Friday, May 5, 2017

The Horror of Art for Identity's Sake

I was at the Boca Raton art museum yesterday, and came away unsatisfied. I could look at a glass show, including a big installation of glass night-sticks from an anti-Apartheid artist from South Africa and a wall full of stemware inspired by great literature. As the museum website says:
Works included in the Glasstress Boca Raton exhibition incorporate performance, video, interactive media, design, and even video games, and delve into substantial content, from race, identity, and colonialism to themes of science and nature and issues of biological diversity, global hunger, and climate change.
Or I could see an exhibition of rich American ex-pat artists from the 19th century.

Then I went home and stumbled over an article on the fatuity of "identity art," from an Australian! In Australia, you see, government is funding identity art by the bucket load, and that, according to Reilly Smethurst, diminishes people, for it celebrates them as they are rather than what they might be. Identity art and identity celebration is, in other words, patronizing, as in patriarchy. It's what you experience in Australia when you visit some aboriginal rock-art site and view the ubiquitous map of Australia showing the boundaries of the aboriginal tribal territories. How nice, to celebrate aboriginal Australia except that the time to do that was 300 years ago when the European voyagers declared Australia terra nullius and open to colonization and domination and hegemony by Europeans.

In a way, our times are terrifying times. It is plain that the old order is coming to an end, collapsing on its internal contradictions, as the Marxists used to say before the Soviet Union collapsed from its internal contradictions.

In art, I suppose, the next thing will be the 21st century version of the Armory Show, or the Salon des Refusés. But I hesitate to imagine what that might look like, since art and culture, in a way unimaginable a century or a century and a half ago, are bound tight into the ruling-class culture that right now patronizingly celebrates the identity of ruling-class-defined marginalized groups just the way they are. And every art curator is a Good Little Girl that has graduated from one of our modern finishing schools in identity politics and culture, also known as universities. How will artists be edgy and new when the ruling class celebrates the conceit of its own comfortable nostalgia of edginess and newness?

In politics, where I pretend to have some kind of knowledge, I would like to think that the next Big Thing is the middle class rebelling against the coalition of the rich kids, the "activists" of the last 170 years who believe in their creativity, and the underclass, the people that don't think of themselves as human agents.

These latter ones, immortalized as the People of the Subordinate Self in my reductive Three Peoples theory, are the people experienced by the prison physician Theodore Dalrymple, e.g., "the knife went in," according to a convicted murderer. What? All on its own? And lately by Kevin D. Williamson telling the story of the eviction of his tenant, now in eviction court explaining that "my check didn't come." And that's why the renter couldn't pay the rent this month or last month or the month before that.

I'd say that it is time for the People of the Responsible Self to rise up in a rebellion of responsibility. It really is too bad that ordinary responsible people have to pay for themselves, and also at the point of a gun for the irresponsible. It is time for the two century war against the responsible, waged by the rich-kid sons and daughters of the responsible using the subordinate workers and peasants and marginalized as their cannon fodder, to be turned back and demolished in ignominious defeat.

It is time for a glorious Age of Agency, a celebration of responsibility, in which the irresponsible will be cared for, not at the point of a gun or the naming and shaming antics of social justice warriors, but through the kindness and charity of ordinary responsible people that are glad to look after those less responsible than themselves, but that bridle at being forced to do so.

As for what an Art of Agency would look like, I'll admit that I don't have a clue. But I have an idea that if a dull old geezer like me can think of its possibility, some young punk is actually doing it. And it is that faith that sustains me in these dark fin-de-siècle days of political correctness and identity art.

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