Short film about Chris Ware: "I distinctly remember being told by my teachers, if you draw women, you're colonizing them with your eyes"


It sounds interesting, and IMO there is a lot here to think about. My problem with most “male gaze” theory is that I encounter it being used as sound-bites, more sort of rhetorical blocks and bludgeons than starting points for meaningful discussion. Like most things discussed in popular media, it quickly leads to subsequent questions (very good) which hardly anybody engages with (rather unfortunate).

“I distinctly remember being told by my teachers, if you draw women, you’re colonizing them with your eyes,”
“Do you not draw women and then maintain an allegiance to some sort of experience that only you have had? Or do you try to expand your understanding and your empathy for other human beings?”

Is everybody colonizing these people with their eyes, or only Ware? How do you know whether or not the people you are drawing are women? How is this exclusive sort of experience any different than anything else in art which is meant to be representational? Does Ware also colonize men, squid, toasters, emotional states? How or why do “human beings” deserve some special status?

FWIW these are questions I have confronted in my own work (music and video) and further encouraged me to avoid representation and egoistic personal expression (in favor of mathematics and abstraction). But I still see it play out in the culture at large.

Reminders about colonialism and people’s often utilitarian interactions are definitely worth getting people to consider. I am interested in what, in-depth, his teacher was getting at. But instead I am guessing it comes down to more controversy of a consensus of whether “this is important” versus “this is whining” rather than ever getting into how such processes work on a functional level.



I wonder too… In my experience of art school, some things are said to students in an effort to put them on a “corrective course,” to suggest to them that the world of media that you’ve ingested up to that point (I’m assuming a 20-something student) has been fraught with… unfortunate cultural baggage. It’s totally legitimate to question whether it’s great for ladies in art/comics to mostly be drawn by men, etc. The problem comes when it seems like its a blanket prohibition: never do this or never do that. In that case, teachers are using a shorthand that is really damaging to young minds, when nuance would be more appropriate. (I also think there is a lot of unfortunate dogma in art school, and it could have just been that)

Though it is not nearly in the same league of controversy, I remember undergrad painting teachers saying, “never use black paint.” This is meant with the best intentions: as a beginner, it can be a challenging pigment since it tends to muddy all your colors, but people in my painting classes would take this to heart and literally never use black again. When I got to gradschool, the record was set straight: yes, you can use black paint, it’s just another color. Haha, I don’t know if this anecdote is helpful at all.



Hmmm, what a wonderfully thought-provoking segment.

Thanks for the challenge Boingboing.

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Yes, artists should only paint self-portraits, and authors should only write about what they did that morning.

Which is to say, no, that doesn’t make any sense.



What the heck is “colonizing them with your eyes” supposed to mean? I can imagine there are a bunch of ways of interpreting that, many of which could be completely counter to what the teacher said. I think it means you put your own interpretation into the art you’re creating, which seems to be one of the least surprising thing ever said about art and artists. But correct me if I’m wrong.



Because it was thirty years ago, delivered to a twenty-year old, and sounds like a ridiculous oversimplified caricature of an idea that is actually not totally insane if you are able to think about it with half an ounce of nuance instead of knee-jerk reaction? (Also because it’s clearly a bait-y headline of the “lets get feminist outrage clicks” variety?)

Like believe it or not, there’s nothing in the statement “if you draw women, you’re colonizing them with your eyes” that says “never, ever draw a woman or you are evil,” which seems to be what everyone is reacting to because this is ground zero for male freeze peach nerdrage. But the male gaze is a real thing, male (and white) author/artists receiving accolades for their graphic interpretations of female (and non-white) stories while actual female (and non-white) creators struggle to have their artistic voices heard is a real thing, and if you can’t deal with “hey maybe consider the position of societal power you have over people who are the subject of your artwork and how that affects said artwork” then maybe you’re a shitty artist. But I grant that I wouldn’t have been able to suss that out during undergrad, so I’m accepting that the message didn’t get through at that time (if ever) and is now remembered as a single shocking sentence in isolation–misremembered or misinterpreted.


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In his prime my father could colonize an entire room with his flatulence.



I think we do, actually. White guys who only write about other white guys are rightly lambasted.



Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.



The bit about “never using black” is a helpful. I am not sure either of us actually do blogs right. We are supposed to be indignant about something all the time. I am told that and kittens is what keeps the lights on. But thanks, anyhow.

In fact, I think Chris Ware has done what he set out to do. His drawings are the exact opposite of superhero strips with absurdly bulging people in central positions. Instead, he seems to place exactly the same emphasis on people, plants, animals, and things. This reminds me of Hergé (though the style is very different). Even camera images rarely have that impersonal, flat quality (that sounds a bit rude, but it is a good thing for me). If he can do that, he can draw what he likes.

For anyone in Art School, there is a good quote from Douglas Bader…

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”



Spot on. +1



Next band name found !!



Well said!



Would love to get more into Ware, but I tire of holding a magnifying glass. It’s drawn/published too small for me to enjoy. I know that’s supposed to be part his style/charm but it hurts. I’ve clipped his New Yorker covers to add to my Awesome Artists collection of same, however.

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I envy this chap his brush control. That is a nice tip he’s keeping there, and a very light touch.



For what it’s worth…I grew up in a family, an era, and a region in which sex was THE forbidden subject. What messages I got about sex were about “girls” and the message was: “Danger! Hands off!” Women=sex=forbidden. This programming was so effective that when I began drawing comics in elementary / middle school I was literally afraid to draw female characters. I feared I’d get in trouble simply drawing a woman. I suppose this is partly why I’ve always had trouble drawing women. The only point to the story, I guess, is that even random comments during formative periods can have an oversized influence on artistic development.



Chris Ware literally spends almost the entire video talking about this exact topic?



If you sketch naked models, are you planting exploitative resource mining operations?



“Oh, you know what Bill’s doing? He’s going for that anti-feminist dollar. That’s a good market. He’s very smart.”



Everyone has their own perception of the people and things around them. The White gaze, or the orientalist gaze, or the male gaze seems to me like it is primarily a way to criticize people not for what they are doing, but for what you assume they are thinking. It would be easier to take the argument seriously if it were evenly applied, and not subject to fashionable trends in perceived oppression/victimhood status.
For me, some of this still goes back to the Kimono controversy, where the act of touching or looking at a piece of silk, if perpetrated by a White person, was considered to have been done in an “orientalist manner”, and as such, is terribly offensive.
The most recent graphic novel I purchased was one that was recommened here, The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. I admit that I am a huge fan of both Jacques Tardi and Edward Gorey, but the vast majority of graphic novels in our house were not authored by White males. We have a whole shelf of Shigeru Mizuki.
Before I responded to this post, I looked to see what the top selling and most recommended Graphic novels are today. There really do seem to be a wide diversity of authors. I don’t know what percentage of aspiring graphic novelists are female, but there do seem to be quite a few that have seemed to overcome the

And find themselves in most of the top 10 lists. When I do a google search for “best graphic novel”, the first one that pops up is Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel.