S____T Animals?*


My friend Leslie Newton and I are teaching a Spirit Animal workshop at the San Antonio Art League tomorrow, and I’ve been practicing!
I chose to experiment with the “slab method” of construction. It’s just what it sounds like. You roll out a slab of clay and cut out a shape. I made a paper pattern of a generic beastie with a neck and four legs, rolled out the slab, then textured it with a cool spiral wooden pattern tool.
The clay was all floppy, so I invented the  Belisle Toilet Paper Roll Animal Hanger/Dryer Box and draped him over it to shape him up. Necessity is the mother of invention, and he was too wet to stand up on his own.
Here are two of his cousins in the dryer box:
I used different methods of texturing the slabs – here is a rubber mat made for that purpose:
I cut out ears and tails to be attached later.
Everything was fired, and then assembled. I put walnut ink on this first fellow, and here is the result.
He’s whimsical and aardvark-like, and although don’t know what “spiritual characteristics” he might symbolize, he’s pretty cool. Now, onto the big question . . . . . .
*Why did I call this post “S____T Animals?”
Because that term is apparently very controversial. Here is a message I received from someone about the title and subject of this workshop shortly after I announced it:
Hi Lyn.  I just wanted to share this article with you, explaining why “spirit animal” is a harmful term. https://www.spiralnature.com/spirituality/spirit-animal-cultural-appropriation/
It was kind of a shock to realize that I was unintentionally indulging in serious cultural appropriation by using the term “spirit animal” which is all over pop culture. Living in San Antonio, we have such a blend of peacefully co-existing cultures here that I have truly not though enough about this.
What are your thoughts? It’s not a debate, just an enlightening discussion about how we can be more culturally sensitive in our art.

21 thoughts on “S____T Animals?*

  1. Your clay creations are just that…whimsical!! That article is quite enlightening, I will be more mindful. Gracias!

  2. Hmmm. it just leaves me wondering how not to offend people, cultures and societies when when using terms in an innocent manner? Your creations to me are and can be interpreted as Spirit Animals even though you are not part of an indigenous culture. Just my opinion…

  3. To begin, let me say that I try to live my life with thoughtfulness and respect for people as individuals and as members of any culture. But I think it is interesting that, in the comments, the author admits that the term “spirit animal” is difficult to define and disputes that other tribal cultures’ practices include spirit animals. So, in effect, her position is that the term is elusive to define but it belongs exclusively to members of an Indigenous tribe whose practices include spirit animals, and no one else should not use the term. I respect her view and I agree that pop culture and silly social media quizzes etc. demean the term, but I think her article is not persuasive. Show me a concrete example of how a person’s use of the term “spirit animal” automatically makes that person a racist. We are bombarded these days with accusations of systemic racism, and we are becoming more and more constricted in our speech, our celebrations, our art, our thoughts, and now even our spirituality. I would ask this of the author and others who see systemic racism in everything: Instead of automatically being offended at every perceived slight, why not consider whether that person–that human with as many frailties as you yourself possess–truly intended to harm you and appropriate your culture, or did that person intend to appreciate your culture. Mutual respect advances our understanding of each other, human to human. Continual castigation does not.

  4. I am with Drita and Linda on this one. It is impossible to live without offending someone. Being outraged or offended should be reserved for times when it is done intentionally. We used to accept that everyone is entitled to their own opinion whether we agreed with them or not. Perhaps we should all work on looking at the good things in the world instead of the next thing we find personally offensive.

    • I talked to some friends today at lunch about this – we are all human, and all human culture derives from the same instinct to create. It seems a shame not to be influenced by the abundance and richness of cultural millenia – it’s a fine line.

  5. Interestingly thought provoking with valid points. I’m not sure I agree with every point but I will think twice before throwing the term around.
    I wonder what a person who is truly into the cultural practice thinks.
    Many of us use the term with no intention to demean or take away from the real practice of spirit animals.
    Thank you for sharing this

    • We are not claiming to have invented the concept – but I have to say, when I see people on Etsy copying my Shard faces and even taking the descriptions from my pages, I want to cry “cultural appropriation” – LOL – maybe a culture of one 🙂 – is there such a thing as “creative appropriation”?

    • Lyn it also seems these creations embody the spirit of the person who created them and in that respect rightfully can be called spirit animal……wish I was closer to attend the workshop…cheers

  6. The word “spirit” is derived from the Latin word meaning breath which is fundamental to being alive. It seems to me that you are breathing life into the clay in the form of your “animals”. They have their own personalities and are mythical and whimsical. You don’t set out to tell each artist what “animal” to create. Just like other art the resulting figure is given “breath” by its own art creator. I am sorry the term can be interpreted as offensive to some.

  7. My husband is in a men’s group and each man has a spirit animal. It is not a religious thing but very spiritual. I personally don’t think of this as pop culture but the spiritual part of each of us. I love the idea of spirit animals and I hope you keep the name of your clay beings as spirit animals. Cindy

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