From Josephine Livingstone and Lovia Gyarkye at New Republic:
Is Dana Schutz allowed to paint Emmett Till in his coffin? Dana Schutz is a successful artist: Her painting Open Casket is part of the 2017 Whitney Biennial, a show whose mission is to indicate the country’s cultural temperature. The painting depicts the dead body of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered. The piece has become the focus of controversy in recent days; the artist and writer Hannah Black has called for its removal and destruction. She and many others have pointed out that black suffering is not a material that white artists can just make use of, like oil paint or videotape—an argument made in many debates over cultural appropriation. But the case of Emmett Till contains an extra layer of difficulty. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, dealt with her loss by controlling the postmortem narrative and the image of her son in death. “I know that his life can’t be returned but I hope that his death will certainly start a movement in these United States,” she once said. It is a matter of both appropriation and of the history of American visual politics.
An artist who wishes to work with such a charged subject needs to approach with unmitigated rigor in order to succeed. In her body of work, Schutz does not demonstrate a rigorous sensibility. In her statements about the piece, she does not show any understanding that her own expression echoes Carolyn Bryant’s expression, and erases the story of the victim and his family. When Hannah Black and her co-signers call for the destruction of this painting, try not to interpret them as book-burners doing the work of censorship. Instead, hear their open letter as a call for silence inside a church. How will you hear the dead boy’s voice, if you keep speaking over him? More.
Reality check: It’s horrible, self-indulgent modern art, a sort of miscarriage of the mind. That would be enough reason to place it gently in the rain overnight in the garden.
All such work is an appropriation of an honourable name, art.
But we mask the problem if we make it about individual grief, grievance, and entitlement. The progressive encourages us to do that, of course, because he then gets to bully and censor others, and impose his tastes. He prevents—with lots of collusion—a discussion of the actual problem: The vacuum he himself creates and maintains.
It will be fun watching upper middle class progressives cave in the face of progressive demands for the removal or destruction of the old masterpieces as well. There again, they can find common cause with Islamists. Which should be some comfort to them.
As for the grievance group, they are book-burners calling for silence. For anyone except them.
See also: Why free speech infringes on “liberty” It is easy for the naturalist (man is just an animal) to dispense with liberty of the mind because he does not accept the existence of the mind.