Playing the Rube


I know, I know. I said I’d be away until Monday. But I felt strangely drawn to the latest efforts of embittered Communist Seumas Milne. Still misinforming Guardian readers with undiminished zeal, Milne once again reheats his “root causes” schtick and denounces Ed Hussein and Hassan Butt as “NeoCon poster boys.” (I’m guessing he’s not too keen on Tawfik Hamid, Tanveer Ahmed or the dissident exile Tahir Aslam Gora either.) Apparently, we mustn’t listen to what jihadists and ex-jihadists tell us about their own motives, because – pah - what the hell could they know? In MilneWorld™, Tariq Ramadan is best described as a “liberal academic” and when middle-class Muslim zealots try to kill innocent people – and nightclubbing women in particular – this must be “retaliation” against imperialist “oppression”. And nothing whatsoever to do with nihilistic fantasies, sexual resentment and an urge to be a player in an Islamist psychodrama

With eerie seriousness, Milne argues that,

“If the bombers’ real focus was, say, sexually liberal Western lifestyles, they would presumably be attacking cities like Amsterdam and Stockholm.”

Setting aside the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the effective exile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the numerous death threats against half a dozen Dutch authors, artists and politicians, I suppose we should simply ignore the arrest of nine would-be jihadists in Denmark in September 2006, and before that another four in Stockholm and Malmo in April 2004. And I guess we should overlook the planned terror attacks on a church in Uppsala, and disregard the Stockholm mosque selling cassettes calling for “holy war”. Perhaps Seumas Milne is somehow, conveniently, unaware of the rapid rise of fundamentalist Islam in Stockholm and the sustained campaigns of violence and intimidation against bus drivers, paramedics and firefighters in “Muslim only” areas of several Scandinavian cities. And presumably we should avert our eyes from the repeated targeting of London nightclubs, where “sexually liberal Western lifestyles” would no doubt be in full hedonistic effect.

Regular readers will, of course, remember just how credible and trustworthy Comrade Milne can be.



David -

not sure if you(and your readers)are aware of this:

The Human Evasion
by Celia Green


amazon listed only one (used) copy (at $112.00 USD),
so i went hunting elsewhere online for it.




Thanks. I think that link to the online version was mentioned in the post below.


There's also a version here:



Some Oz links for you

O for a broom to sweep away unedifying claims to artistry

We have collectively given up the will to expect and demand that works of art do something wonderful, laments John Armstrong


Culture of denial

Tradition is no excuse for the epidemic of male violence and sexual abuse that is obliterating indigenous communities. By Louis Nowra




Thanks for those. I like this:

“We bend over backwards to be generous; we try, somehow, to kindle the aura that the old conception of art drew attention to. Yet we apply the word art without any real eye for value. So the idea of art functions as an instrument of mystification and misconception. It claims special status but renounces the demanding, qualitative ambition that would justify such status; it abandons the ground of the dignity it still claims.”

It seems to me that the art world has pretty much been crippled by its own pretensions and made redundant by the better parts of commercial culture. If I want to see something extraordinarily beautiful or likely to inspire awe, a contemporary art gallery isn’t the first place I’d look. Or the second.


I think the "art world" has got lazy, and the reason is grants.



The vast amounts of taxpayers’ money thrown at contemporary art – and at politicised “socially relevant” projects in particular – doesn’t seem to have resulted in an aesthetic renaissance. It has, however, resulted in plenty of dull, parasitic and politically conformist piss-taking. There’s always going to be plenty of pointless tat floating about, of course; I just wish those churning it out would do it on their own dime.

Scott Burgess is very good on the Arts Council gravy train:




Assistant Village Idiot

You forgot narcissism. Progressives feel oppressed because they do not occupy the highest status in western societies, as should be their obvious due. This proves that western society is bad. If someone else thinks western society is bad, progressives think it must be for the same reasons. What else could it be?


I sometimes wonder if one of the contemporary art world's biggest problems is its academicization. In the US, at least, MFA programs and the professors in charge of them funnel their favorites into galleries, and the galleries, like lazy journalists rewriting press releases, don't look elsewhere for interesting ideas. In the history of art, works are often at their most boring and uniform when patronage is controlled by a single institution (the church, the French Academy, etc.). Even then, though, at least technique was appreciated and taught. Much of the "political" art I've seen now seems designed more to flatter an instructor's prejudices than to appeal to the anonymous viewer, and even technique is denigrated. Correct opinion is the way to get grants, commissions, and sinecures.

I saw a particularly appalling example recently at the University of Texas's art museum, the Blanton. It was a video, taken from a car driving down a West Texas road. There were headphones, attached to an iPod, that you listened to as you watched. The iPod played various pop songs—by Madonna, Led Zepplin, etc. At first I thought, "Is this just supposed to be a road trip?" But then an Arabic pop song came on, and I knew that some dismal political statement about the Palestinians was probably in the works. I walked over to the card on the wall, and sure enough, it was supposed to contrast the "freedom of movement" we enjoy in the West with the "Apartheid regime" Palestinians in Gaza live under. The artist had asked various Palestinians what music they would listen to in their car if they could drive around in freedom.

The only point the piece had to make was in the explanation on the wall, not in the piece itself. Presumably some teacher and curator were sufficiently impressed by the placard to place it in the museum (temporarily, thankfully). Even as politics the piece was remarkably simple-minded and ignorant of the complexities of the situation it was trying to comment on. At least social realist propaganda has kitsch value.



“Correct opinion is the way to get grants, commissions, and sinecures.”

Bingo. The politicisation of art education and funding has been its undoing. For many artists, critics and curators, art is little more than a vehicle for their leftist prejudices, often dressed in absurd theory. I wrote about this in the article below. For all the supposed radicalism of the artists and critics mentioned, their political conformism is quite remarkable, as is their aesthetic impotence. As the critic Brian Ashbee wrote, “This is not art to be looked at; this is art to talk about and write about. It doesn't reward visual attention; it generates text.” And the text it generates is almost always politically tendentious.



I just wrote this a few days ago at Ed Winkleman's blog, which is getting it's knickers into a snit over the recent Roger Kimball piece at the New Criterion: "Tenure is an anticompetitive practice that causes fashionable ideas to stay around in academia much longer than natural or desirable. Contemporary museums only ever drift towards conformity, inefficiency, ideology, and stasis, as one would predict of any government entity run by homogenous, unnaccountable mandarins."



I don’t know enough about the tenure situation to comment usefully on the particulars. But it seems to me that the problem runs much deeper than academic tenure.

Rightly or not, artists often imagine themselves as in some way critical of the prevailing culture. For some, that’s what their role is supposed to be, at least in part. The fact that this oppositional leaning has largely been co-opted by leftist lecturers and anti-capitalist poseurs doesn’t seem to bother those being steered into the approved kind of rebellion. Which is to say, the uniform, trivial kind.

If, as seems to be the case, art students are encouraged to parrot the political views of their lecturers and of various left-leaning funding bodies, I’m not sure whether ‘opposition’ is an appropriate word to use. If you look through the Journal of Contemporary Art and similar publications, or browse the mission statements of almost any modern gallery or funding body, the leftish politics are hard to miss. Making anti-capitalist, multicultural or anti-war noises is pretty much the norm. Against this backdrop, where is the rebellion in repeating those same noises? The prevailing ideological culture – the one artists and students actually inhabit – is surely being reinforced, rather than challenged or subjected to scrutiny?


A grant is a subsidy.

A subsidy always results in a drop in quality.

Try and find an example where this is not so?


I personally have received grants from both public and private sources and I like to think that the money was well invested, but I would say that, wouldn't I, although I doubt my sudden annihilation would injure art history in any manner.

David, even further than that, political statements (artistic or otherwise) fall so short of political action that you can hardly compare them, and it goes without saying that you can take whatever position you want and never have to deal with the consequences. (It's position exactly because of the lack of movement.) I think if the aforementioned left-leaning class of tenured art lecturers had to live in the world their politics made, they would adjust them. Academic economists don't have it so easy.



“I think if the aforementioned left-leaning class of tenured art lecturers had to live in the world their politics made, they would adjust them.”

Heh. Well, one hopes, vainly. But leftist ideologues aren’t exactly known for their interest in the practical details and moral implications of their egalitarian beliefs. That’s generally why those beliefs persist.

In the Art Bollocks piece linked above, I referred to the dubious assumption that art’s primary function is as a vehicle for political transformation. Or rather for discussions about it. Last year, Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts held an exhibition-cum-discussion called RISK which purported to “celebrate the ways in which artists investigate the values of social inclusion – not as a political diversionary tactic, but as a radical art practice.” When not entirely vacuous or downright ugly, it was just visually uninteresting. Aesthetics had been replaced by conformist PC posturing. “Inclusivity” and other loaded and modish notions had all but obliterated any real visual impetus or creativity. It was, in effect, Politburo Art of the worst possible kind.

And thus no “risk” at all. Quite the opposite in fact.


I think the current tenure system dovetails conveniently with the anti-capitalist rhetoric. Tenure protects your job for life, and any economic liberalization of the system would threaten the jobs of some professors. An art professor extoling the "deconstruction" of capitalism is not different from a farmer reliant on government subsidies spouting America-first isolationism as a way of protecting the national food supply. They're both protecting their privileges like medieval guildsmen.

Ironically, tenure was originally, at least in the US, intended to promote faculty diversity by protecting people from being fired for purely political reasons. But now that there is such uniformity in certain departments, it's used primarily to keep certain kinds of people out, i.e. they're never hired in the first place for purely political reasons.


Might it not be better to keep tenure, but let failing departments die?

Good professors would then self-reallocate to improve departments.


Possibly. I'm not against tenure per se. It's probably the only thing keeping some good professors in departments dominated by nonsense. It's more that right now it's one factor among many that contribute to a sclerotic political conformity in humanities and art departments. In the long run, things might change, but it will just take a lot longer, in part because of tenure. But as David pointed out above, there is still interesting art being produced, it's just produced largely outside the academic/museum/gallery establishment.


The problem is not tenure. This reduces the argument to one about the individuals who currently have it. The presupposition is that without tenure then different indviduals with a wider range of politics would be able to teach in colleges. I see no evidence for this conjecture. It is inevitable that any institution will tend to attract (and welcome) individuals who share common values with those already in it. The leftist nature of universities was present decades ago. We should be looking at why the system seems to favour a particular outcome.

The problem is state education in itself. Once we have a nationalised system, it was inevitable that it would become a producer monopoly with narrowly constrained opinions. We ought to be striving for a removal of government from education and open the market to new institutions. If there was no barrier to entry then new institutions would reflect a mix of excluded ideas.

I don't see this happening soon. Instead we see arts subjects becoming more leftist and nihilist, while the sciences are already beginnining to move in the same direction. I would cite the rise in Environmental Studies, a science that like "Intelligent Design" has already determined the answer and merely seeks evidence to reinforce it's prejudices.



Socialism is "Economic Intelligent Design" i.e. the state as economic god. ID comes from the same ignorance as socialism.

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