Artist Emily Fox (EmilyFoxArt.com) grew up in Washington state and came to Utah to attend Brigham Young University, where she received a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking and drawing. She currently works for the Salt Lake Art Center, driving their art truck and visiting elementary schools to talk about art. Her latest exhibit, Princess Religion, is on display at the Sweet Branch of the Salt Lake City Library (455 F St.) through Jan. 7. It explores the cultural perception of women through photos, magazine cutouts, coloring-book pages and dress patterns through the past century, along with Fox’s paintings of the Disney princesses.
What inspired you to do this project?
I’m really interested in how identity is created for people. Especially women—being a woman, I’ve picked up on things that have influenced me and formed my identity. I kind of set myself up for perfection … I think it’s a coming-of-age story. As a youth, you think your life’s going to be a certain way, and you think it’s going to follow a certain pattern that you’ve seen before. And then you have a difficult time adjusting to that. In high school, I ran into some problems with eating-disorder difficulties, and image stuff. I’m very sure I was not the only one. It’s like an epidemic, what young women go through, and so I just like to talk about those experiences to try to understand what’s going on in our systems, in the images, in the visual culture we have going on—how that’s influencing us, to be looking at princess shapes all the time, and then you’re growing up and you’re not that shape, or you’re not engaged to a prince when you’re 16.
Was the exhibit inspired at all by interacting with kids at schools?
I’ve worked with kids my whole life. Last year, I worked at an elementary school, and at my current job I spend the majority of my time talking to kids about art. There are always a couple of kids who are princess-obsessed. And they’re always like, “Look how long my hair is getting.”
What do the older images add to the exhibit?
I’m trying to figure out, where did this come from? Let’s trace it back. What’s going on in the ’50s that’s contributing today? How are those values and concerns that they had still being carried out today, through us? The ’50s are coming from the Victorian time period, and who were they responding to? We are where we are through how women have been portrayed—through art, and then through media. It’s still going. [Women in the ’40s and ’50s were] looking at real women. Little girls today are looking at cartoons that are not real. No one has eyes that big, or a head that’s that much bigger than your body, or a waist that comes down that narrow—that’s not possible. So you might be setting yourself up for trouble. Maybe some girls transition through it just fine. I have a love/hate relationship with that. I still like getting dressed up.
Do you think Utahns are especially susceptible to the princess ideal?
I think I’m responding to living here, with this work. I did put the Salt Lake Temple in the background of the Sleeping Beauty painting. Religion aside, what those weddings look like—you look like you’re getting married in a castle, and you’re in a huge dress, it just looks very fairytale.
What do you hope that people will think about after they visit your exhibit?
I hope that they would think twice about all that princess crap. I hope that they would try to dissect it a little bit: What are the values going into this, what is being emphasized if I let my children participate in this. How do I, in my own head, set myself up for disappointment, or how is this helping me? I don’t think it’s good or bad; it’s how you take it, and I just hope that people would be smart about it. Just think twice about what you are looking at. How does it look? What are you seeing?