Progressives go after art eventually too

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.

  • Waffle

    Pretty heavy stuff for so early in the day — I’m only on my second cup of coffee. It looks like a gorgeous day outside, so I think I’ll step out onto the balcony and try to untangle my mind.

  • Martin B

    When they rip the painting off the wall and burn it, try not to interpret them as book-burners.

    These people are way beyond parody.

    • ntt1

      unfortunately they have a growing following and a very troubling alliance with islamofascism.

  • ntt1

    Progressives seized the art world begining in the 60s, most of my art profs in the 70s were anti capitalism anti British anti everything except trite, childish expressions of petulance which is exactly what modern art is now. The horses have fled the barn.

    • J. C.

      “…trite, childish expressions of petulance…”

      An excellent description!

  • KillerMarmot

    It’s not just about the left going after art. It’s about the left going after itself.

  • Art Deco

    It’s a wretched piece of work and the painter should quite pretending she has skill. That this landed in the Whitney Biennial indicates that art simply is not being produced in this country anymore or that the gatekeepers in the art establishment have no interest in the art that actually is being produced. Why not reduce the Whitney Biennial to rubble via aerial bombardment?

  • J. C.

    I’m torn… On one hand, I’m against censorship and the stifling of creativity, but on the other hand… That’s one God-awful painting. 😉

    • KillerMarmot

      Having visited the Tate Modern, I can assure you this painting is a work of consummate genius compared to many now being passed off as art.