Ana + Corinne SP

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Social Practices in Art Fall 11

Brainstorming

Here is what we considered for the conversation assignment:

1. Meet and Judge Each Other. Plan two times and places to meet up on campus. Wear different things each time, perhaps changing clothes, hair, make-up, accessories, jewelry, etc. Each article we decide to put on should be something we would feel comfortable wearing on any given day. Wearing a pajama onesie with dinosaurs on it wouldn't exactly give the interviewee a wide enough range of information to pull from in order to judge us. (Not that I don't have one.) Take thorough notes, describing any perceivable aspects of that person, including the immediate and more thought out. Such as: -What exactly are they wearing? Be descriptive.
-Likes/Dislikes. What are they into? What do they study? (Don't ask them, just extrapolate/ASSUME.)
-Attitude, beliefs, perspective
-Daily routine. What time do they wake up? What time do they go to bed?
-What is their family like?
-What kind of eater are they? What does their diet consist of?
-Are they collected and calm or airheady and inarticulate? And what could this mean?
-Personality and sense of humor
-What kind of friends do they have?

2. Separate and write up a brief summary and description for each. I'm not sure about whether it would be better to share the information after the whole process is over, or if it doesn't make a difference.
3. Go into town and scope out someone to judge us. Introduce ourselves and describe the project. Have one person be judged at a time by the stranger, while the other one is the scribe. Switch roles with the same stranger. Let awkward pauses happen, waiting for the stranger to jump in. Even though it may feel rude and uncomfortable. Do this a few times, and compile about 5-10 responses per person, depending on how in-depth each one is and how many people we get to agree to it.
4. Repeat step 3 wearing the second outfit/collection of things we chose during step 1.
5. Share results. Talk about the themes and the most recurrent assumptions. Talk about why they are either common or uncommon associations or assumptions. What people looked at first to judge, maybe how the assumptions changed as time passed, other things we noticed.
6. How are the strangers' responses similar to ours? How are they different? Why?

Final Plan

Go into town twice. Day 1; Walmart and Hannaford. Ask shoppers and employees what they think of Bennington College students. Day 2; Downtown Bennington (Izabella's Eatery, South Street, Bennington Bookstore, Gamer's Grotto, Crazy Russian Girl's Bakery, Chocolate Store, Tanning Salon, street). Ask customers, employees, walkers and wanderers to judge us based on our appearances and their first impressions of us. ("What kind of people do you think we are? Personality, behavior, likes, dislikes, etc.") In both cases we will start by briefly describing the project. We decided that judging each other before we headed out into town is problematic. Although we don't know each other very well, we know enough, and we think that the first assumptions/judgments would not be as genuine as those of the strangers on the street judging us.

Responses

Corinne: Day 1, where we asked strangers what they thought about Bennington College students was a good preparation for day 2. Some were hesitant to share opinions about the college and its students--when they noted Bennington College's reputation for eccentric students, they quickly remarked that regardless of our peers, Ana and I seemed perfectly normal and nice. The problem with asking people in these stores was that many of the shoppers were not from the area and had zero opinion of Bennington college students.

Comparing day 1 to day 2, people were more open to telling us what they thought about our appearances. Interestingly enough, they grouped both of us together. Although quite a number of people were questioned, opinions hardly varied. Some observations (some right, some wrong):
1. We were smart
2. We were in college
3. We were well off or came from a privileged background. One person noted that we may have gone to a competitive high school
4. We were attractive
5. We were open and friendly--especially because we made eye contact
6. We were stylish and aware of fashion trends
7. We were friends and got along together well
8. We most likely drove rather than walked
9. We spent time on our hair
10. We were from an urban environment

One individual in particular (at Gamer's Grotto) pinpointed our personalities decently well. Speaking about me, she noted that my favorite color was pink (I wasn't wearing pink), I liked sequins, I got angry at anyone who stood in the way of me and my comfort levels, and I valued function in my clothing. Eerily spot on!

Ana: People were the most hesitant to participate in Walmart, and least hesitant downtown. The clientele of Walmart shoppers is generally of lower class which probably contributed to their discomfort. A lot of people said no to us there. Also, a good portion of the people we asked were from nearby towns, coming to get groceries, and didn't know much about the college. In general, the responses were mixed. One man thought Bennington students used to be considered very hippie, but are blending in better now. A lot of them thought we were just fine, or just like any other college students, or very nice. A few people mentioned that they don't see students often and wish we would be more involved in the community. Then a husband and wife said they have a student working for them who is intelligent and very friendly and active. A young boy (14) in particular, very strongly dislikes us Bennington students. A particularly humorous quote:
"They’re annoying, They’re headaches. They’re a pain in the ass. I don’t like sitting on the bus with them. Hearing someone talk the whole time you’re on the bus while you’re trying to hold your ears is kinda bad. And then there’s the gay one. Talking in his weird voice. “So what’d you do today?” So annoying. And hearing them talk about something for half an hour. And then you’ve got the kids who overdramatically explain the directions when you’re lost in the college. And then you’ve just got one that says “follow the light.” What am I gonna follow the light to? Heaven? That was horrible. That kid was high or something. I don’t know. And then you talk to the security guards. They seem cool. They don’t go out of their way to bust kids. And then you’ve got the girls. Seriously, they just ignore me. Hey, you know how to get outta here? They just walk on by. You go to the college and it’s its own city. I sat there for like 20 minutes under a tree listening to someone play the clarinet. I actually try not to associate with them. They think they know it all and they’re judgmental. I was listening to some kids talk about this one kid who thinks he knows it all at Spanish who apparently makes up his own words. They’re douchebaggin’ bitches."

One older woman, a Bennington graduate, talked about how Bennington College has contributed to making the town more liberal and tolerant over time, making a better environment for the residents. She also mentioned going to the CAPA opening and leaving hopeful and optimistic. She then gave us her email address so we can tell her how the project went.

Downtown, we asked people to tell us what kind of people they thought we were based on our appearances and the presentation of ourselves. We kept getting similar responses, and in addition to what Corinne listed, these included:
-We are bright, intelligent, open (eye contact, smiles)
-I take myself very seriously, confident, professional (I wore a blazer that affected almost everyone's judgments, and I can't decide if I should have left it at home. It definitely was interesting to see how one article of clothing really does completely change how you are perceived.)
-I am organized
-I am classy (Because of my pearl earrings. Same girl said I am the type that likes flowers on an anniversary)
-We value function in clothes/accessories (scarves, walking shoes, etc.)
-We are fashion-conscious
-We are well off financially
-We may be art students

Conclusions

Corinne: For one, it shocks me how fast people make assessments about others. It also shocked me how willing people were to share. I wondered if they were tailoring their thoughts though. If anyone thought something negative they certainly didn't dare share it! Although these are only surface judgments, they affect a person's attitude towards you. Additionally, clothes and body language play a huge role in how people think of you. To get an accurate judgment I wore a typical outfit, but I wonder what would have happened if I changed my appearance drastically beforehand.

Also, the more people Ana and I asked, the less awkward it became. It was actually a really great experience. How people view me is something I've always wondered but never thought I could know.

Ana: This was a successful and enjoyable project. Like Corinne said, and as I expected, people generally lumped Corinne and I into one person and judged us as a unit. I think this is because we look similar in a lot of ways--hair color, height, size, clothes. Only a couple of people judged us as individuals. I thought it was interesting that when asking about Bennington students, responses often reflected their thoughts/judgments about our appearance, and when asking about ourselves, responses often reflected their thoughts/judgments about the college.

I love the level of anxiety that this question produces. It's so funny. Everyone judges everyone else, but we're too scared of confrontation, scared to insult or say anything negative. I would be so excited if someone asked me to participate in this survey. As we started to feel more comfortable approaching people, their responses were generally more thorough, and I think they also felt less intimidated because we were less awkward about it. Like Corinne, I also wore what I would call "normal" clothes. I did not get dressed specifically to interview people, but I wore what I would any other day, what I felt comfortable in.

I feel like most people got me wrong. I know there is no right or wrong answer, and that their responses are purely first impressions and based on appearance and have their own weight and importance for that reason, but it is only instinctual to compare what they thought I am like to what I am actually like. One person got pretty close: "I wouldn’t say you’re particularly wealthy, but I think you are creative with your resources. I’d say you’re a creative person. I see how you’ve put together what you’re wearing mindfully. You are a benevolent person because of how you’re smiling and your eyes. I see you’ve got a rock on a string hanging from your neck, which makes me think you enjoy nature, and have a longing for spirituality, but not necessarily religion. You look like you work really hard. You look a bit tired. You look like a messy person who tries not to look messy most of the time. You probably are studying art."