Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Subverting the Subversives

The June issue of the New Criterion has an excellent article by Roger Kimball called, "Why the Art World is Such a Disaster." He discusses "Wrestle," a new exhibition at Bard College to inaugurate the CCS Bard Hessel Museum, one of numerous such efforts over the last several decades that takes as its premise that the purpose of art is to shock and outrage rather than to create something beautiful.

The problem is that shock and outrage is, well, so yesterday. Kimball explains:
Don't get me wrong: it was plenty awful. Body parts, "explicit" images, and naughty language galore. The exhibition certainly merited the warning to parents at the entrance. But it wasn't worse than dozens of other exhibitions I've seen, you've seen, we've all seen.
He continues:
No, the thing to appreciate about "Wrestle," about the Hessel Museum and the collection of Marieluese Hessel, and about the visual arts at Bard generally is not how innovative, challenging, or unusual they are, but how pedestrian and , sad to say, conventional they are. True, there is a lot of ickiness on view at the Hessel Museum. But it is entirely predictable ickiness. It's outrage by-the-yard, avant-garde in bulk, smugness for the masses. And this brings me to what I believe is the real significance of institutions like the art museum at Bard, the Hessel collection that fills it, and the surrounding atmosphere of pseudo-avant-garde self-satisfaction. The "arts" at Bard are notable not because they are unusual but because they are so grindingly ordinary.
I think these people seriously think that we're all going to faint when we see this stuff for the umpteenth time in its most recent derivative incarnation. These people don't need to be met with cries of protest, they need to be met with a collective yawn. But such is the state, not only of our artists (if I may use that term loosely), but of our universities which apparently have nothing else better to do, now that they've given up on passing on Western culture, than to tear it down.

Although he doesn't mention Chesterton directly, Kimball recognizes what Chesterton spoke of in the introduction to Heretics, where he points out that heresy is essentially boring. Everyone is a heretic now. The subversives have taken over. It's time to subvert them. If you want to strike out on your own, if you want to be different, if you want to revolt, about the only thing to revolt into is orthodoxy.

Someone needs to tell these people the 60's are over. Yoohoo! Jerry Garcia is dead. So's Timothy Leary. Turn off, tune out, drop in. Or, perhaps preferably, go somewhere and don't bother people with your ludicrous attempts to bother people. It's getting very old.


solarity said...

>>Everyone is a heretic now. The subversives have taken over. It's time to subvert them. If you want to strike out on your own, if you want to be different, if you want to revolt, about the only thing to revolt into is orthodoxy.>>

A highly insightful observation that is pretty much lost on the left. Or perhaps, at some deeper level, they recognize that they are at a dead end because any such "revolt into orthodoxy" would actually demand the exhibition of traditional artistic training and skills, which they generally do not possess. The never-ending desire of the artistic community to "shock" the bourgeoisie grew tiresome several decades ago - but it seems thats all they are capable of.

JPrichard said...

Please tell me, Martin. Did you and "Solarity" ignore the pious, jaded sophisticates who howled with indignation when Janet Jackson bared her ample bosom at the Super Bowl a while back?

Did you yawn when John Ashcroft covered the classical nude statue near his office in Washington? The female breast is after all a major weapon in Satan's arsenal...even after all the years since Woodstock!

I have no idea what this exhibit is about. Vulgarity and sensationalism are with us always. But so is the fear of the flesh that Christianity has fostered since the days of Paul.

Frankly, I've always considered pornography as a by product of Christianity. What did Blake say? "All brothels are built with bricks of religion." Erotica on the other hand is pagan based and therefore far more natural.

Not too many years ago I had to drive all the way to Ohio to see The Last Temptation of Christ. You see most decent Christian folk couldn't bear the thought of their Lord and Saviour doing something as profane as marrying the woman he loved and raising a family.

Jerry Garcia is dead...the 60's are gone past forever but Christian flesh phobia still endures.

James M. Prichard

Martin Cothran said...


I don't fear the flesh nearly as much as I fear logical fallacies such as the Fallacy of Composition you commit when you reason from the fact that some Christians, for example, cover up nude statues, and infer that all Christians must fear the body.

When Paul used the term 'flesh', he was using it figuratively and not literally to mean the body. This was observed as early as in St. Augustine's "City of God". It always amuses me when Christianity is accused of propagating the idea that the flesh (meaning 'the body') is evil and the spirit is good. Doubtless there were Christians who believed this, but they are mostly accounted heretics (such as Manicheus).

This conception about the the body and the spirit--that the spiritual is good and body is by its nature corrupt--comes not from Christianity but from Greek philosophy, deriving from the extreme realism of Plato.

You seem to forget the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh that is part and parcel of Christianity. This was was why Paul was doing so well on the Areopagus until he started talking about the Resurrection, at which point the Greeks began heckling: because they could not conceive of the bodily as being worth saving.

So if you have a problem with a low view of the body, you've got the wrong culprit.