Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation

Cultural Appreciation[1]

Appreciation: To understand the worth or importance of something or someone.[2]

If your goal is to learn, listen, understand, and honor a culture without benefit to yourself, you are most likely showing appreciation. It is a good idea to learn about and honor other cultures.

Examples of Appreciation:

  • Buying cultural art created by someone from that culture
  • Sharing something you understand about your own culture through your art
  • Learning a specialized art technique from someone in that culture

In your art, it is best NOT to use cultural elements in your art if—

  • They are not part of your own culture.
  • No one from that culture invited you to share them. (Note: Do not ask for this invitation.)

Cultural Appropriation

Appropriation: Taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.[3]

If you take and use elements from another culture that is not your own, it may be cultural appropriation. Some examples include images, symbols, artifacts, or practices. Getting compliments, ribbons, or money for your art benefits you. The people in that culture may not get the same positive attention from it.

Examples of Appropriation:

  • Using or creating art that only looks at a part of a culture
  • Creating art that reinforces a stereotype about a group of people
  • Getting positive attention when your art imitates artwork or themes from another culture

In your art, avoid using cultural elements in ways that—

  • Give a false or incomplete view of that culture.
  • Support stereotypes.
  • Are not the intended use of those elements.

Why does it matter?

When people use elements of another culture, they often choose which parts to use. They may get positive attention for it. They may also reject parts that do not interest them. This often reinforces stereotypes. The intent may be to show honor or true understanding for the culture. However, the impact could be negative attention or experiences for the people who belong to the cultural group.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this part of my own culture? If not, have I been invited to share it?
  • Does this honor or imitate the culture?
  • Do I understand the significance of what I am doing?
  • Does this support a stereotype that might hurt people from that culture?
  • Have I seriously researched and learned about this culture or do I just have a basic understanding of the things I like?
  • For my research, did I use books, essays, or other works written by members of the culture?

[1] Information in this article was adapted from: https://www.healthline.com/health/cultural-appreciation#appreciation-defined

[2] https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/appreciation

[3] https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/appropriation

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