All posts filed under: Art

Michel Houellebecq: Prophet or Troll?

A review of Serotonine (French Edition), by Michel Houellebecq. French and European Publications Inc (January 3, 2019), 352 pages. Michel Houllebecq, the bestselling French novelist and provocateur, has a knack for predicting disasters. His sex-tourism novel Plateforme (2001) featured a terrorist incident at a resort in Thailand that was eerily similar to the 2002 Bali bombings. Soumission (2015) was released on the day of the al-Qaeda-linked Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris; the novel’s subject (an Islamist takeover of France) made the coincidence distinctly uncomfortable. Now Houellebecq’s most recent book, Sérotonine (2019), appears to have foreseen the ‘gilet jaune’ (‘yellow vest’) protests that have rocked France since November. Clearly Houellebecq saw something like this coming, and understood that it was inevitable. Yet for all his perspicacity, Houellebecq is often dismissed as a mere literary troll. Certainly he has a troll’s gift for identifying weak spots in his targets, and then attacking them relentlessly. He is not above this sort of nihilistic glee; but unlike a normal troll, he focuses his rage and disgust, not on random individuals, …

Conservatives Need to Start Taking Art Seriously

Conservatives, crack open some champagne and celebrate. A remarkable renewal of traditional painting and sculpture has taken place in the American art scene over the past 10 years. At last, a cultural movement has emerged that builds upon time-honored practices instead of deconstructing them. In cities all over the country, new atelier schools are teaching classic methods of sculpting, drawing and painting, giving students solid foundations in techniques dating to classical Greece. The art they produce is exquisitely made, and also unmistakably of this time. This flourishing community of 21st-century representational painters and sculptors is deeply concerned with making—in the simplest possible formulation—“stuff that looks like stuff”: imaginative but realist paintings that point their audience toward traditional subjects and ideas, but with refreshingly novel conceptions. These artists are using the Western idioms of art-making praised by America’s founding fathers themselves—George Washington, John Adams, James Wilson and Thomas Paine. Washington collected paintings of the sublime American landscape before such paintings were considered credible art. Adams was enthusiastic about historical paintings. He also found delight in art …

The Folly of Disappearing Art and Culture

Following the harrowing recent documentary Leaving Neverland, which detailed sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, executive producers of The Simpsons, James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Al Jean, have decided to remove an episode from the canon in which Jackson’s voice makes an appearance. It is not the content of the episode, “Stark Raving Dad,” which aired in 1991, that is now in question, but Jackson’s very participation in the episode. .@TheSimpsons Farewell to SRD https://t.co/LOmIEzMFm5 — Al Jean (@AlJean) March 9, 2019 It is absurd that creators who have themselves been accused of causing offense are now excising content from season 2 of their seminal 30 season series of animated Americana. But the real affront is to fans and consumers, who will no longer have access to this content, and need to decide whether they want to be protected from material that was previously available across all platforms. Back when The Simpsons premiered, first on The Tracy Ullman Show, and then as a standalone half hour on Fox in 1989, it was one of more …

Poetic Injustice and Performative Outrage

On February 13, after almost a two month delay due to the U.S. government shutdown, the National Endowment for the Arts finally announced its recipients for the 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry. For most of the winners, this was an occasion to celebrate on social media. But for Rachel Custer, the elation of finally being able to announce the prestigious grant (one of 35 out of nearly 1700 applicants) came with the dreadful anticipation of the outrage that would (and did) predictably follow. This was nothing new for her. Last summer, when Anders Carlson-Wee proudly announced the publication of his new poem, “How-To,” on Facebook, Custer was at home in rural Northern Indiana, watching as controversy erupted online. “I felt that sick feeling in my stomach,” she says, as the initial joy of Carlson-Wee’s post got quickly sucked out with each hateful comment he received. “I knew so well from the many times I read similar threads about myself. And I just felt immensely bad for him, and so disdainful of anybody who would say …

The Avant-Garde’s Slide into Irrelevance

Many adherents to the aesthetics of the avant-garde in tenured positions at American art schools and universities are still enthusiastic supporters of the ideas and strategies that won them the culture wars of the late twentieth century. They steadfastly cleave to the doctrinal ideas that brought them into their positions of power and authority and have entrenched themselves in defense of an exclusively Euro-centric cult of avant-garde art. But as Western culture has changed around them, they have been outflanked by sentiment and technology. The foundations of the avant-garde were built upon the opposition of true and fake art. The avant-garde provided true, ethical art, while its opposite pole was fake, sentimental kitsch. The Frankfurt School writer Norbert Elias was first to identify sentiment as the enemy, followed by Herman Broch, who provided doctrinal writings describing kitsch as evil, and tying true art to the exposure of social reality. The young Marxist Clement Greenberg came to the game late, famously bringing their ideas to an American audience with avant-garde doctrines that despised kitsch and favored an …

Sabrina the Woke Witch is a Disgrace to Baphomet

Like many Canadian teenage girls who came of age in the 1990s, I grew up on 2% milk, dime-store candy and tales of the occult. I was slightly too old for the Harry Potter craze, falling instead for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and films such as The Craft. One of my special favorites was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, an ABC series about a magical American teenager who lives with her 500-year-old aunts and a talking cat. Witchcraft fascinated me. When girls reach that liminal time between child and woman, our bodies transform—and, with them, our sense of control. It’s a strange thing to go from being cosseted and encouraged to desired and despised. It feels a little like dark magic—though not the kind one can control. Unless, of course, you are a witch. Like the magical artifacts Harry Potter is always stumbling upon, witchcraft offers power. It promises a way to re-shape the world to a girl’s advantage, to gain freedom from parents, to toy with boys’ hearts while numbing one’s own. Male magic fantasies …

Writing for Quillette Ended My Theater Project

It was suggested that I apologize, and that an apology might help. This wasn’t an assurance, but an idea—if I walked back what I had written, there might be a way forward. I looked around the table at these four women who knew me too well to believe that I would apologize for something I had written. Before each of us sat the full length script on which we’d spent several months collaborating. I’d formed this theater collective precisely to make a play based on a killer idea I’d had, and I’d asked each of these talented, thoughtful, intelligent, creative women to work with me. We were only in the first few months of what was meant to be a year-long residency in a theater space in downtown Manhattan. What I wanted most of all was to develop this project. By the time it was suggested that I apologize, I knew full well that I wouldn’t, and that the project, the theater company, and the residency were all dead in the water. At issue was …

Camille Paglia: It’s Time for a New Map of the Gender World

I discovered Camille Paglia’s work when I was pursuing my undergraduate arts education at The University of Adelaide, South Australia, in the early 2000s. I was deeply disillusioned with the courses in my arts degree and their monomaniacal focus on social constructionism, and was looking for criticism of Michel Foucault on the internet. I stumbled across a 1991 op-ed written by Paglia for The New York Times, in which she described the followers of Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, as “fossilized reactionaries,” and “the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality.” I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I discovered that my university’s library contained each of her books, including the essay collections Vamps and Tramps and Sex, Art and American Culture. For the final year of my arts degree, (before pursuing my studies in psychology) I spent the bulk of my time at the university reading Paglia in the library. She was like a revelation. Her work was subversive but erudite, and she synthesized insights made in the realm of the arts, ancient history and folk biology—something that no other scholar …

Portrait of the Artist as a False Accuser

In 1976 and 1977, New York City was terrorized by one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Before being captured in front of his Yonkers home, David Berkowitz killed six victims, and wounded seven others. Berkowitz claimed he was following the orders of his neighbour’s dog, whom he described as being connected to a demonic figure named Sam. “I am a monster,” Berkowitz wrote in one of the notes he left for police. “I am the ‘Son of Sam.’” Berkowitz was sentenced to six life sentences, and remains in jail to this day. His legacy includes not only the horrific crimes he committed, but also a special kind of legislation inspired by fears that the killer would sell his lurid and sensational story to a publisher or studio. The “Son of Sam” law created by New York State in 1977, which exists in modified form to this day, required that revenues from a criminal’s descriptions of his crimes be deposited in escrow and disbursed to his victims. And while Berkowitz’s crimes were especially horrific, these …

Art, Commerce, and Vision

I’m a novelist and my husband Sabin Howard is a classical figurative sculptor. Currently he’s the sculptor for the National World War I Memorial, which will be a 56 foot long bronze relief set in Pershing Park, Washington D.C. Before Sabin forayed into public art, he sculpted from life models. Over the course of designing soldiers in combat and nurses tending the wounded for the WWI Memorial, he has evolved into an expressive humanist. But for decades he put clay over a steel armature while looking at a flesh-and-bones body in space, hiring models the way Canova or Rodin did. The model in Sabin’s studio was a vehicle both for an individual figure with psychological expression, and for an allegorical one that embodies a higher ideal. Sabin has always been of the view that art elevates us. His body of work includes heroic scale sculptures, including the Aphrodite. Eight women posed for her: a flamenco dancer for the legs, a yoga teacher for the core. I can relate funny anecdotes about the responses from Craig’s List …