A study released at the first of June reported that mockingbirds do not mimic the songs of other birds. Rather, they create variations on the other tunes – emphasize that creativity.
We have no word whether other birds have risen up in a cackling, squawking rage to charge them with “cultural appropriation” – a cry of grievance from would-be gate-keepers who try to deny the common sentiments of our unirace and the interplay between cultures that has always existed.
Where whiners see “appropriation,” I see “appreciation.”
Artists – of all fields – are the ones with the most open, curious, adventurous temperaments. They spend their lives looking for inspiration, looking for that artistic nugget that will allow them to better express themselves.
Everything is fair game for their wandering eyes, including the histories, ideas and creations of other cultures.
The most famous love story in the English language derives from a French translation of an Italian original. At about the same time it reached the London stage, an Italian historian was claiming it to be a true story from 13th century Verona. I wonder if Shakespeare was accused of “cultural appropriation” for giving us Romeo and Juliet.
Did the Danish ambassador deplore Shakespeare’s usage of a certain Danish prince – saying that Danish affairs should be left to the Danes?
Some value Shakespeare’s sonnets on a par with his plays. He wrote them during an Elizabethan sonnet-writing explosion during the last 30 years of the 16th century. But, as English as the sonnet seems, it had only been introduced from Italian literature into English by Sir Thomas Wyatt earlier in the century.
Other people’s cultures become new worlds for artists to explore and develop.
Picasso saw some African masks and statues at a Parisian exhibition and developed an angular style in his painting that led into cubism, one of the first of the experimental movements that dominated 20th century art.
About 40 years earlier, the introduction of Japanese art, prints in particular, helped break the hold academic art, with its meticulous realism and grand subject matter, had on the art world.
Cultural appreciation leads to cross-cultural pollination. Open artistic minds find that something profound to someone in another culture in the unirace can connect with them as well. And, they are eager to share that revelation.
At the turn of the 20th century, Ruth St. Denis studied and adapted Eastern dance culture into early performances she referred to as “dance translations.” From that inspiration, she and her husband and partner Ted Shawn formed the Denishawn dance troupe which, including such dancers as Martha Graham, created the modern dance vocabulary.
While we were learning about mockingbird’s creative talent at the first of the month, indianz.com was reporting a case where cultural appropriation might be the right call. Two women whose claim to Native American heritage do not include any registered tribal membership removed their artwork from an exhibition at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, MA, after some Indian artists questioned their inclusion.
Adapting and adopting other cultures is as old as the unirace. People can even find the mores and ideologies of others more sympathetic than the ones they grew up with. A false claim about one’s heritage is just a lie – an inappropriate attempt at cultural appropriation.
Encountering new cultures can be daunting, hence the city mouse and the country mouse.
But, there is much to appreciate, much to enrich our lives if we can stay open to new connections and have the courage to explore the worlds of our cousins.
Two of Ken Burns’ documentaries deal with Jazz and Country Music. Not only did both musical genres arise by amalgamating myriad sources, but they remained and remain open to outside influences where musicians hear something that catches their ears.
Yes, there exist folks in both crowds who cry out for a “purity” that never existed. But, both styles have big tents and the self-regulating governor of audience acceptance to guide them. And sometimes those audiences just have to catch up to the genius of a Thelonious Monk or Townes Van Zandt.
(And books have been written about Rock ‘n’ Roll’s debt to nearly every other genre in existence at the time – especially the early African American R&B performers who could get no airplay on white radio stations.)
In Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead observed, “Other nations of different habits are not enemies. They are opportunities – against the Gospel of Uniformity.
(Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)