Sunday, April 18, 2021

Lack Of Art

Critical Race Theory, and Critical Theory in general doesn't have any art I can think of.  Not poetry, not music, theater, film, painting, sculpture, nor literature.  It may just be that I am not up on such things. I don't think it is mere recency, as both have been around for years, nor is it a bias from unfair comparisons from centuries ago. I am not asking that it produce an equivalent to the high Renaissance.  Existentialism is also recent but does not suffer from the same lack.  there is plenty of interesting theater, poetry, and literature from them, and I think only a little stretch of the concept brings in the visual arts including film.

I suppose you might make a case that successive philosophies since the enlightenment have each produced less art of a durable nature, and Theory is just that much farther down the line, but you would have to go some to convince me that was more than a merely convenient explanation. 

This is a major red flag for the intellectual foundation of a philosophy, that artists in no medium can bring forth anything of interest. The heart of artistic expression is transposition, of reframing or new understanding of one concept and making it manifest in another. If you can find nothing to transpose, it means there is nothing there.

This is unsurprising, as Theory never pretended to be making anything, only analyzing it.  It's right there in the name, Critical Theory. It critiques. It is described as a tool for interrogating everything else. "Interrogate" is supposed to have a more refined meaning than the picture that pops into our head from movies, of guys sitting in a chair under bright light, getting beat up after any bad answer. It's supposed to mean "asking questions." In reality, it's pretty much the sadistic guys with the brass knuckles. You either aren't interrogated at all because you're on their side, or you get the crap beat out of you. 

So we interrogate history with Critical Theory. We look at American education through the prism of Critical Race Theory. We examine music or literature via Theory. But we never make anything with it. Making something requires talent, courage, and effort.  A critical theorist might have any or all of these things.  But they aren't required for the job.


JMSmith said...

This happens to be a practical problem for me. I give lectures on critical theory a couple of times a year, and all lectures are nowadays illustrated. I illustrate my lectures with paintings that represent the thing or idea under discussion, and so must choose paintings that represent the basic idea of critical theory. There is, of course, plenty of agitprop that expresses the critical revelation, but I need paintings that express the assumption that there is a hidden reality for critical theory to reveal. I've settled on using some surrealist paintings by Rene Magritte since they pose the question of appearance and reality, often with a strong note of absurdism. One has to tread carefully in the postmodern university, but I try to leave students that there is a difference between appearance and reality, that criticism is the method to penetrate appearances, and that critical theory is tendentious bunk.

I think you are right about the aesthetic sterility of critical theory, although this is not much different than the aesthetic sterility of postmodernity generally. I try to make very large allowances for my own fuddy-duddyism, but still come up with an extraordinary deficit of beauty in our world. I live in a small American city that is, nevertheless, considerably larger than any medieval city that built a cathedral. My city does not contain a single building that anyone would think painting (in both senses of that word, in not a few cases). Some are photographed for practical reasons, but no one would hang these photographs in their living room. It is really just a mass of shacks and sheds, some pretentiously decorated and others not.

To return to the topic of the aesthetic sterility of critical theory, though, I think the spiritual problem is that there is no beauty where there is no love. Critical theory is essentially an expression of hatred for the creation, and hatred always sees and produces ugliness. I'm not saying that great artists are always good people in the modern humanitarian sense of that world, but that they always men and women (mostly men) of profound loves. You may recall that I teach geography, so most of the paintings I use to illustrate my lectures are landscape paintings. Ugly landscape paintings are mostly painted by artists who are expressing their dislike for landscape.

I spend a lot of time browsing through on-line art archives looking for lecture illustrations, and this taught me the extraordinary nastiness of much postmodern art. I remember once searching for a painting of the Argentine pampas, and for some reason my search terms dredged up an image of a man sodomizing a woman with a very large penis-shaped nose. Even after making a double allowance for my buddy-duddyism, I still thought that it was the testament of a man who hates life and wants to show us how hateful it really is.

Grim said...

I think CRT would surely claim Ellison’s Invisible Man as foundational to their discipline, and it is both critical and artistic. I don’t know if Ellison’s own opinion would align with their embrace of him. He firmly rejected Marxism as just another attempt to pretend to care while really seeking power, as CRT seems to be (unsurprisingly given the Marxist roots of its mode of criticism).

There are any number of bad movies, though, based in critical theories on racism and sexism. You don’t know them because they are bad art, and no one not looking for a sermon can sit through them.

engineerlite said...

I agree with your observation that "successive philosophies since the enlightenment have each produced less art of a durable nature". I wonder if these philosophies provide less basis for durable art, or if we're moving so fast, we're disposing old ideas much faster than ever before.

james said...

The old joke was unfair to teachers (*), but its extension seems apropos: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can neither do nor teach become critics.

(*) most dramatically in fields that have apprenticeships, like carpentry or medicine or physics

Korora said...

*Passes JMSmith the brain bleach*

Korora said...

Something to chase that image away: