Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10 reasons why art journaling is BAD for women

OK - odd title for someone who has recently proclaimed love for this form -  but bear with me here. Let me explain myself a little more, before you run at me with your glitter-tipped calligraphy pens!

I am admittedly a little slow on the uptake here, as art journaling (do check out my Pinterest board, to see the sort of stuff that I love... and that drives me nuts all at the same time) has been hot stuff for the past few years now. I have been a little preoccupied with something called "having babies" to be a fully signed up embossing goddess complete with heat gun and die cutter.

I have just started art journalling, having gotten over my fear of the unknown and taking part in a uber creative women's course at - wait for it, y'all - the Cosmic Cowgirls University!!!! (Where else but on the interweb!)

There is so much I want to love, even do love about the CONCEPT of art journaling. I'm loving doodling, drawing and adding paint to my journal. I love adding color and images. I love freeing myself up from just writing - the creative mind and subconscious adore to have less linear forms of expression.

BUT ...

and this is a big but (t!!!)...

The more examples of it I see out there, the more I get this sick feeling in my stomach. It suddenly occurred to me that art journaling, whilst an art form that seeks self expression and is propounded by well-meaning women as a form of much needed "therapy" for so many women, is actually NOT a good thing, and here's why...

1) It's all so cutesy - we're women, not girls... yet art journaling fashions seem to be creating a Disnification of our imagery and feelings, endless cute little girls and hearts and butterflies.

2) It's material intensive - which costs lots of money and gets women into building up stashes, not that different to building up wardrobes or make up collections, it just another way of commodifying women's desire for beauty.

3) It's time intensive - art journaling techniques take a long time to create something personal - taking time that could be used for more "productive" creativity, creativity that can make you money, that you can hang on your wall, give to your friend... put your work out there ladies, rather than keeping it all in your journals.

4) They don't seem about writing - in fact many of the techniques I have seen suggest gessoing over your writing and just using a couple of pithy phrases - as though the words don't matter.

5)Journals are supposed to be private - art journals seem made for show - and therefore lack real depth.

6) So much of the "wisdom" in them is trite Facebook type quotes, nice aphorisms that don't hold much personal truth.

7) It's very "perfectionist" - the lettering, images etc are all "perfect", not doodles or works in progress.

8) Homogenity - journals are supposed to be individual expressions of our inner journey - most art journaling is not.

9) Self-absorption - spending THAT much time obsessing with your diary aint healthy. There's a whole world out there.

10) Have I mentioned all the hearts and flowers and cutesy girls? They REALLY get me. We are more than that.

In sum, my problem is this: that much art journaling seems to keep women small, rather than supporting them in their bigness. It seeks to prettify, rather than encourage the messy and the true. It seeks to commodify, and to nicen a woman's voice. This makes me very uncomfortable. But let me state here, that it may well not be the teachers of this art, but women doing this TO THEMSELVES. They are so used to making things good, happy, nice and right, that nothing else is deemed possible or desirable...

In my view, women's journals should be... (ouch, I know, "should", but, in for a penny, in for a pound)...

1) Personal

2) Exploratory

3) Allowed to be messy

4) Places for questions, more than answers

5) Full of real women's imagery (see my board on feminine symbology)

6) Full of real women's words, thoughts and feelings...

7) Places for speaking the unspeakable, thinking the unthinkable, drawing the taboo, challenging our own status quo, deep inquiry...

8) They should be places where women get to be women - not little girls.

9) Private - although I'm going to break that rule, as all the images in this post are from my journal!

(Did you spot the vagina? Do you think I got away with it?!!!!)

Rant over.

Your thoughts? Has art journaling saved your life, or is it all a bit twee? Is it keeping women small and girly, rather than helping to empower them?


  1. Very interesting although I was surprised to see the title! I wholeheartedly agree with you about the importance of not keeping women's art cutesy and curtailed.

  2. Sorry, Lucy, can't agree here. Art journaling is only cutesy if you make it that way. It can be done with a minimum of less expensive supplies (although I do have a fun stash that I spent money on and enjoy). The things I make to give away are in a different medium. I don't think art journaling takes that much time to do. Sometimes the visual aspect supersedes what I can express in writing. I have one particular page that says more in two images than I can ever talk about and when I look at it I instantly remember how I felt when I created it. My art journaling isn't cutesy and I don't often share it.

    That said, I have most certainly seen examples that you are describing and there may be an element of girly for some, but not for me. Art journaling has expanded the ways in which I can express myself and process my thoughts and feelings. I still write in my journal too.

  3. This makes me wonder why it's seen as a "women's" thing. Do men not get to have art journals? Do men not want to have art journals? Are men too busy doing "real work"? Or do men just not desire to express themselves this way? Isn't that a bit of a generalization?

    Now that I'm getting all ranty, it's starting to seem like a nice little thing to give a woman a creative outlet that's private and small, which is all they need - very Victorian.

    Also, I think many of your points can be applied to scrapbooking too. Scrapbooking is a huge business here in the US, and women are devoting enormous amounts of time, money, and creativity to making elaborate, ornate, beautiful scrapbooks. Which is lovely, if that's what you want to do, and you end up with a beautiful record of your family's life, but sometimes it all just seems to be a big competition.

  4. Yes, yes, scrapbooking too. And men, art journaling - I've never heard of those two in the same sentence - never seen a man teaching, showing or writing about it...

  5. Nope, I don't agree. I think everyone *should* be able to express themselves in whatever ways they choose in their journal. Art journalling can be for escapism ...somewhere to find pretty and cute in a world that might feel dark and unattractive. Our inner child might like pink and butterflies ...then again they might not. Some people may well want to take their feminist principles to their journal, which is as valid ....but in my mind no more valid.
    I think there's a risk that as women we get into women bashing here ...with those who might follow girly stereotypes being labelled somehow shallow ...but why?
    A journal is one of the few places where people can go to freely do what they want it rage and angst or pretty picture making. I appreciate you might be trying to be controversial here, and it's good to get people thinking, but it can be unhelpful to imply that someone's way of expressing themselves is at some level 'wrong or 'sickly' or 'cliche'.
    I say you want butterflies then have butterflies .... or skulls, or vaginas, or explicit and explosive text. That's the whole point isn't it? Freedom to express and explore as YOU choose rules.
    It doesn't have to be material or time intensive ...that's all personal choice. It seems you're comparing yourself with how others choose to go about making their journals ... but you could do it with as little stuff as you want, in a really short time if you want. Again, there's no rules ...are there?
    I agree with you in that art journals *could* be exploratory and messy, but they can also be an art form in and of themselves. Some people might be more interested in the product, and some only in the process ...both have different merits.
    I've done and enjoyed both equally ...sometime's it's pretty and sweet, and sometimes ugly and messy ...just like life.
    I think you've done a good job of crafting a post that could polarise people :-). I enjoyed it, and think I might even go on to blog about this myself in response, so thanks for sharing.

  6. Replies
    1. Have you heard of Danny Gregory? He's one of the original art journalers-before it became popular.

  7. I enjoyed this post.

    One element that I really agree with is the competitive piece. Since so much of what women share (via public mediums, anyways) is all so similar, it does make me wonder if it's all a true reflection, or just an art competition. I may only be thinking of a few handfuls of women I've seen, but that's the point. If I'm seeing it, it's not private. It may be personal, but my mind reels as to it is that all the at journals I see are almost identical. On Instagram, I see a lot of competing and woes of "my journal is not so cool" or "I wish mine looked like yours". Weird. We certainly don't do that with our personal written journals, but maybe this is a new art form I'm just not fully understanding yet.

    Great post.

  8. Thanks Rachel, sounds like we're on the same page!

  9. Hehehe, you sniffed me out, Samantha, wanted to get a few commenters out of the woodwork. I fully take your point about there being a place for the cute and girly too, absolutely and in honesty no disrespect intended. But when almost ALL the art journaling you see is like that, then something feels wrong for me. I ave no feminist agenda, just a wish for full, free expression for women. Let there be butterflies and angels AND darkness and vulvas, and mess AND beauty....

  10. what vagina? was there a vagina? do you know what Lucy, I've never even heard of art journaling, and I'm not even going to look, incase (like Pinterest) you get me hooked to something else. Now I'm off to look through your post again and see if I can see a vagina x

  11. I spotted it :-) I think scrapbooking and art journalling are 'stuff' traps, especially the former - which is great for all the entrepreneurs setting up in business on the coattails of the latest (primarily) female focussed fads. What do you do with all those completed scrapbooks and journals? As they started to pile up, I realised I could fill the house with these things and all the cardstock, embellishments, pens, books and what have you. I read a piece by Carrie Fisher once, where she was talking about a new fad and how it meant getting all the cute stuff that goes with it - in other words, it's great because you can go shopping. That's what female fads all boil down to - shopping. I think we are more authentic than that and will draw with a broken pencil on the back of a used envelope if there is nothing else handy. Art isn't always pat or pretty. It's having the courage to rip out what's inside of you and put it down in front of you.
    As for the vagina, and the Pinterest link - I like this idea of resplendently using female symbology - yes, I like it very much.

  12. I have to agree with most of what you say. I began to art journal, and bought tons of stash . . . but it never seemed enough, and I thought my pages werent cutting it because of that. I ended up making generic FB quote type ones, and felt even less satisfied. If I did make ones that really spoke to the real me then I wouldnt put them up on my blog or on the net . . . that would be too personal for me. But I get and love the way youve said it in this post!

    now I've kind of given up with the journalling and now have a ton of stash I'm not really sure what to do with! lol!

  13. Thanks all, glad to have a few more on the same page!

  14. Ha! Love this! I've tried to art journal, I really have, but it just ends up being a sketch book!

  15. I enjoyed this post too - it was kind of a surprise as - I didn't know either that art-journalling was a 'thing' or that there would be any kind of etiquette to it... I have been drawing in my journals a little more this year (with just a biro pen, in my writing journal), and some have made it onto my blog - I have found it liberating. I guess if I stop to consider them in the context of this post, they are pretty girly -there are lots of hearts and probably some butterflies and definitely a fairy or two! All of which I 'fess-up to enjoying very much! For me there was never really any consciousness around how challenging my pictures were or could be (to myself or others), or how they might be perceived by others - although I accept that I do like my pictures to be pleasing to my own eye at least (maybe something I could challenge?)... I am totally on board with Samantha Jenkins' comment - and agree that there are no rules when it comes to how we choose to express ourselves. I guess for me what it boils down to is, how authentic the individual feels when they create their art, whatever it be. If you feel authentic, and truthful, and that you are doing 'your thing' and it that lights your own fire, or even just that it does meet your needs in some way, then the fact that you have manifested anything at all, is to me as important as what the subject matter turns out to be, darkness or light, perfection or complete experimentation or something in-between...
    Thank you for your - as ever - thought provoking post!

  16. "I guess for me what it boils down to is, how authentic the individual feels when they create their art, whatever it be. If you feel authentic, and truthful, and that you are doing 'your thing' and it that lights your own fire, or even just that it does meet your needs in some way, then the fact that you have manifested anything at all, is to me as important as what the subject matter turns out to be" - Totally, completely, YES, YES, YES, Moonshine mama - thanks for the comment!

  17. I love this post and all the opinions. Lucy you've invented a new game: Spot the vagina! Perhaps a new pinterest board game for us ... "spot the vagina", and pin the pictures. (Of course O'Keefe is the first artist that wildly comes to mind. I love THIS!!!! xoxo

  18. Thank you for expressing it for me. I loved it all at first but yes, the cutesy stuff got to me and the stamping and cutting out and gessoing. It all seemed rather phony and pointless to me.

    I am not saying that if you cannot draw or paint that you should not use other means to express yourself but it seems to have gotten to be like a production line. Where you make up a bunch of slap dash pages to use later on...and yes the writing part, the self expression part has dropped by the way side.

    There is lots I like about it: the recycling aspect, using cereal boxes and old envelopes, bits of cloth and lace, binding your own book. But too much of it is pre packaged now. Many of the sites that vow to teach you how to journal are just dressed up advertising for this or that product, paint, tag etc.

    Again thanks for exposing this and expressing what was starting to niggle at me.

  19. Ye. I spotted the vagina. Apparently the heart symbol and even the Fish symbol (used by Pagans and Christians alike) are also meant to represent the Goddess / vagina.



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