The Art Beyond Labels

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Labels can separate or liberate a nation but are they also holding us from true unity?

Throughout history, labels have been used to sort people out into specific categories. Whether it be through religion, skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, we all have labels. Though, at times, it can be a relief to find a label that fits, why does it cause distress in the first place? With the help of local artist, believer in equality, and photographer for Cville Pride for many years, Jacob Canon, we aim to focus on what life is like beyond the labels.

In the past there have been many examples and studies showing what labels can do, such as the well known, brown-eye blue-eye experiment one teacher did on her students. In the study she separated her students by eye color. Whichever group the teacher said was superior tended to be treated better and did better on tests. How we label an individual, and then treat them based on those labels, can greatly influence how well a person does in life? Now, as a society we can’t as a whole get rid of labels all together, but we can focus on them less.

As a person who strives to remove labels in his own life, Jacob say he, “enjoys the energy of what it is to be human.” Jacob “grew up in the 60s and 70s during a time when America focused on being more inclusive.” This inclusiveness can be seen throughout his work and everyday life.

Jacob canon

Jacob acknowledges that while his physical appearance him as a white male, he looks to correct those notions when he is engaged in conversation. “I think of myself as a reality merchant.  In my formative years, while living in the suburbs of DC, I went to school with the rainbow and learned that many of society’s stereotypes were just wrong.”

When asked what advice he would give an artist in the LGBT community, he responded “I’m going to go broader than that because labels bother me.” He continued to say wherever you find yourself in society, “don’t be bound by preconceived ideas or the ‘labels’ that society has assigned. Never stop looking, and always be aware.  Use your own mind and think for yourself.”

    It’s fine to acknowledge our labels, but we don’t have to be owned by them. In today’s world, many tend to focus more on those labels than the individual they represent.  Jacob summed it up by saying that “[People] seem to spend so much time trying to tear others down by looking to find imperfections or ‘chinks in the armor,”‘ but those who are willing to be themselves, and allow others the same opportunity, “warts and all,” shows a braveness and sense of character he finds rare.

We all hope, just like Jacob, that we can learn to focus less on the fine print of our labels and more on perfecting the art of being bold and without labels.

Jacob canon business card

Want to learn more about the studies mentioned above? Read this PBS video.

To see some of Jacob’s work, visit Fellini’s in Downtown Cville! The installation is up until the end of February.



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