of the problems with the majority of bloggers is that they tend to be so bland, a real carbon copy of each other, with no views whatsoever. It makes for boring reading.
Further, the idea that fashion and (life)style are not connected with politics is utterly ridiculous. Let us not forget that the explosion of blogs occurred precisely because people were tired of homogenised ideas of beauty and style. The bloggers who have questioned the unattainable beauty standards of the industry are a case in point.
Fashion is political, it is enmeshed in political discourse. Not being able to recognise that is done at your peril!
So, Avril, this is my extended comment to your post. Well done for having an opinion. I would like to see more opinions in fashion blogs because the notion that fashion and style are 'neutral' is as wrong as can be.