In 2020 you can’t define people by their biology and call it progress.
The Baltimore Museum revises art history, aesthetics, and its collection with an ideological sledgehammer.
Some people think nostalgia (especially for discredited scientific theories) is sentimental at best, and pathological at worse, but without even suffering cognitive dissonance some of us can excavate outmoded theories in the name of progress, without even knowing we’re doing it. We now see institutions positioning themselves as making radical social advancements while furiously backpedaling.
What is at stake is how we conceive of a person. Do we define someone by their biology at birth, or is it infinitely more important what they do with their lives after they are born? Apparently it is the former, and with a vengeance. Thus we can celebrate if we only buy art by one biological group in 2020. There’s a far superior solution.
No, this isn’t just one museum doing it for one year. This is a universal trend in the art world, and it’s here to stay. We are now looking at art through quotas and prioritizing artists in a hierarchy based on race, gender, and geography. And no, I don’t have anything against female artists. Quite the contrary, and when it comes to literature, I’ve read more Toni Morrison novels than any other living author. More power to female artists, I say, but let’s not shut out the men and call it justice, because it isn’t.
A women-only year is much easier than actually looking at the art in question and judging the artist by the art, rather than the other way around. We obviously know that this is intended to be a very good thing, and to compensate for thousands of years of the patriarchy.
Purchasing art changes the nature of the permanent collection… We could have 150 years of just collecting women and that might start to address it.” ~ Amelia Jones, professor and vice dean of research at the Roski School of Art and Design at University of Southern California.
No it wouldn’t. This also means that they will NOT buy anything by men in 2020 (which is oddly a balanced number while they want 40/0). You can’t discriminate against men in the sphere of art without insisting that men and women are inherently, essentially, significantly, universally, and unalterably mentally different from one another. Otherwise how the hell do you know who to discriminate against? You need the categories of a biologically determined man and woman — and it absolutely needs to be mental as well as physical — if you are going to favor or punish either. At the same time that we are maintaining, I presume, that men and women have equal potential at art, we are also maintaining that their minds are essentially and dramatically different. If we want to maintain that gender (not biological sex, mind you) is a “construct”, than discriminating against biological men is an arbitrary and irrelevant action, in which case the logical thing to do would be to not discriminate at all, but rather look at the art rather than the artist. Otherwise we risk excluding minds that are fundamentally alike in the core ways that really matter, because of their bodies, which we don’t want to do.
The way around racism and sexism is to understand that the conscious mind is our shared, greatest feature, and the mind is an actor that is not controlled by the body. An easy way to think about this is to imagine for a moment that we actually have spirits or souls. Would you define someone by their body or spirit? The soul would be the character, actions, imagination, memories, intellect, “karma”, what have you. Well, the soul might be an antiquated cliche that nobody takes seriously, but it’s also a really solid metaphor for the conscious mind (minus the immortality part). Once we go the other direction and start defining people by their physicality, we enter the inevitable terrain of judgement, hierarchies, in-group preference, and of course, tribalism. Supporting and showing artists in 2020 based on their biology is not the way forward, because it’s a bass-ackwards way of looking at people.
I’m curious how people who applaud the women-only year would respond to this mental experiment. Let’s say an elementary school wants to do the same thing, and in 2020 they will show and reward only girls for art projects. Well, we need to imagine a school that still teaches art, and let’s also say it has a gallery show at the end of the year. Would you support excluding boys for the year?
I’m guessing not, and that your argument would be that the boys are too young to have themselves been any part of the art world, or that they don’t deserve to be discriminated against. But at some point, we must argue that those same children would be old enough to exclude with impunity. Not only them, but following generations. At what age does a boy mystically become complicit and accountable for the actions of men who died before he was born? Is it when he physically more resembles men? How many generations of innocent boys do we need to sacrifice in the name of righting the wrong of sacrificing innocent people becauese of their sex? Consider that the same male artists we are righteously sidelining today were in the past boys too young to justify discriminating against.
Collecting only women for 150 years would not in the least address historical sexism, It would continue it on steroids, only at a time when we should know much, much better. People are afraid to challenge the conclusions of people who position themselves as representing “social justice”, partly because they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history or go against what is morally right, and partly because they are afraid of being targeted and publicly shamed. But we should not automatically cede the moral highground to people just becuase they slap “justice” in the name of their group. My issue is specificlaly that it is not moral or just to drastically favor one group of people over another based merely on biology. If it’s justice we want, I’m with you, but this isn’t it.
There’s so much wrong with Jones’s thinking here that it’s hard to know where to start, and I hate to waste my time on this garbage, so I’ll just do a bullet point list.
- You can’t solve the problem of discrimination by practicing discrimination. Do I even need to elaborate here? There’s just no way to do it without practicing precisely what one is hoping to counter.
- You can’t punish someone for someone else’s privilege or wrongdoing. Just because, historically, this or that group was included, privileged, or had some sort of claim to power, doesn’t mean you can punish people today who merely share the same superficial biological traits. This is the underlying problem with “racial profiling”, or the Hatfields & the McCoys, and there’s just no way to exercise this kind of punishment in the name of justice. One person does not, because of their body, stand in for another.
- Nobody is born guilty. I think everyone should be able to agree on this, but if we are going to blacklist men for a year or more, what are we going on other than their sex at birth? Nothing. You cannot redress historical wrongs against innocent people by punishing innocent people. Jones’s idea, however hypothetical, of only buying women’s art for 150 years, would cruelly and sadistically exclude generations of males at birth.
- We can’t get past sexism if we insist on defining people by their sex. There’s no way around this, and someone always being unfairly discriminated against, if we rather stupidly insist that who or what we are is predetermined by our physical bodies before we were even born.
- People are invisible minds, not unconscious bodies. Yes, it’s much, much harder to judge someone if we can’t make a snap judgement, and we have to somehow consider all the millions of significant invisible choices they’ve made over their entire lives. Science can’t even find consciousness, and yet it’s the seat of the mind, and of our entire subjective experience. Our true nature is not only invisible, hence colorless, it is not even physical. I see the body as one set of circumstances that the consciousness is bound within, but not as utterly defining it. Judging the person by the body can be as dim as judging the poker player by the hand dealt. But if you want to define a person by the meat and bone of their body, rather than by the mind, I guess that’s your right to be a complete imbecile. Meanwhile, your entire day is composed of the struggle of making decisions and taking actions, but a lifetime of this contest is irrelevant as compared to your DNA before firth. OK. Just don’t pat yourself on the back for it too vigorously in public. Imagine that instead of only buying women’s art, they were to say we are only going to buy the art of left-handed people. We’d object and say, let’s look at the art, shall we?! And that’s exactly what we should be saying here.
- We should not make the dire mistake of judging art by the artist. How utterly stupid and irresponsible! And no, that’s not how things worked in the past, up until recently. Mary Cassatt was successful in her lifetime, and far more so than Vincent Van Gogh. Has there been a museum that has instituted a male-only buying policy for a year in the last century? No. Had there been a male-only buying year at the Baltimore museum in 2019, a female-only year might be an appropriate tit-for-tat (albeit stupid) in 2020. But that’s not what happened. What we are ultimately fighting against is very specifically sidelining artists because of their biology, and we are hoping to fix this by doing the exact same thing. Impossible. How do we determine in 2020 if an artist deserves to be shown in a museum? How do we know if they have something to say, or if they have suffered (not that that’s necessary)? We can look at the work to tell us, or we can look at the birth certificate.
- You can’t discriminate without violating the sanctify of the individual. The problem with all forms of prejudice and discrimination is judging an individual by whatever deleterious qualities, or whatever state of being, we attribute to the group we assign them to. The thing to appreciate here is that each person is an individual, hence individual rights apply equally to everyone. The Baltimore Museum is practicing punishing individuals because of group association.
The whole mentality of this is like saying that because in ancient times Chinese men arranged to have the feet of Chinese woman bound, we can ethically bind the feet of Chinese men, or boys, or babies, today, and congratulate ourselves as being virtuous for it.
This is just “an eye for an eye”, only people who haven’t lost an eye, and are in positions of power, are taking the eyes of people who never took an eye.
“I would say the 2020 Vision is just an extension of a code of ethics that has been deeply embedded within the museum… Building a permanent collection is building a story for all time.” ~ Christopher Bedford, the museum’s director.
What are those ethics, and who decided that the purpose of art is to build a story? I quite think the individual art pieces tell very different stories and can’t be unified under one umbrella, or to be more to the point, one singular narrative. So, the museum doesn’t choose art because it’s the best, but in order to build a story. And I gather we are re-writing the story in order to better achieve the goal of equity, in which case equal representation is clearly more important than quality.
And, take note, whether or not you agree with the “ethics” in question, it’s taken for granted that it’s OK that any ethics is “deeply embedded within the museum”. How the F would you like that if Jessie Helms or Rudolph Giuliani said it, and it was THEIR ethics that were embedded in the museum? Oh, right, my activist friend, not at all, NOT AT ALL! Well, I don’t like either their politics or yours much. I’m for a separation of church, state, AND art.
“I’m hoping that all of us can start to think about how patriarchy and hierarchy has really diminished people’s interest in museums and cultural centers… This will enliven your audience. It’s just the right thing to do.” ~ Artist, Elissa Blount Moorhead
Well, we still have hierarchy, it’s just reversed, and much more deliberate and conspicuous. I think she’s right that an overarching, institutionalized system of prejudice is likely to create far less than optimal results, and I dare say people are as bored and put off by radical political correctness / identity politics as they are by old-school chauvinism. We’re still being narrow-minded, still defining people by their biology, still discriminating, still disqualifying artists because of their physiology at birth, still abusing power for self interest. The only thing that’s changed is the meat and bones of the people in power exercising it to discriminate against people. The mental cancer is the same and growing.
In August 2019, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced its 2020 Vision, a year of exhibitions and programs dedicated to the presentation of the achievements of female-identifying artists.
In both quotes above we can convince ourselves that by only buying and showing artists of one sex, we are better establishing diversity! No, we aren’t. We are insisting on one master narrative. I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but all this clamoring for “diversity” also requires that each diverse member subscribe entirely to a single social justice belief system. So, in the name of difference, we all need to hop on the same bandwagon. That’s not diversity in art or ideas, but only in flesh. It is quite conspicuously a powerful uniformity of belief and purpose, and proud of it. They might even agree with my assessment if it were worded a little differently. I’m guessing that if we were to ask them privately if they considered themselves social justice advocates, we’d get a unanimous response. There’s a whole set of ideas I’d gamble most of them subscribe to, including a lot of postmodernism, the idea that western civilization is a blight on the Earth, whiteness is everything wrong with the world, and so on. It’s the zeitgeist of our era, and each zeitgeist is block-headed. This one certainly has some 90 degree corners on it.
Why risk becoming what we are fighting against? Why use the weapon of the enemy for our own personal good? There’s only one way out of the endless cycle of discriminating for or against people based on their biology, and that’s to abandon all the old weaponry and not hope to use it for retributive good. What the Baltimore museum is doing is the equivalent of a crash diet, which is unsustainable, obviously toxic, and suicidal in the long run.
If you want justice for women, you have to have justice for individuals and for invisible minds. You can’t gain the former while shredding the latter.
And if the white male director is such a fan of the new “code of ethics” than why doesn’t he step down? Oh, it’s OK to disqualify all male artists, but because he’s the one (or one of the ones) behind it, that makes him OK. No it doesn’t. Surely, women and POC are underrepresented as museum directors, in which case Christopher Bedford needs to relinquish his post immediately!
He’s like the man in the lifeboat with a bullhorn shouting, “Women and children first!” So, why’s he in a lifeboat? Oh, because he’s the one telling all the other males they don’t deserve to be. Why doesn’t he take a year off without pay? Oh, it’s easier to sacrifice other people’s careers for the greater good. Got it.
Same goes for Amelia Jones, who is a white woman. Again, surely women of color are less represented as professors and vice deans of research. Surely there’s a woman of color who can similarly argue that men need not apply in the art world for a century and a half. If you are happy to sacrifice millions of men, why not sacrifice a white woman as well? No?
All this decades-old tit-for-tat mentality bores the living crap out of me. And it’s not really tit-for-tat, either. The male artists in art museums weren’t chosen because they are men, they just had more opportunity and less obstacles in general. Most male artists didn’t make the cut, either, especially if they weren’t well off to begin with. How about we dump all that antiquated thinking, and start appreciating artists for the art they create as individuals, regardless of what it says on their birth certificates? You keep saying that we need to put off universal justice because right now we need retributive injustice, which is somehow a higher form of justice. Nope. Best to get on the healthiest diet now and skip the cuckoo crash diet.
And let’s be clear, I’m all for artists who happen to have been born women, or this or that race, having an equal playing field. This is not that, not intended to be that, and is anything but that. The best we can hope for here is that this was a period where we placed bodies over minds before we finally sorted our shit out and realized that minds come first when it comes to art, and bodies are irrelevant.
Yes, and I understand the underlying belief, which is that there was so much historical discrimination against women, that this is merely showcasing and supporting people who have severely been neglected and underrepresented. It’s a mere drop in the bucket. Why, it’s not discriminating against men, it’s just un-discriminating against women. In that case there should be more than enough female artists who rise to the top anyway, in which case there’s no need to deliberately discriminate. You can just choose the best artists and they will already be women, because, presumably, they have been overlooked for so long that there are stunning historical artists to choose from, and not just contemporary ones.
But that’s not even what this is really about. We’ve seen this all over the place. What is really happening is the the art world is being hijacked by a revolutionary social movement which is trying to gain power.
The BMA’s move was warmly received by activists who were pushing for greater diversity in the art world for decades. ~ Anna Sturla, CNN.
Yup! This is about activism, not art. And one of the consequences, which few people are willing to say out loud, let alone commit to writing, is that this is not going to bring us the best art, but we are going to see a lot of second and third rate art propped up because it supports the narrative. They wouldn’t really know how to tell the difference themselves, because they see art primarily through a political lens, in which case the presumed social import of the art is the core of the art. In another imaginary poll, I gather quite a few would agree that the ultimate aim of art is sociopolitical change. Certainly that is what I was taught in the university. When we choose art based on a quota system, we are undeniably making our desired quota the ultimate factor, cause, and result. And we are doing this in accordance with certain beliefs, which have nothing whatsoever to do with art. Imagine if we selected our basketball team the same way. It might make for a more colorful court, but we wouldn’t expect them to win any games (especially with our representation of extremely underrepresented dwarfs).
I’ve repeatedly defended art against being swallowed up by “social justice” and politics in general, because I’ve witnessed how this can go terribly awry. People who once said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” are now absolutely in power and insisting they are biologically exempt from corruption.
In my lived experience, whether the person doing the discriminating — with power — is a white man, a lesbian, a black man, or what have you, it’s the same ugliness in a different body. This was a hard lesson I learned in grad school. When, for example, one of my teachers said to me in a graduate seminar, “We’ve heard from you for 2,000 years, and nobody cares what you have to say anymore”, that was no less nasty because a woman of color had said it. It’s a kind of open, vehement discrimination that people now believe they can get away with, as long as the target is the accepted scapegoat and evil other. Of course anyone can abuse power, unless we are going to argue that some biological groups are inherently much more moral than others, which should be a highly offensive idea.
When you propose to fight fire with fire, everyone gets burned, and the only winner is fire. It’s time to put out the fire instead. Stop defining people by their biology, and discriminating against innocent people. It’s easier to wrap your head around, because you don’t have to delude yourself or else suffer cognitive dissonance, and everyone can get onboard.
And let’s please free art from the political ideologues and social revolutionaries vying for power. THAT is the greater good, and the real right thing to do.
If people want to shut out male artists, my art wasn’t under consideration to begin with, and I don’t even live in America. To a degree people can live in the worlds of their choice, and I don’t want to be a part of the official art world any more than it wants to include me.
As I researched this afresh this morning I can find absolutely nothing online where anyone has dared to question, analyze, or be critical of the museum’s decision. That itself is a bit chilling, because that makes me the only one publicly expressing my opinion. But here’s a couple more quotes which should be red flags, but are just swallowed as if they are candy-coated and dipped in cream.
“This how you raise awareness and shift the identity of an institution… You don’t just purchase one painting by a female artist of color and hang it on the wall next to a painting by Mark Rothko. To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical.”~ museum director Christopher Bedford.
[And have a look at those amazing modernist paintings he’s proudly posing in front of. Let me guess, they are there because they are paintings of brown people by a brown person and in brown. Let’s be open-minded and open-eyed. Is this what we have to look forward to? These paintings are mediocre for a gallery, and the tutu on the one on the right is ghastly the way it pooches out on her lower back. They’re not bad, but not exceptionally good, eitehr. We’ve exchanged great art for art by people we decided are themselves great because of their exalted DNA. I’m a big fan of Mark Bradford, and Kerry James Marshall, because their paintings really impress me, and I enjoy them. But I am not going to like these paintings simply because the artist is a person of color. The fine art museum has been replaced by a cultural heritage museum that desperately wants to trash white, western culture. This is feel-good moral bullshit with a sinister lining. It’s not art history, it’s contemporary social engineering for perpetual mental adolescents who think they are woke. And people like Christopher Bedford don’t know how to process visual art if they don’t know the race and gender of the artist first, in which case the utterly inconsequential has been elevated to the absolutely essential.]
The key takeaway here is that we are doing something radical in order to rectify centuries of imbalance. That should raise a few eyebrows if you can read between the lines. Radical is NOT usually a good word, unless you have a particular fondness for Pol Pot or Chairman Mao. An extreme solution is usually not going to be a compromise, or one that intelligently builds on what has worked before. It’s going to be a cheap and easy shot from the outside, that doesn’t really grapple with the real history of art, but comes at it through a narrow lens and with very easy solutions. Now the history of art can be reduced to “imbalance” on a spreadsheet, and the solution is just to shift the numbers. The history of art can now be boiled down to being about representation of different categories of people — because we now have gone back to seeing people as inextricable from their biological category — and thus art history was all wrong before because it didn’t adequately represent the current demographic of America. Art history and art theory have been replaced with a high school social studies exhibit. Art history is actually really a tough subject to wrap one’s head around, but social justice is super-duper easy. We can, of course, do the same thing with science. How about we only fund female scientists and their projects for a year, or a hundred years?
Imagine we had the same brilliant attitude towards philosophy. Surely most philosophers in the western history of philosophy are men. To adjust for this patriarchal imbalance, we will re-write the history of philosophy so that at least 50% of female philosophers are read. In order to do this — because, y’know, back in Plato’s day most all the philosophers were men — we will need to only listen to female philosophers for the next hundred years or more, and especially women of color. You see the problem here? We aren’t dealing with the content of the philosophy at all, but merely categorizing the philosophers by their DNA at birth. The philosophy in question wasn’t about gender or propping up men, though there may have been a small element of that somewhere on the periphery. It was about dealing with existence, the human condition, and moral quandaries. But now it is about equally representing the views of diverse categories of people, and, mind you, they better all come to the same, accepted, politically correct conclusions! And this is precisely what we are doing with art.
“The challenges are systemic and widespread, because many of the works in local donors, local patrons’ collections are traditionally made by male artists… There are these various subtle but consistent, pervasive markers of what is considered creative achievement, and we are trying to reset all of those markers.” ~ BMA chief curator Asma Naeem
The red flag here is similar to Bedford’s, which is overturning all of art history and aesthetics in the present, and in accordance with one very narrow and critically flawed social justice ideology. We will now revise what is “creative achievement’ to mean what is created by the people with the preferred DNA in a new hierarchy, so long as they, again, make art in accordance with the desired belief system.
No thanks. I don’t want art be an iron fist in the service of a cultural revolution. You go ahead and redefine art and art history according to your ideological preconceptions, but that won’t change actual art, or the human creative spirit. A hijacked plane does not alter the science of aeronautics.