Friday, June 08, 2018

Arts and Humanities Tribe

Defining people in terms of their group(s) rather than as individuals, must inevitably lead to violence. We are who we are; secondarily, we are part of the groups we choose; the group memberships we had no control over are tertiary.

The above came to me while contemplating the second half of the post Neoneocon had up today, about the recent essay by Columbia philosophy student Coleman Hughes, which in turn reminded her of the philosopher Stephen Hicks. Hughes's essay is good, and recommended. A calm, rather precise bombshell. I had not heard of Hicks, and will have to ask my philosophy professor friend about him. I liked what I read and thought his arguments sound. His best-known book is Explaining Postmodernism, which is free on Kindle if you are interested.

Searching about for other things he has written, I came across Why Art Became Ugly. I have read a several discussions of this over the decades. I may like this one best, though I will have to see how well it wears. That it is intentional is clear, and the idea that artists denied the reality of beauty because this is at root an ugly world is not new to me. But Hicks enlarges that to show it is part of a larger pattern, a sort of apophatic approach to art: If I remove dimensionality, is it still art?  If I remove color, is it still art?  If I remove meaning, is it still art? It gave me a clearer picture of all those "conversations" about "What is art?" Hicks is ultimately not very sympathetic to those conversations, but he grants that it was all a reasonable experiment in Modernism. He believes that is now long over.  Postmodernism is not a rebellion against Modernism, but a narrowing and emphasis on a few attributes of it, and now it has reached the end of the trail. He explains one driver of all this skepticism and denial is the disillusionment artists felt as socialism and communism failed, while the free market and technology, those hated and soul-destroying philosophies, succeeded.
Artists and the art world should be at the edge. The art world is now marginalized, in-bred, and conservative. It is being left behind, and for any self-respecting artist there should be nothing more demeaning than being left behind.
He does a remarkably good job of providing examples from the art he is discussing. I learned quite a bit. For those who recall the extended conversations we had about the Arts & Humanities Tribe and how their social beliefs drive their politics, there is much of interest here.

4 comments:

Kevin Gattey said...

Why Art Became Ugly might be explained by Stanley Fish, who wrote 'Literary Studies and Political Change', with now amusing references to President Bill Clinton, seen differently now than he wrote then.

Disciplines that look outside themselves for validation (a lot of Art) must become degraded. This has certainly occured in Medicine, to my eyes.

A key distinction in Mr Fish's view is whether the activity is natural, as contrasted to a conventional or socially constructed entity. "If the category were ... natural kind rather than an artefact of history, a departure from it by a generation of practitioners would do it no permanent harm; it would still be there waiting to be rediscovered by the faithful. A conventional activity, however, lives and dies by the zeal with which we ask its questions and care about the answers." Literary criticism, his main concern, has slipped into obscurity - relatively safe now to practice its arcane rules as irrelevant to politics. Although with the enormous effort over years that has gone into 'narrative', I doubt whether the ignorant but very convinced horde agree with Mr Fish. Like Christianity, literary criticism and perhaps many disciplines are beyond most people.

One of Mr Fish's powerful points is that its questions are properly set within the discipline, and not by Do Gooders, Commissars, or cultural Carpet Baggers of any stripe of ulterior motive.

Who can doubt that Art has suffered from this vandalism.
Is Art a natural (and therefore must one day recover) or a socially constructed (and prob then ruined) entity? Cultural carpet baggers (who have moved on from literary criticism, which shows their essentially Vandal nature) would argue all is socially constructed. I hope not. Ernst Neizvestny, like Christ, is an argument that one brave man is enough to prove the ignorant horde incorrect. Kudos to Premier Khrushchev who could have had Neizvestny killed-they argued face to face - unlike Pontius Pilate or many cowardly Western leaders then and now, who would not know courage and worth close or far.

It is no accident that the cultural Carpet Baggers detest Science which is very uncongenial grounds for them.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would be interested what you mean by medicine defining itself from within. You might find at least a few people agreeing with you here. I might even turn out to be one of them.

I have decidedly mixed feeling about Stanley Fish. Perhaps a good defender of his will sway me.

Donna B. said...

I googled "cultural Carpet Baggers" and found Dr. Charles Truxillo. Interesting circle back to my youth and Reies Tijerina. It's an interesting term, but doesn't seem to have caught on if my search is any indication.

Kevin Gattey said...

Regretfully I can't say it better than Lecture III, which is pp. 41 to 70 of Mr Fish's book. The words could not have meant anything to me 33 years ago, and Mr Fish's words of p. 113 "Moreover, it is hard, if not impossible, to tell that story to those who do not know it, or, rather, are not already living it" are read wistfully now.
Medicine is only one battleground or the ignorant, the foolish, and the ill intentioned.

We get too soon old and too late smart, as my Grandfather used to say, as many Iraqis and some Americans might echo.