By Katie Ward
Poynter Fellow in Journalism Molly Crabapple captivated a small audience Wednesday night in Linsley-Chittinden Hall as she described her transition from staff artist at a high-class New York nightclub to drawing conflict zones in Iraqi-Kurdistan and Guantanamo Bay. Crabapple’s memoir, Drawing Blood, will be released on December 1st. In the eponymous Yale talk, the do-it-all artist, journalist, and activist criticized aged conceptions of journalism while laying bare an openly subjective, thoughtful future.
Crabapple began drawing politically during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 at the same time she sketched the class warfare present at a nightclub frequented by bankers and staffed by the other side. Her protest posters drew interest, and she continued drawing scenes of arrests amidst the protests, the New York courts, and ultimately, the story of her own arrest. The shock of her own arrest prompted Crabapple to write an op-ed published by CNN, which led to her breakout reporting project traveling with journalist Laurie Penny to Athens to report on the euro crisis. Discordia, a collection of Crabapple’s illustrations accompanying essays and interviews, kick started Crabapple’s move into drawing crises she saw as too big and too overwhelming for realistic journalism to accurately represent.
Throughout the talk, Crabapple demanded a new form of journalism, one that tells stories hand-in-hand with the owners of stories. Art can bypass censorship- as seen from Crabapple’s pointed replacement of prisoner’s faces she was prevented from drawing in Guantanamo Bay with grotesque emoticon-like images, and art can describe emotion that is non-comprehendible in ways the explicit nature of writing or photography never can. Above all, art is passionate by nature, and Crabapple urged the need for that passion in all lives, and condemned authoritative obedience as a zero sum game.
Crabapple’s award winning art formed the backdrop for the event, as she spoke about art’s potential to be more subjective than other forms of visual journalism. In Crabbaple’s words, “the notion of the audience is dead.” Social media has enabled the passive audience to reach out and voice their stories without needing an intermediary, and stories can talk back and tell their own side. In today’s constant barrage of the video and photography of violence, art has unique potential to strip away the numbing information flow by being unabashedly subjective. The objective, serious tone of professional journalists increasingly clashes with the nature of the new, involved audience, but art offers an intimate, wholly opinionated interaction with the viewer of a different sort. Objectivity, the neutral reporting of facts, has been irreparably painted with the emotions of billions of tweets, texts, and posts from the ground zero of news.
With this new phenomenon of a deeply involved audience, Crabapple sharply decried the idea romantically underlying conceptions of journalism of giving a voice to the voiceless, declaring that everyone has a voice, and it is either silenced or ignored. Crabapple described how her experience as a model, where she was paid to be an object, taught her there was no such thing as an object, and no such thing as a subject. While journalism attempts to maintain emotional distance from events, art embraces that emotion instead of rejecting it. Crabapple maintained that art depicts stories in events, particularly conflict zones, that words and documentation can not adequately convey alone. Through drawing, Crabapple allows a medium for the voices of her depictions to reach out as more than facts by showing their dreams, struggles, and hope alongside their form.
She inspired me to try to be more of a rabble rouser,” Sophie Ruehr ’18 said, reflecting on Crabapple’s nontraditional route to success. The charismatic, inspiring Crabapple brought passion and critical insight into how we as a society dare to look or ignore stories, and how art can reveal truth through its subjective lens.
Katie Ward is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.