Craig Oates

Groups and Categories: Notes on 'Us, Us and Them'


Craig's Practice

All Articles

Us, Us and Them
(Figure 1) 'Us, Us and Them' (2021)

'You can group all white supremacists together, based on being white supremacists, but you can still split the group by separating those for abortion and those against.'

That is a crass comment and it smacked me across the head when I came across it. The comment crossed my path around the time I made 'Us, Us and Them', whilst I was lurking on Hacker News -- a tech. news website/forum. Unfortunately, I lost the URL for the page which hosts said comment so I'm going to declare it as a paraphrased comment.

The essence of the quote is about how we categorise and group things. The categories the person used in their comment were a tad dramatic but the point was easy enough to follow. The hyperbole, also, helped evoke a stronger reaction in me than normal which helped lodge itself into my head. Which is why I can't remember the article but I can remember this. So, good point well made? I'll let you decide that one.

I didn't attach the quote or its idea immediately to the image which eventually became 'Us, Us and Them'. If anything, all it did was remind me of a bit in one of Jason Manford's stand-ups. I don't know if there is an actual name for this bit but the YouTube clip below titles it 'On Hating Each Other'.

(Figure 2) Jason Manford On Hating Each Other. A clip taken from a 'Live at The Apollo' episode. Unfortunately, I don't know which one.

If the video fails to load, I have added a list of the key points Jason made in the video above. I have not transcribed it because he is a bit all over the place, regarding sentence structure, making it difficult to read. Feel free to skip this part if you can watch the video.

  1. I've noticed in this country, basically, everyone hates everybody who's about forty-five minutes away.
  2. Everybody hates the next town/city along.
  3. Manchester and Liverpool hate each other.
  4. Portsmouth and Southampton hate each other.
  5. Glasgow and Edinburgh hate each other.
  6. This hatred changes when viewing someone a little bit further away.
  7. Manchester and Liverpool hate Yorkshire: They (L'pool and Manc.) become the North-West.
  8. The North-West and Yorkshire become Northern and hate Southerners.
  9. Northerners and Southerners become English and hate Scotland.
  10. Scotland and England become British and hate the French.
  11. Britain and France become European and hate America.
  12. The only time humans will be friends is when we get invaded by aliens.
  13. Humans hate the aliens.
  14. 'Coming down here, shagging our woman, with ya three knobs.'

The protractor I used to draw Us, Us and Them.
(Figure 3) The protractor I used to draw 'Us, Us and Them'.

Where I started to make the connection between the comment, video and artwork was when I noticed I used the same protractor for each group (Figure 3). No matter which colour marker I used, there was a sense of connection between them because of this. Some groups were hollow and some included the outer circumference of the protractor. While the variations grew, the groupings grew. Below is a list of some of those groups:

  1. The solids and the hollows.
  2. Those with the outer circumference and those without.
  3. The pink ones and the none pink ones.
  4. The big bundle and the one on its own.

I could continue listing groups and categories but you get the idea. The main point is each group has the ability to pair-up with another. This leads to an escalation of separation. The more you categorise each element the more you weaken their connections to their previous groups. The pink ones are not just the pink ones. Some are now part of the 'solids' and other belong to the 'hollows'. That lonely pink, sitting on its own in the corner, is still a pink and a 'solid'. It is here were the second 'Us' in 'Us, Us and Them' came from.

The reason why it took me a moment to make the connection between the original comment at the start, the video with Manford in it and my artwork is because I started the piece thinking about 'spacial awareness', for lack of a better word. Early on, I was more focused on the space between the lonely pink circle and the other circles and the effect it had on the viewer. I glossed over the use of the protractor. It was a constraint I used so I could focus on drawing a series of images. I viewed this constraint as a 'Rule-Set' not long after starting the first drawing. The idea was to make a series of drawings with different spacial arrangements between the different groups on the page. From there, I envisioned displaying the series by clumping different drawings together and others further apart -- in a gallery of some sort.

Aside: If you want to see the other drawings I made, you can view them in the Us,Us and Them Concepts Sketchbook.

By having the protractor -- and the paper -- as the only real constraints, I started to include pencils alongside the Sharpie markers. I never took to the pairing of pencils and markers, though.

Us, Us and Them Pencil and Pen Example
(Figure 4) A concept sketch for 'Us, Us and Them' using pencils and felt tip markers.

In the middle of me creating of these drawings I had the idea of naming each group of drawings with names like 'Christopher', 'Amy', 'Kerry' and 'Adam' -- the piece hadn't become 'Us, Us and Them' yet. I, also, thought about using names of stereotypical social groups (found on the school yard) like 'the cool kids', 'the losers' and 'the goths'. I chuckled at the idea but I quickly killed it. With that said, this act of grouping the drawings coincided with me reading the comment mentioned at the start of this post. It was here when I started to think I was over complicating the artwork and reduced the series to a single drawing. The categorising, grouping and spacial positioning was all already in the original drawing I made. I, also, felt the first drawing looked the least overworked.

One thing which bothers me about this piece is the disconnect it has with the aforementioned comment and video, regarding their contexts and imagery they invoke. Hopefully, I've managed to steer clear of subjects like white supremacy and abortion with this piece. The main reason why is because I don't know enough about either of those topics to start passing judgements on them, especially in public. With that said, I do find it weird how I took those two things and made this. I wonder sometimes if me steering clear is a failing of the piece. Maybe the piece will forever lack the ability to evoke a strong emotional reaction and lodge itself in your head. Maybe I've reduced this drawing to the same status as that article I can't remember. I guess you will need to make your own mind up on that but it does feel like a bland piece to me, in comparison.