The Art of Complaining – The Guerrilla Girls | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

The Art of Complaining – The Guerrilla Girls | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios


We are in London
today– at Tate Modern– to meet up with the
Guerrilla Girls, who are currently operating a
complaints department within the Tate Exchange space in the
new Switch House building that opened this past summer. The Guerrilla Girls
have invited the public to come join them in the
gallery and post complaints about art, politics, culture, or
anything you might care about. And the Guerrilla Girls
are experts at complaining. They are an anonymous group
of women artists who– since 1985– have
served valiantly as the conscience
of the art world, using a wide variety of
tactics to question and disrupt art world practices, and
to expose sexism, racism, and corruption in
our culture at large. They are also here in London
revisiting their 1986 poster “It’s Even Worse in
Europe” with a new display at the Whitechapel Gallery
based on questionnaires they sent to museum
directors across Europe. They asked them about their
representation of artists who are female,
gender nonconforming, or from places other than
North America or Europe. And the project aggregates
these responses and shares new and revealing statistics. Playing upon the word guerrilla,
as in freedom fighter, and gorilla, the animal,
the group members wear masks when in
public, each choosing the name of a dead woman
artist as a pseudonym. Today we’re sitting down with
Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz, who are gonna talk with us a
bit about the art of complaining and prompt us to find
our own ways to question the worlds around us. Hi. We’re the Guerrilla Girls. And this is your art assignment. All right, so maybe,
basically, a lot of us were complainers,
but mostly because we saw so much injustice in
politics, of course, but also in our own little world of the
art world in New York City, where we were artists. And we saw no opportunities
for women artists and artists of color. And everyone was pretending
that everything was OK. So we got this idea– let’s
do something about it, and let’s use some new
media savvy techniques to break through people’s
ideas that whatever they see in galleries and museums
is the best– which we knew so many great artists
who weren’t getting anywhere. So we decided to blame
one group after another. We had this idea to do a new
kind of political poster. We had a meeting in Frida’s
loft of a bunch of colleagues and friends, named ourselves
the Guerrilla Girls, passed the hat around to pay
to print the first posters, and the Guerrilla
Girls were born. It’s more than pointing
your finger at something and saying this is bad. We have to figure
out a way to change people’s minds about things. And we discovered
that statistics do that, outrageous statements,
and, in the end, humor. If you can make someone who
disagrees with you laugh, well, you kind of have a hook,
you know, in their brain. And once you’re there, you
just have an opportunity to change their minds. Your assignment is to
think of something you really want to complain about. Then communicate your message
in some unique, creative way. So John, I really think that
you should just sit and listen for this one. Yeah, no, I agree. So if we think back
through art history, we can really see a lot
of art as various forms of complaining. You can think about abstraction
as a way that artists are complaining
about the way things had been represented
in the past. And, you know, complaining
is really protest, and then that widens
our consideration to all sorts of art–
historical painting– that thinks about war or inequities. But in thinking about
what moment in history we’re going to
talk about here, I couldn’t help but realize that
I had a very handy resource for this– the Guerrilla
Girl’s own book– the “Bedside Companion to the
History of Western Art.” And I’d love to just
read you the beginning. It says, “Forget the stale,
male, pale, Yale textbooks, this is Art Herstory 101!” And I’ve actually selected
one of the moments in art history–
or art herstory– for us to talk about today–
from the Middle Ages. At the age of 25,
Christine de Pizan found herself widowed with
kids and a mother to support. She had been allowed
an education– a rarity in medieval France–
and became a copyist and writer to support her family. She achieved renown for her
ballads, poems, and allegories, as well as her
vociferous objection to the popular 13th
century poem, “The Romance of the Rose,” which depicts
women as wanton and immoral seductress. She countered with her 1405
allegory “The City of Ladies,” in which three women,
personifying reason, rectitude, and justice, describe
an entire city populated by strong, virtuous
women throughout history. Told entirely by
women and about women, her story used fashionable
tropes and techniques to counter the prevailing
narrative of women as illogical and inferior. Rooted in Christian
morality, her work got away with its harsh
critique of patriarchal society and highlighted women
for their skills in discourse and peacemaking. Like De Pizan, the
Guerrilla Girls have found their
own [INAUDIBLE] way of complaining in their time. The question is, what’s
your way in your time? And how will you use
the culture of now to voice your
dissatisfaction and dissent? All right, so
everyone’s always said to the Guerrilla
Girls, you’re just a bunch of complainers. So when we were
invited to do this– some kind of interactive
residency project at Tate, it suddenly seemed like
a really great idea– why not let everyone
else complain? You know, we are complainers. We consider ourselves,
you know, creative, kind of unique complainers,
but it is what we do. And everyone has
complaints, so we’ve invited anyone who
wants to come to bring their complaints in,
make their complaints, put ’em on the board. And it took about one
day for all the places we have to put them
to be filled up. And every day people are
coming with more things that they just have to
get off their chest. FRIDA KAHLO: It’s kind of a riff
off the old idea of complaints departments in department
stores– in a way, it allowed the consumers
to sort of complain. Well, we’re allowing, you know,
the audience of this museum to– instead of come and
be passive– to actually come and think critically
about what they’ve seen, about what bothers them,
and to really think about, you know, how a lot of art
comes out of complaints, comes out of a very strong
reaction to the world. You can’t really think of
a complaint as one thing, one time in a vacuum. One thing we’ve learned is
that if you do one thing, put it out there, if it works–
you know, you do one thing, you put it out there, if
it works, you do another– and if it doesn’t,
you do another. So this is true for all of us. You can’t expect one thing
to make a difference, but if you keep doing it and
keep chipping away, over time you can make a difference. Obviously, you know,
we have a unique way of trying to find a new
idea about an issue, combining it with some weird
things that don’t really belong there, so
you wind up thinking about it in a different way. But there’s so many
ways to comp– I mean, try to stop people
from complaining. It’s great to brainstorm
with other people, identify a target, realize
that you probably can’t deal with a huge issue all at once. You can only deal with
some small aspect of it. And then to think about who
your target audience is– what would– you know, what would
catch their attention, what would change their
mind, and, you know, what components would
change their mind? Usually information is a
real– you kn know, is a help. And if you can twist
something around, you know– you know, you put
out an outrageous headline, you back it up, and you
try to do it in a way that you’ve never seen before. And then try it out
on other people. Make sure that, you know, you’re
just not convincing yourself. You know, let other people test
drive it, say, what does this communicate to you? Cause sometimes being
angry and complaining is a good place to start, but
it’s not a great place to end. You have to craft your message. And I think reading
the other complaints, looking at their complaints,
thinking about what they complained about is– is
going to have an effect. It’s had an effect
on me, and I’ve been complaining for years. [MUSIC PLAYING]

51 thoughts on “The Art of Complaining – The Guerrilla Girls | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  1. I see two ways to approach this assignment. Complain about the banal, but the everyday (i.e., the man I'm seeing doesn't text me back); or complain about the "true" injustices worthy of complaint (i.e., as a woman entering the legal profession I have to accept being sexually harassed at work). I sort of like the idea of juxtaposing the banal with the unjust to explore the idea of what is "worthy" to complain about. Is complaining about sexual harassment even "worthy" when I'll be making more money that the vast majority of the population?

  2. Having John be quiet for this one was subtle and powerful. Sometimes, the best model for acceptance or equality is letting the other side have the attention for a bit.

  3. This was wonderful. I'm brainstorming right now with how I want to realize this assignment.

  4. I was so exited when I saw that Guerrilla Girls were in this video!! Such a good assignment! And I love Tate Modern, wish I could travel there right now…

  5. Anonymity! Way to stand for what you BELIEVE? The internet is THEE best place to say anything and nothing at the same time. Authenticity is hard to come by. Cudos for finding a way to get attention for yourselves without having to deal with the responsibility of that attention.

  6. john looks so good in this video

  7. i love their anominity. first, because of course the issues are bigger than these specific women and it keeps a tradition going instead of focusing on their personalities. second, anyone who ever tried talking about gender and racial issues on media knows how easily they can be targeted/have their personal lives exposed/bullied (looking at you, internet comments in general). the masks and wordplay are punny, but they're also a much needed protection.

    (i just read "Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers" this year and loved it)

  8. as a complainer and generally "negative" person I feel DEEPLY VINDICATED by this video. (also I feel kind of starstruck. the guerrilla girls. wow.)

  9. Hey! You should do a video on photography as an art form or a video on photographers such as Andreas Gursky, Lewis Baltz, Gregory Crewdson, Cindy Sherman etc.
    Currently in the middle of a fine art degree and i'm focusing on photography and I think it would be interesting to see you discuss the subject!
    (Really enjoying your videos btw)

  10. Why should John sit this one out?

  11. This would probably be more effective if I didn't already know that much of their complaints and statistics are misnomers. Take the wage gap at 2:36 for example. That 77% number should elicit an eye roll from anyone who does statistics professionally, or even has a decent understanding of quantitative analysis. We know for a fact that women are much less likely to work overtime, they tend to choose social work over higher paying jobs such as those in the STEM fields, and the share of stay at home mothers has only been rising, from 23 percent in 1999 to 36% leaving the labor force in 2013.
    The 77% statistic takes the total earnings of women and compares them to the total earnings of men. When taking the aforementioned variables into account its no wonder why women earn less.. its not due to discrimination. If businesses could get the same work for less by hiring women you would see businesses almost exclusively hiring women because it would be much more lucrative.

  12. ok got it, so the response i am supposed to give is to shut up.

  13. Oh man, I'm going to have the worst choice overload for this one

  14. Damn you! Damn you all to hell! (anyone get the reference?)

  15. YES. Complaining in an art form also gives a really positive outlet for what is essentially a pretty negative feeling. Love this assignment, wish I could see the tate modern installation!

  16. This put a smile on my face!

  17. YES Guerrilla Girls!!! So happy the Art Assignment is pairing up with them! This assignment reminds me so much of the women's art Arthur meme http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hannah-hill-arthurs-fist-embroidery-feminism_us_57f50239e4b04c71d6f12c56

  18. This is great! I love the guerrilla girls!

  19. I really don't remember the last time I was THIS excited to see a video in my subscriptions feed! Thanks so much, Sarah and the Guerrilla Girls!

  20. Talking about a savvy complainer, there is this gaming critic/YouTuber called MrBTongue who uses "the power of complaining" to make amazingly entertaining videos about the criticism in games and the gaming culture.
    He has even done this with a few movies as well.

  21. This is incredible. I am so inspired to see Sarah's intellect combined with the Guerrilla Girls' bravery and demand for justice and equality. This makes me so so happy.

  22. I think the important part here is the creative part of creative complaining.

  23. Hi! i just had a little suggestion for you….what about a video on pretentiousness??? My friends tend to refer to the exhibitions i take them to as plainly pretentious and we´ve gotten to a point where i no longer know what it actually means….it´s meaning has certainly expanded way past "pretending to be something without being it". I think it is a term often thrown around with a little too much ease by people not to understanding of contemporary art practices.
    (excuse how extremely pedantic my comment is)
    Lastly, i lLOVE your videos.

  24. LOLOL "John, you should sit and listen"
    John: I agree.
    fave.

  25. If John is just going to sit silently and listen, why is he even in the video in the first place? I get that you want the message of the video to come from a woman, as it lends a bit more weight to the argument presented, but if you're just going to say "Okay John, you're a man so shut up and listen" why have him there at all?

  26. The problem I usually see when people complain about lack of talking about women artists on history is that most of the times, they just complain about the number of men without ever saying one single woman's name. Complaint complete. You make them known. That's one thing I like about this group, though I don't know that to generally think of them. (Here's a name for you: Artemisia Gentileschi, barroque style painter. I chose her because I'm currently studying the barroque at history of art and culture at school).

  27. I am so curious as to their identities. If I could just figure it out from their voices…I'd be some sort of voice-whispererr? They sound very cool anyway, I love what they do!

  28. The students of my alma mater are trying to have our university president removed from office for being a roadblock to diversity and acceptance on our campus. Today begins a week of protest, so this assignment is perfect. We have SO much to complain about. I will keep everyone updated on the tumblr. Fight injustice everyday!

  29. I love that they were open to doing this episode. 😀

  30. Frieda kahlo recently spoke at my university; I've been annoyed since then that I didn't work up to courage to ask why they're happy with teh term 'women artists' as opposed to 'female artists'. I see female as a descriptor, you can use it the same way you do male, it makes it not a big deal that you are a woman and an artist – which surely is the more politically correct and equal way of thinking about it? no one would ever use the phrase 'man artist'.

  31. (Oh, and 'complaining'? That is a sign of great glamour. Only the glamorous complain. Did you not see that one coming? OK, fine, just delete my comment so you don't hafta deal with it. Seriously. Ergh, I am so tired of complaining in the comment world, so read Lovink on 'Comment Culture' if you haven't already.)

  32. Guerilla Girls! I am starstruck! <3

    Here's my response! http://kathteamonroe.tumblr.com/post/154038800136/theartassignment-theartassignmentresponses-my

  33. Nobody Knows You're in Pain Unless You Complain.

  34. génial!

  35. I hate patriarchy

  36. I protest bras.

  37. Here we fucking go again, white people taking away the voices of minorities and speaking for them…

  38. Wait now I have to wonder if rupual came up with the word herstory or the guerilla girls……

  39. This is very cool but the masks freak me out

  40. Are there women of color in guerilla girls? Because if not, I can't help but think they're somewhat hypocritical, so I really hope that isn't the case

  41. This was so fantastic!

  42. …"girlrillas" if you will.

  43. This is a fascinating idea. 💜

  44. Does anyone else think that she strongly resembles Emily Prentiss? 😂 But anywhoooo, awesome video. Love this channel!!

  45. "stale male pale Yale"

  46. Her name is Käthe Kollwitz- not Kathe. Please pronounce properly!!! #hessartadvisory

  47. Wow….. seriously though.

  48. #theartassignment

    My little poem <3:

    when I hate,
    that means that I am awake,
    be quiet,
    and let me sleep.

  49. Yes many worthy women artists weren't/aren't recognised (a legitimate complaint) – but merit tied to identity can also be problematic (another legitimate complaint) – true equity will come when the art is allowed to speak on its own merits – then we can complain about something else.

  50. Why not showcase the amazing art they isn't getting seen, rather than just insist that it isn't being seen because of bigotry? Instead of seeing amazing art, we are treated to visual aids promoting a political agenda, propaganda on a pedestal. OK. Fine. But what happened to the art of the unseen artists this was supposed to be about? Where's THAT?

  51. is it just me or was her saying " just sit out for this one" kinda odd….. i mean if you didn't want him in the video then why put him in it, or did they just want to show a girl telling a boy to shut up ?…. if he cant talk about female artists because he has a dick then we as a society have a problem, and if so, then why can she unpack a male artist? she doesn't know what its like to have a dick. so my point is, who cares if he has a dick.

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