The nation’s art schools, already seriously undermined by the cynicism and careerism that dominated the idea of artistic “success” in the 1980s, are now, it appears, to be the next target of the political thought police. Or so we are obliged to conclude from an article in the February issue of the New Art Examiner the monthly journal of the visual arts that is funded largely by government agencies. In this article, entitled “Bleached, Straightened, and Fixed” and written by Catherine Lord, who is identified as the “chair” of the department of studio art at the University of California at Irvine, we are treated to the following observations:
American art schools and art departments, like the American art scene, have been nothing less than a long nightmare for women, for people of color, and for gays and lesbians. While every administrator in the country anxious to maintain the departmental body count has in the last few years learned to chant the mantra of “freedom of expression,” “diversity,” and “individual creativity,” access to these goodies has historically been limited to white men, only a limited number of them gay, and those safely apolitical. The culture industry is profoundly conservative. Art schools and art departments, far from being the Utopias for inquiring minds, have been prisons of sexism, racism, and homophobia.
Another charge brought by Catherine Lord is that many of these “prisons”—which is to say, art schools and art departments of colleges and universities—are, as she writes, “mired in painting, drawing, and sculpture.” It isn’t entirely clear from her article what these schools should be teaching instead of painting, drawing, and sculpture, but political indoctrination in the ideology of multiculturalism would undoubtedly be given a priority over what is called “Eurocentric Modernism,” which is alleged to “relegate women and people of color to the margins.”
It is—need we say?—the function of a good art school to teach both the skills required for the arts of painting, drawing, and sculpture, and some larger understanding of what the life of art entails. If these skills and this understanding are to be consigned—along with the rest of Western culture—to that famous ashheap of history, what functions will be left for our art schools and art departments to perform? The answer is obvious: politics, politics, and more politics.
In the political program that Catherine Lord is offering her radical followers, she advises them to ask of the school in which they serve the question “Who pays for the institution?” In this regard, it is worth noting that the New Art Examiner is funded by, among many other public agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the Maryland State Arts Council, the Missouri Arts Council, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and even, for its coverage in the United Kingdom, by a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 9 Number 8, on page 3
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