August 6, 2014

"[T]his moronic New Republic thing, 'Liberals Are Killing Art: How the Left became obsessed with ideology over beauty'..."

"... my response to which, based on years of bitter experience with actual kulturkampfers, is basically WTFingF. For the moment I will only mention that author Jed Perl cites absolutely no allegedly art-killing liberals of the present time that you've ever heard of, and that his first references are to Robert Hughes' Culture of Complaint (1993) and Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination (1950), which basically makes me want to say, why don't you and Roger Kimball go back in time and fuck each other on a pile of old New Criterions?"

Roy Edroso reads and reacts to a New Republic essay that I noticed in the middle of the night, between sleeps, endeavored to read, but I nearly lost my mind. I was saved by second sleep, overslept, and awoke refreshed enough to know I didn't ever have to figure out whatever it was Perl meant to say or what nightmares I might have had and forgotten about Lionel Trilling and the rest of the old-time culture-cogitators who beset the minds of old men.

But how old is Perl? Wikipedia tells me he was born in 1951, and I am brought up short. I was born in 1951. "Jed Perl initially trained as a painter." Well, hell, I was initially trained as a painter (not that "trained" is the right verb, but I did squander my undergraduate journey in the painting studios of my university's art school).

I should be sympatico with Perl, but he seemed to be citing all the characters that seemed so important to our parents' generation. I can't believe it matters, but then again, I can't seem to care at all about any art that got made in the 4 decades since I escaped from art school. If Perl knows, he's not expressing it in a form that gets past my filters.


rhhardin said...

It's like what Keats was going on about over the urn.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the wording of "pile of old New Criterions?" The "old" directly preceding "New" just feels clumsy, even jarring. Maybe a "pile of old issues of New Criterion" would've flowed better. As it stands, the wording in question really bothers me. Misguided.

The Crack Emcee said...

"What nightmares I might have had and forgotten about,..."

That reminded me of this - damned good for agitprop,...

Anonymous said...

Terrible Reading Comprehension Guy says:

Althouse states... well, she states a lot of things in this post; I don't understand any of it. But she is obviously choosing to willfully ignore Thomas Kinkade. The Professor needs to keep in touch.

Peter said...

OTOH, Rod Dreher seems smitten.

As best I can tell from Dreher's take on Perl's borborygmi, he's looking for some basis from which to take flight and leave the leaden world of argument and evidence far below.

Michael K said...

Take a walk through the London Museum of Modern Art, as I did with my daughter a couple of years ago. I was unable to stop laughing at some of the exhibits.

One was a board with nails driven into it in the shape of a fish. Then string was wound around the nails. I pitied the curators who have to maintain it.

I didn't see the famous cans of the artist's shit that are leaking or the rotting shark. I think that's another museum.

Fen said...

Never been impressed with modern art. Maybe all the talent is going into movie graphics and multiplayer game design.

When I'm elected dictator, the "artists" will suffer enough to finally produce something worthy. I'll pipe George Bush speeches into the labor camps 24/7

dustbunny said...

The article is certainly unreadable and badly reasoned but Trilling was at least correct in his predictions if Althouse hasen't been able to care about any art for the last 40 years.

richard mcenroe said...

"Well, hell, I was initially trained as a painter (not that "trained" is the right verb, but I did squander my undergraduate journey in the painting studios of my university's art school)."

This is great news! Our barn needs a second coat and I'm scared of ladders. We should talk.

richard mcenroe said...

MichaelK — Gimme a crucified coyote or a guy with a bullwhip handle up his butt. Then you're talking kultur, bay-bee!

And ta think of all the time Da Vinci and Michealangelo wasted learning to draw good. Too bad they didn't have critics back, just Popes and nobles.

buwaya said...

Done before. Wolfe's "Painted Word".
However, having long been a habitue of San Francisco's commercial galleries, its clear that the art actually being purchased by real people is not as silly as most of the high profile stuff. Art buyers seem to have better taste here. But they would, wouldn't they.

Ann Althouse said...

On the urn.

Ann Althouse said...

Ode on a Pile of Old New Criterions.

Unknown said...

Perl's first paragraph lays out his argument. One in which I find myself in agreement--that increasingly political movements are becoming the justification of works of art. It isn't a case against modernism or art becoming self-referential. When Jackson Pollock was splashing house paint on his floor he wasn't doing so in order to make a point about cleaning up the environment. Sure there are lots of artists who make wonderful art that is merely and beautifully self expression. However, museums aspire to expose movements and trends. In order to do so they have created the dreary preaching of political art.

Ann Althouse said...

"As best I can tell from Dreher's take on Perl's borborygmi, he's looking for some basis from which to take flight and leave the leaden world of argument and evidence far below."


Well put!

Ann Althouse said...

"That reminded me of this - damned good for agitprop,…"


I will set aside an hour and watch the whole thing (soon). Thanks.

Ann Althouse said...

"The article is certainly unreadable and badly reasoned but Trilling was at least correct in his predictions if Althouse hasen't been able to care about any art for the last 40 years."

Fact: Tom Wolfe's "The Painted Word" is extremely readable and it never mentions Trilling.


Anonymous said...

I do agree with Edroso that capital markets and their dislocations have really helped to create the Young British Arts movement, the Damien Hirsts, and over here, all those responses to consumer culture like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Celebrity, branding, pop and shock-pop like Lady Gaga trying to mix high and low.

Our culture is tilted more in that direction, then that of say Spain, France, Italy etc. which devote more time to formal arts education according to their own traditions.

The Anglo-American genius for common law, more stable government, and less regulated capital and finance markets often works against the kinds of mastery of drawing and drafting, color and technique etc. that other cultures emphasize.

That said, there are plenty of actual ideologues, from small-town religious ignoramuses who ban books they haven't read, to big-city know-nothings who're quite happy with avant-garde literature and 68er political ideology next to each other the same publication such as the New Yorker and who fancy themselves cosmopolitan (the real appeal is to the salons in the suburbs).

Provide evidence in an article, or just focus on the poems. I would much rather read Pound, H.D. Eliot and critiques of modernism, essays on the Imagistes etc than this culture war crap.

Artists are out there at work, and the really good ones may not even be recognized after death.

Ann Althouse said...

If what Perl is saying is what Tom Wolfe was saying… well, I wouldn't know. I've read Wolfe's book more than once and often go back to it for fun and for nourishment, but Perl's piece is absurdly obtuse. Who can read it?

I started to read it, but I struggled to grasp his thesis and I kept waiting for some concrete evidence to support whatever he was trying to say and then I got mired in all this detail about stuff that happened in the first half of the 20th century. Then I went to sleep, assuming I'd figure it out in the morning. Then I woke up and the nightmare was over. There was no problem that needed to be solved.

Jason said...

I gave up on contemporary art about ten years ago when every stupid idiot libtard artist was painting Abu Ghraib scenes or George Bush as a monster.

Of course, no one ever sold these things, except as public art in taxpayer-subsidized galleries in libraries and the like. I stopped advocating public funding of art of any kind at that point, outside of music and art education in schools.

Is there nothing government can't ruin?

Jason said...

You were trained as a painter? FEH! Now Hitler... THERE WAS A PAINTER!

Unknown said...

"why don't you and Roger Kimball go back in time and fuck each other on a pile of old New Criterions?"
A classic is born

Ann Althouse said...

If you go back in time, are the New Criterions old?

Anonymous said...

So capital markets and open trade and finance work to erode traditional and religious morality. I think that's a pretty legitimate claim. Especially in a city.

But also, for true socialist ideologues, like Bill Ayers and Robert Cook I'm guessing (on this site), the arts go hand-in-hand with an ideological conception of 'liberation.'

Artists want to do their work, and get better. They join colonies and often live in the margins. They can be counter-culture, but not necessarily.

The Cook/Ayers ideology has proven to be pseudo-scientific, unable to make accurate predictions of the empirical world and history, and at the same time quasi-religious, dragging a lot of Christian metaphysics along. It's pretty much unfalsifiable and leads to radical revolution and human misery.

Ayers was a genuine terrorist and radical in his youth, and is now a tenured professor of literature.

Robert Cook offers insightful and interesting criticism of the arts, but in my experience here, reliably blinkered socialist claptrap when it comes to politics

I'd recommend focusing criticism on the contradictions between the demands of the socialist/Marxist ideology, religious doctrine, culture wars etc. and the freedom found in the arts.

Good art doesn't need a master, but people looking for it often benefit when it isn't occluded by the culture wars and political discussions of today.

Hopefully that's happening on the internet, even if Thomas Kinkade shall outlive us.

Lewis Wetzel said...

John Carey, in The intellectuals and the Masses, claims that early modern artists purposely developed art that the middle and lower classes would reject, to differentiate their aesthetic sense from that of the masses they regarded as their inferiors.
This project still seems to be underway.
What does an intellectual call people who do not appreciate modern art? Bourgeois? Philistine? Anti-intellectual?

Michael said...

While his piece is indeed heavy going (though not as heavy as reading the comments on alicublog), Perle is basically right. I somehow wound up reading the Wikipedia entry on "Miranda" from The Tempest. The three paragraphs under "Analysis" were headlined Gender Role, Sexism, and Colonialism. Surely this is an incredibly reductive view of a great play. Something is terribly wrong with an academic/media culture that can only see the world in terms of gender, race and class. Part of the problem is that Perle uses the word "liberal" in reference to a Progressive cultural elite that is profoundly illiberal.

Eeyore Rifkin said...

Perl's essay is easily intelligible. Rebuttals to his detractors: (1) he is primarily concerned with art criticism rather than art production; (2) although he focuses on the critique of literary modernism, he is most assuredly responding to contemporary trends in criticism; (3) his use of Trilling's idea of the liberal imagination is, apparently, jarring to many readers, but it is neither opaque nor irrational; (4) he provides enough reference points to make the case that the elevation of political signification over beauty is a characteristic of contemporary critique; (5) he argues convincingly that this reversal of artistic values is both ridiculous and contradictory.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann Althouse,


I will set aside an hour and watch the whole thing (soon). Thanks."

That's the first of three parts - and they're all equally well done, if not always factually correct. Michael Moore for serious art types.


Peter said...

The contemporary art world seems to value novelty and transgressiveness above all. Although the transgressiveness is invariably of a conventional sort (in the art world, anyway) and a PC political message doesn't hurt (esp. when it comes to performance art).

A root problem is that nothing is really shocking anymore; arguably that thread reached its absurd conclusion in 1917 when DuChamp presented a urinal as art.

So, what's to see? To find anything substantive in the art world one almost has to look well outside the big-money, big-name art scene.

John henry said...

What Betamax said. I happen to like Thomas Kinkade.

That makes him an "artist"

Much more than 90% of the bullshit that passes for "art"

John Henry

John henry said...

Nevil Shute on modern art from back in the early 50's:

Those of you who read Shute's On the Beach in HS and nothing else of his may find it interesting.

Nevil Shute is always interesting.

John Henry

Lydia said...

Crack's “damned good for agitprop” film, The Power of Nightmares, was first shown in 2004, at the height of anti-Bush mania and is wildly anti-American trash, whose main theme is that al-Qaeda was a creation of the neocons. They loved it at Cannes.

Henry said...

Give Perl at least this much credit -- he found Roy Edroso's knee and made it jerk.

tim maguire said...

Most art is bad. Most political art is bad. Political art is more likely than other art to be bad.

Is liberal political art more likely than conservative political art to be bad? Don't know. Bad political art is more likely to be liberal than conservative, but that's just because most artists are liberal.

tim maguire said...

Ann Althouse said...If you go back in time, are the New Criterions old?

Depends on how far back you go. Or whether you take the old New Criterions back with you.

Lydia said...

From the linked TNR article:

The erosion of art’s imaginative ground, often blamed on demagogues of the left and the right, is taking place in the very heart of the liberal, educated, cultivated audience—the audience that arts professionals always imagined they could count on. The whole question is so painful and so difficult that I have frankly hesitated to tackle it. It is relatively easy to point to the deformations of art at the hands of politically correct left-wingers and cheap-shot moralists on the right, as the late Robert Hughes did in the fast-paced, witty series of lectures that he published as Culture of Complaint in 1993. It is far more difficult to explain why people who pride themselves on their carefully reasoned view of the world want to argue that art is not a value in and of itself, but rather a vehicle or a medium or a vessel through which some other human value or values are expressed.

Poor, deluded Mr. Perl. Does he really believe all those "liberal, educated, cultivated" people "who pride themselves on their carefully reasoned view of the world" still exist?

buwaya said...

"If what Perl is saying is what Tom Wolfe was saying… "

Yes it is. Mostly.

retired said...

The left killed art generations ago at the same time they killed music and literature, in the mid 20th century

The Crack Emcee said...


"Crack's “damned good for agitprop” film, The Power of Nightmares, was first shown in 2004, at the height of anti-Bush mania and is wildly anti-American trash,..."

Because saying it's not factually correct wasn't good enough,...

Ann Althouse said...

""If what Perl is saying is what Tom Wolfe was saying… ' Yes it is. Mostly."

But Wolfe's book isn't about left-wing politics or ideology or liberals or beauty… Perl's key words are either absent or insignificant in "The Painted Word." I did a word search to check my memory.

The closest thing is this dismissal of the importance of politics:

"For more than ten years, from about 1930 to 1941, the artists themselves, in Europe and America, suspended the Modern movement… for the duration, as it were … They called it off! They suddenly returned to “literary” realism of the most obvious sort, a genre known as Social Realism. Left politics did that for them. Left politicians said, in effect: You artists claim to be dedicated to an antibourgeois life. Well, the hour has now come to stop merely posing and to take action, to turn your art into a weapon. Translation: propaganda paintings. The influence of Left politics was so strong within the art world during the 1930s that Social Realism became not a style of the period but the style of the period. Even the most dedicated Modernists were intimidated. Years later Barnett Newman wrote that the “shouting dogmatists, Marxist, Leninist, Stalinist, and Trotskyite” created “an intellectual prison that locked one in tight.” I detect considerable amnesia today on that point. All best forgotten! Artists whose names exist as little more than footnotes today— William Gropper, Ben Shahn, Jack Levine— were giants as long as the martial music of the mimeograph machines rolled on in a thousand Protest Committee rooms. For any prominent critic of the time to have written off Ben Shahn as a commercial illustrator, as Barbara Rose did recently, would have touched off a brawl. Today no one cares, for Social Realism evaporated with the political atmosphere that generated it. By 1946 the scene had cleared for the art of our day— an art more truly Literary than anything ever roared against in the wildest angers of the Fauvists and Cubists."

Wolfe, Tom (2008-10-14). The Painted Word (Kindle Locations 317-319). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

buwaya said...

Thats one bit out of "Painted Word".

But the big theme is that Art as we knew it (historically) had gone out the window, and what counted as art in his day (and our day, arguably) was its theory, its justification, or more accurately its message, as long as the message was socially acceptable of course. The TNR thing says the same. Art is not art for its own sake, it is supposed to be a message in service of something acceptable.

If anything has changed from Wolfe's day to ours, it is perhaps that the range of acceptable messages is even narrower.

Ann Althouse said...

But WTF is Perl saying?

Lewis Wetzel said...

The work of criticism, so Trilling believed, was “to recall liberalism to its first essential imagination of variousness and possibility, which implies the awareness of complexity and difficulty.” Perhaps one of the reasons that criticism is so embattled today is that the essential message of criticism, the celebration of the variousness and possibility of the imagination, poses a real intellectual threat.
Art says liberalism may be wrong. Liberal artists and critics find this unacceptable.

Quaestor said...

None of this is new, or even worthy of much discussion. The proposition left politics has fucked up the arts was made and amply demonstrated to anyone who has given the thought the benefit of more than a few neurons. So what if no "allegedly art-killing liberals of the present time" are cited? One has only to compare this to this to notice that both are of the left and that the aesthetic bookended by these two works separated by almost exactly two hundred years is is best imaged as a near vertical downward curve.

Just to clarify my position let me stipulate that Andres Serrano's anti-clericalism offends me much less than his crude vandalism of someone else's work. Sure, it's only a plastic crucifix, but someone with a modicum of skill had to create the original. Serrano contributed virtually nothing to the objet -- not the cross, not the glass vessel, not even the urine -- just the jejune concept, an idea that might float through the fevered brain of a passive-aggressive adolescent only to be dismissed as terminally lame. David's Marat at least has a certain virtue of execution, though as a piece of Jacobin hagiography it is more atrocious than Serrano's puerile joke. That David turned from Jacobin propaganda to Napoleonic propaganda only serves to illustrate the visual polemicist's (I reserve the word artist for other applications) tendency to suck the most ascendant cock.

Now are liberal artists responsible for this cultural gangrenous limb? The answer is no, which is why Perl doesn't bother to cite any. The philistines are liberals in general, and particularly liberals of the art-buying socio-economic niche. Consumer demands are always met. McDonalds blight the landscape because consumers demand speed over quality vis-a-vis lunch. By the same token the liberal art consumer demands political content over beauty. One might say that in terms of aesthetics liberalism wears a shit-eating grin a mile wide.

dustbunny said...

The Painted Word was far too truthful and incisive about contempory art for the ideologically intrenched art world to accept and, in my memory, dismissed the book as the ravings of a right-wing scold. I was in art school in the eighties and the faculty was not interested in Wolfe's ideas. They were too busy trying to understand Baudrillard and Derrida, and as a result i too got little training just a mess of tangled, half digested theory.

dustbunny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Cook said...

"...for true socialist ideologues, like Bill Ayers and Robert Cook I'm guessing (on this site), the arts go hand-in-hand with an ideological conception of 'liberation.'"

Hahaha! A statement rich in erroneous presumptions!

Robert Cook said...

"But WTF is Perl saying?"

After all the hue and cry, I decided to begin reading Perl's article. I have read his introductory paragraphs, maybe the first fifth or quarter of the whole, and it seems to me what he is saying is, in short, "political correctness is killing art."

Art is a product of the imagination, and the imagination, free to express itself as it will, can often be wild, disturbing, offensive, frightening, perplexing, hateful, heedless of boundaries of taste, propriety, and decency. A cultural requirement that art fit within an orthodoxy of "approved" attitudes or sensibilities, or that art by artists with objectionable views should be condemned, is death to art.

I like the non-joke joke axiom by the Church of the Sub-Genius, which is applicable: "Orthodoxy is the only heresy."

Robert Cook said...

I read THE PAINTED WORD back in the 80s, so I don't recall much of it; my general sense is that Wolfe and Perl are not talking about the same thing, or, to the extent they are, only tangentially.

I think Wolfe was talking about what he considered the fraudulence of much modern art, a fraud supported by modernist criticism that favored the new and fashionable over the tried and true; Perl is talking about the assumption that art should hew to "acceptable" social and cultural attitudes. The one was concerned with modes of art--e.g., "pop" art, abstract art, etc. vs. representational art founded in and displaying traditional skills of draughstmanship--while the other is talking about what art may "acceptably" say.

Lewis Wetzel said...

"Orthodoxy is the only heresy."
The modern version would be "it is an absolute truth that no truths are absolute."
or "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."