Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Dirty Pictures

The Manchester Art Gallery has taken down the famous pre-Raphaelite painting “Hylas and the Nymphs” because of “tricky issues about gender, race and representation.”

Here is the painting.


There is irony here. We have now officially become more prudish than the Victorians. The pendulum swing away from the “sexual revolution” of the Fifties and Sixties has come in recent months full semicircle.

To be fair, though, there is more to the story. This is supposedly only for seven days, as a form of “video art” by artist Sonia Boyce. It is supposed to “provoke discussion” on these issues, and visitors are supposed to post sticky notes on the blank wall space where the famous painting was giving their reactions.

A pretty lame sort of “art.” Sticking up Post-it notes on the wall expressing your feelings? That's an elementary school cliché.

And the “video art” is at least suggesting the painting should be taken down permanently. It is hard to explain otherwise why the “video art” required all postcards featuring the famous painting to be pulled from the museum shop as well. Looks more like a trial run, to judge popular reaction to removing the piece permanently. Or the museum management is protecting their bureaucratic butts. If the painting suddenly becomes politically incorrect, as they apparently expect, they can say they were on the side of the angels, but the public, not they, made the decision.

And how are visitors supposed to comment on the art work sight unseen? It seems the game is set up to be prejudiced against it. Unless they know the piece well, they are left taking the curator's and Boyce's word for it being objectionable.

I suspect that, below the claimed political issues of “gender and race,” disgusting and philistine as they are when applied to the pre-Raphaelites, whose slogan was “art for art's sake,” there is something else involved. After all, the “race” being portrayed is/are nymphs. Nymphs are purely spiritual beings. They have gender, yes, but no physical sex. Warning to sharks: at this point, look up. It's pushing things pretty far to read politics into this.

The real issue is that a lot of people resent beauty. And a lot of the people who hate and resent beauty are currently working as artists, and artists of some renown. The real scandal here is that the nymphs in the painting are more beautiful than the artist, or the museum curator; and neither the museum curator nor the artist has ever painted anything nearly so good. What is not your own, you need to destroy.

This attitude seems widespread in the arts currently. The people posing as artists to the public are people who have the least possible feeling for art—indeed, they hate it.

I subscribe to a Facebook feed called “Artists trying to make a living creating art.” I recommend it for those who, like me, do love art. Better yet, if you have any money, buy something. I discover through it that there are a lot of artists out there doing wonderful work. Not all of course, but a striking proportion. The problem is, they are never featured in galleries and never manage to sell their work. Most of them would be hounded out of any art school. The people who run the institutions are anti-art. They have been for generations.

Another sphere which, like media and education, has been destroyed by being professionalized.

BB King; from the Facebook feed.

From the Facebook feed.

Artist trying to make a living creating art.

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