The greatest films of all time: a critics’ poll and a filmmakers’ poll

December 2, 2022 • 12:15 pm

I was pleased to get two lists of great movies (I’m a sucker for lists of great art) from Justin Remes, associate professor of film studies at Iowa State University (he also wrote Absence in Cinema: The Art of Showing Nothing). I’ll quote his email with permission:

I know you occasionally post about cinema, so I thought you might be interested to know that the highly respected Sight and Sound poll of The Greatest Films of All Time (which is only published every ten years) was just released today. You can find the critics’ poll here and the filmmakers’ poll here. For what it’s worth, my personal pick for the greatest film of all time is 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I was happy to see that at the top of the directors’ poll. As for Jeanne Dielman, which is at the top of the critics’ poll, I think it’s a great film, although it wouldn’t make my own personal top 10. It was a shock to see it there, however–I really don’t think anyone could have predicted it would come in at number 1. (In the last Sight and Sound poll, it was 36!)

I’ll give the top ten in each of the two polls. First, the top ten in the CRITICS’ POLL, with the best put first (remember, there are 100 movies in each poll). Click on each screenshot to go to the site describing the movie. At the bottom I’ve put a link to my own list of best films, posted here twelve years ago.

I haven’t even heard of this Best Film!

I’ve seen this one and it’s very good, but not #2:

A great film, better than “Vertigo”:

This and Kurusawa’s “Ikiru” are my favorite foreign films. And Ikiru isn’t even on the list!  See both of them!

Just okay, but that’s it:

I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen this film—Justin’s favorite:

Haven’t seen this one, but I should:

Nope. Gripping, but not worthy of #8, much less #80:

Haven’t seen this one (I’m getting ashamed):

A very good musical—one of the best of the genre—but not one of the best films:

“The Godfather” is #12, and Ozu’s “Late Spring” comes in at #21 (all the films in Ozu’s “season cycle” are excellent).

Second, the top ten in the DIRECTORS’  (FILMMAKERS) POLL, with the best put first. There’s a fair amount of overlap with the previous list.

Maybe I should see this film!

“Citizen Kane” is at the top of every “greatest movies” list, as it should be.

This is a very great film. Aren’t we lucky to have seen it as a first run (well, those of us who are older)?

A reminder to see this movie. If you are the action-movie type, you may not like it: it’s a family drama and slow paced. I love it very much.

Okay, now I gotta see this film!

These next two are tied, and I wouldn’t put them in my top ten.

There is no #7 because of the ties. I haven’t seen this one:

These next three are tied for the #9 slot. None of them would be on my list, and I’m not a Bergman fan at all:

Gotta see this one, too, as I haven’t:

At least “Ikiru” makes it on this list, though only at #72: tied with “Chinatown” (a superb film) and “The Seventh Seal”, another Bergman film.

Now I posted my own list of “Best Movies” back in 2010, and it hasn’t changed, though perhaps I’d add 2019’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” to it. (I left “Citizen Kane” off my list because it’s everybody’s choice.)  The one movie missing from both of the lists above is my favorite American movie, “The Last Picture Show” (1971).  The omission is shameful!

Now it’s your turn, as always. Post the list of your “best movies”, preferably the top five. After all, it’s a great way for all of us to find new things to watch.

Content warnings to the max: Princeton drama jumps the shark

November 21, 2022 • 9:15 am

Adamandi, a musical, was first performed at Princeton University on November 11, and continued until 8 days later. A description from the website:

A new horror musical in the genre of dark academia with book and lyrics by Mel Hornyak and Elliot Valentine Lee and music by Lee. The story focuses on three queer students of color at an elite college going to horrific lengths to prove their worth for a coveted graduation honor. The show features a score with baroque pop and dark cabaret influences. Performance on 11/18 features open captions. No tickets required.

And a photo by Larry Levanti:

But the humorous (and telling) part of this musical is the mammoth list of content warnings that accompanies it. You can see them all at the link below (click on screenshot), and I’ll reproduce most of them

 

Detailed Content Warnings

These content warnings are provided so that you can still consume the show if you want to avoid one or more of the content warnings. ‘Cues’ are visual changes onstage that you can use as a signal that a certain content warning will come up imminently. A ‘discussion’ is characters talking about the topic, while a ‘depiction’ involves an abstract staging of a character experiencing the topic (note that Adamandi does not feature any practical blood effects or gore). However, many of the content warnings are incorporated throughout the show, so please consider your overall comfort with murder, student death, Catholic guilt, and discussions of self-harm when deciding whether to see Adamandi.

Loud Noises

Loud noises (books dropped from a height/shouting) occur in scene transitions after Where Can I Run (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the stage), A Little More In Love (Act I, cue: Quincy leaves the stage), and Quincy and Vincent’s discussion of Vincent’s project (Act I, cue: Quincy proposes they team up).

Self-harm through Exercise

Self-harm through exercise is discussed in Sound Body, Sound Mind (Act I, cue: Ambrose and his friends surround Vincent), and Me, Myself and I (Act I, cue: Quincy sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’ the first time), and depicted abstractly in the scene transitions after Where Can I Run (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the stage), A Little More In Love (Act I, cue: Quincy leaves the stage), and Quincy and Vincent’s discussion of Vincent’s project (Act I, cue: Quincy proposes they team up).

Self-harm through Burning

Self-harm through burning is discussed during the scene where Portia and Quincy are on the stage left balcony (Act II), the scene after Quincy and Vincent talk to the Administration (Act II), and On The Other Side of Failure (Act II, cue: Quincy enters holding a broom). It is depicted abstractly during Litany of the Martyrs (Act II, cue: Saint Lawrence says “One life, one death, one hell’), and I Hate and I Love (Act II, cue: Quincy lights candles on the balcony).

Internalized Homophobia

Internalized homophobia is discussed in the scene where Ambrose and Vincent talk in the gym (Act I, cue: Ambrose leaves the Marmorei in the gym), throughout I Love You, I Swear, and depicted in the scene before I Love You, I Swear (Act I, cue: Beatrix and Portia finish their interview.)

Body/Corpse Mutilation

Body/corpse mutilation is discussed in Oh, Ms. Reporter (Act II, cue: Vincent sits down in a chair at the lip of the stage) and implicitly depicted in the final scene of Act II (cue: the pyre is wheeled in)

Murder

Murder is discussed in the scene between Beatrix and Vincent in the newsroom (Act I, cue: Beatrix unlocks the file cabinet) as well as throughout Act II, and depicted abstractly at the end of Act I (cue: The ensemble sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’), and the end of Act II (cue: Quincy sings ‘I Hate and I Love’ for the second time)

Suicide

Suicide is briefly discussed in Word to the Wise (Act I, cue: Quincy and Vincent are pushed towards the lip of the stage), discussed in Perfect at School (Act I, cue: Quincy stands from the interview table), Read All About It (cue: start of Act II), the scene after Student Body (Act II, cue: Vincent enters Quincy’s room with Ambrose), Where Can I Run (Reprise) (Act II, cue: Quincy holds out their hands to Vincent), and the scene that takes place on the Pyre (Act II, cue: the pyre is wheeled in).

Gender Dysphoria and Internalized Transphobia

Gender dysphoria and internalized transphobia is discussed in the scene after Sound Body, Sound Mind (Act I, cue: Ambrose leaves the Marmorei in the gym), throughout I Love You, I Swear (Act I, cue: Ambrose speaks to his girlfriend offstage), and Me, Myself, and I (Act I, cue: Quincy sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’ the first time).

I had to include this one:

. . . . Catholic Guilt

Catholic guilt is discussed in the scene after A Little More In Love (Act I), Me, Myself, and I (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the newsroom), and throughout Act II.

What’s the issue with “Catholic guilt”?

There’s also a “note from the writers” at the bottom about heeding the warnings above, and how to leave the theater if you can’t take it any more.

Note that, as far as I can tell, not one of these items is actually depicted in the play; they’re all simply discussed.  If mere discussion of something like “murder” or “internalized homophobia” is enough to send you running from the play, or not going at all, then you shouldn’t be reading the news or browsing online. Or even getting out of bed. And life doesn’t give you trigger warnings when there are “loud noises”.

The data seem to show, at any rate, that if you have a phobia about something like these issues, the best way to overcome it not to avoid it forever but is to expose yourself to it (preferably with advice from a therapist). For you never know when something like murder or suicide will crop up in conversation or on the news. But this obtains for things you can actually see or experience, like videos of murder or mutilation—not simply discussion of such issues. The evening news imparts you a warning like this when something gruesome is shown: “Note: some of the following video might be disturbing,” which seems appropriate. But it doesn’t do that when simply reporting on murder or violence.

Are any of these trigger warnings necessary? I’d say that if these things were actually shown, a short description on the website might be appropriate; something like this: “Note, this play includes discussion of elements like murder, suicide, gender dysphoria, and Catholic guilt.” But a long list like the one above, describing exactly where the discussions are, vividly underlines the fragility of the students and the helicopter-playwright nature of artistry these days.

Readers might amuse themselves by imagining the trigger warnings that accompany plays like “Hamlet”, or books like Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, or Crime and Punishment. And what in the world do you do with paintings? After all, they’re right there before you, and if they have a trigger warning next to them, well, it’s already too late.

Here’s a video: TRIGGER WARNING: CATHOLIC GUILT TO THE MAX. (I love this song: one of Billy Joel’s best. It was issued in 1977.)

h/t: cesar

A disturbing tale of R. Crumb vs. fragile students, and the demonization of a professor

November 13, 2022 • 9:45 am

I usually think of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) as a “woke-ish” site, but there’s nothing pro-woke about artist Phoebe Goeckner’s description of how horribly she was treated when teaching “graphic art novels” and alternative comic-book art (e.g., R. Crumb) at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Click to read:

There’s nothing, it seems, that you can teach about such “alternative” comics/graphic art that isn’t offensive, particularly when you remember this stuff began in the Sixties as a reaction to anodyne comics.  R. Crumb, who, yes, sexualized women and dealt with fraught topics, was nevertheless wildly popular, especially because he was heterodox. And of course his work didn’t result in a whole generation of hippies that hated women.

Nevertheless, Glockener was repeatedly criticized by students, who complained to the administration, and was investigated by two offices involve with diversity and equity. An art exhibit she was invited to give at a local institute was canceled because of this controversy, as was a TEDx talk she was invited to give.

The article is long, and I won’t describe it in detail, but I’ll show a few images that incited student protest and got Glockner in trouble. Her comments are indented:

But in 2020, we were all “sheltering in place” because of the pandemic, and I was teaching on Zoom. The students Googled Robert Crumb before I could say much to contextualize his work. They immediately raised their voices in protest. Quoting from what they read, they insisted that Crumb was a “racist” and a “misogynist.” One student cried out that he had been accused of rape. Several insisted that showing any of his work was “hurtful.” They said I was “harming” the class.

I was taken aback. Comics are fundamentally a provocative medium, and Crumb is a provocative artist, but I didn’t think I had shown an especially offensive image. Crumb and his work have been the target of both high praise and bitter criticism for years, but before that moment, most of the students knew nothing about him — and seemed unwilling to question what they had read about him on the internet. Moreover, Crumb is a central figure in the history of comics. He can’t be written out of the books.

That’s for sure!  And if you’ve read Crumb (I have a collection of his comics) or seen the highly acclaimed movie about him and his dysfunctional family (“Crumb“, 1985, described by Gene Siskel as “the best movie of the year”), you’ll know that a lot of Crumb’s art involved working out his own psychological hangups, which happened to be a lot of readers’ psychological hangups, too. But don’t forget his greatest creation, the faux-guru Mr. Natural:

Mr. Natural, clearly a satire on the “enlightenment” that we all were seeking in the Sixties:

Below is another cover that got Glockener in trouble when she showed it:

As I searched for particular comics covers, I forgot that I was sharing my screen. The students watched as multiple images flashed by, images I planned to share later in the semester. One of them was the cover of Young Lust #5 (1977), featuring a Red Guard couple in a suggestive embrace.

The Young Lust series satirized romance comics of the 1940s-60s. This particular cover is a teaser for Jay Kinney’s Red Guard Romance, a love story set in Communist China during the Cultural Revolution. The story, dedicated to Zhou Yang, an early supporter of Mao’s who was later imprisoned, is a humorous critique of the Communist government’s oppressive methods of controlling behavior. Kinney satirizes the representations of cheering Mao supporters omnipresent in Cultural Revolution propaganda.

When the Young Lust cover came into view, one student raised the alarm: “Why are you showing us even more racist images?” The cover, the student said, “sexualized Asian women.”

Yes, if you’re determined to be offended, you can see this satire as racist (after all, there are Chinese people there), and “sexualizing Asian women” (no, it satirized Chinese culture during the Cultural Revolution). But I suspect the students didn’t know abut the Cultural Revolution, much less the red book the woman’s holding.

Gloeckner apologized, and her attempt to make amends by telling the students to watch the movie “Crumb” (95% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes), “failed miserably”.  The students formed an “R. Crumb Hate Corner”, which was really a Gloeckner hate corner, and then observed her daily and carefully, looking for further missteps. There were a few—but not serious ones nor ones that stemmed from racism or transphobia. But they were enough to inspire an article in The Michigan Daily demonizing her:

One of these students sent me screenshots from the Hate Corner throughout the semester. It soon became clear that the chat was not about Robert Crumb. It was about me. The “haters” were watching me carefully, waiting for me to slip up so they could add ammo to a document they were preparing, “Complaints Against Phoebe.” One day after class, two of my confidential informants shared their screen over Zoom and scrolled through the document, which described a plan to report me to the art-school administration. There was one statement that stood out to me, which I paraphrase here because I don’t have the document, something along the lines of: Let’s get this one right. We failed with the other professor — let’s do this one by the book. I inferred that they had attempted to bring charges against another teacher, without the desired outcome. Now they would try to get me, and make it stick.

This past May, a year and a half later, I received an email from an investigative reporter for The Michigan Daily, a student-run paper. She invited me to respond to a list of allegations against me, including: failure to use trigger warnings, exposing students to racist material, misgendering students, and demonstrating that I was a racist by confounding two names. Also included was an inflammatory accusation from someone outside the university who claimed I had kissed them on the forehead and whispered in their ear, “You are a dog.”

Where did such charges come from? Some were rooted in truth, however ungenerously construed. Early in the semester, after showing the Crumb image and before learning everyone’s name, I had apparently mixed up two students with Hispanic surnames. A screenshot from the R. Crumb Hate Corner claimed that this faux pas was inexcusable and proved that I was a racist. I’ve been working on a project in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, for 15 years. This allegation was so far from the truth that I could barely make sense of it.

Another day, I inadvertently misgendered a trans student, whom I had known the previous semester when they used a different pronoun. I immediately apologized. Screenshots followed.

I felt under siege.

The usual administrative investigation followed, involving both the Office of Institutional Equity and The Office of Diversity Equality and Inclusion (why are these separate offices?). Fortunately, these investigations were eventually dropped.  But the damage was done. All the complaints were added to her personnel file, her teaching had been permanently affected, and some opportunities were canceled. These included an invitation to give a TEDxUofM talk that was later withdrawn.

Gloeckner’s latest work was a series of miniatures based on her years of work in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, with photos like these:

The illustrated novel I’m working on now can’t be described as traditional “comics.” Based upon fact, experience, and research, it is about several families and a neighborhood in Ciudad Juárez, directly across the U.S. border.

I’ve drawn the images in my previous books with pen and ink. For my current project, I constructed miniature scenes and photographed them. Frustrated by my physical distance from the place and the people I’m writing about, I began building parts of Ciudad Juárez in my studio. I built replicas of houses I had visited, trying faithfully to reproduce interior and exterior details. The floor of my studio was covered in sand. I constructed dolls to populate the streets and buildings. The process of making all these things made me feel closer to the story. It was something of a spiritual ritual; I was recreating a particular place as it appeared at a particular time, and I no longer felt so distant. I could walk the streets of Anapra day or night, because they lived with me.

And for that she got this:

In 2018, the University of Michigan International Institute had invited me to exhibit a work in progress in its gallery. Several weeks before the exhibit was to open, I received an email from the International Institute describing some “strong concerns” about my project expressed by a group of professors in the Latina/o-studies program, who wished to remain anonymous to me. The program had been asked to co-sponsor the exhibit, a request which it declined.

The professors had been sent a brief description of the work along with two or three images. Based on this material, they voiced concern that “the miniaturization or infantilization of the Mexican body through the use of dolls could be trivializing and upsetting to some people”; they “worry that the scenes depicted might reinscribe negative racial stereotypes.”

Other remarks in the letter focused on the “demonization of Mexicans in national rhetoric” and the potential for “retraumatization” that the work, about a violent era in Juárez, might present. These concerns led this group of anonymous faculty members to conclude that the work should not be exhibited.

Although the identity of the writers was concealed from me, I responded to the director of the Latina/o-studies program, extending an invitation to those interested to visit my studio for a discussion of the project. I never got a response.

Miniaturization or infantilization of the Mexican body my tuchas!  Did they want full-sized sculptures?

Demonization of graphic novels isn’t limited to the Left, either:

Meanwhile, off campus, right-wingers are trying to get books like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Jerry Craft’s New Kid removed from school libraries. Although I wouldn’t say that I have faced a concerted effort to curtail free speech, I have heard one message unambiguously: Education is a safer occupation for those willing to limit their speech by excluding certain material. That would make it impossible to teach the history of comics.

Again, I’m surprised that a long plaint like this was published in the CHE, but it’s good that they did. Not that this will stop the Pecksniffs, but one lesson we learned, as we learned from the cancellation of Carole Hooven at Harvard, is that this stuff could be stopped in its tracks if college administrations had any spine, standing up for academic freedom. There is simply nothing wrong in what Gloeckner taught; the problem was the generation of fragile and easily offended students who cannot deal with anything challenging, and with the invertebrate administrators who feel they have to cater to the students because, after all, education is now a form of consumerism. Here’s Gloeckner’s ending:

I was hired because of the creative work I’ve done, and there was a time when I was happy to share my work and the work of artists I admire with my students. The art that interests me, as well as my own art, is messy. As in life, ugliness and beauty coexist. Some might feel the need for a trigger warning on nearly every page.

I now avoid talking about my work unless students ask me about it. I’m not proud of this.

Fabulous bodypainting by Johannes Stötter

May 31, 2022 • 1:00 pm

Johannes Stötter is an Italian artist who spends hours creating bodypainted images made up of one to several models, each of which is painstakingly adorned with body paint. A bit about him from his website:

Professional artist Johannes Stötter is known for his groundbreaking work in the realm of body painting and body art. His 2013 creation of a tropical frog using 5 models went viral, propelling his career into another stratosphere. As a world renowned phenomenon, Johannes has won numerous awards, reached various milestones and received several accolades from notable press. Based in northern Italy, he resides in a small town in the Alps; holding a deep connection with nature, he gains much of his inspiration. Guided by his life’s philosophy, and motivated by everyday life, his fascination with people of various cultures allows his ingenuity to flourish.

Rather than a static canvas, Johannes transfers his art onto live models, which enhances the connectivity between the artist, person and art-form. Bringing his artwork to life with each brush stroke, and creating detailed effects with his hands, he fuses the seen and unseen into one. Often blending his art into the backdrop of natural landscapes or indoor décor, he creates illusionary masterpieces, portraying the beauty of life forms within its very existence and vulnerability.

Stötter’s gallery, and the diversity of living and inanimate objects he fashions, can be seen here. In the meantime, I’ve collected every public video he has on YouTube (much fewer than his creations), and put them here so you can marvel at them. The works are evanescent, but are preserved in video. Most of these you’ll have to watch by clicking on the YouTube link.

Owl:

Whale:

Butterfly:

Creation of the butterfly:

 

Wolf:

Chameleon:

Frog:

Angelfish:

Sea turtle:

Stiletto Heel:

h/t: Malcolm

Madeira and its doors

April 28, 2022 • 10:00 am

We will have two posts on Madeira based on our one-day visit. This one gives a brief overview and then shows the artistic doors of the island’s capital city.

We have landed in Funchal on the southern part of the island of Madeira, which itself is Portuguese. (With a population of about 100,000,, a cute town, a market, and access to a lovely botanical garden, Funchal is the island’s largest city and its biggest tourist destination.)

Click on photos to enlarge them.

The cruise tracker shows us here:

A larger perspective:

Through my cabin window: another gorgeous day:

Here’s Funchal from the Botanical Gardens about 500 m up the mountain (more on the plants in the next post). The Gardens also houses the still-occupied mansion of the Blandy family, which got rich making Madeira wine  (If you’ve drunk Madeira, you’ve undoubtedly had their wine.)

See our ship way below? (Go to next photo)

Our ship (arrow) which is dwarfed by a regular cruise ship:

We were told that when the city was seedier and a haven for sailors, prostitutes, and other such trade, the city fathers decided to encourage people to paint their stores and houses as a way of restoring respectability. Funchal is now plenty respectable and prosperous, and the doors are lovely. Here are a few:

A restaurant with a well fed customer. Can you spot the cat?

Also on a restaurant: a traditional drink for returning sailors made with rum, honey, and sugar. We were told it was served warm, so it would be a hot toddy.

A Berber, presumably from Morocco:

Cats are in many of the door paintings:

A DUCK STORE! I would have gone in, but we were on a tour:

The Duck Store had two duck doors:

A salacious mail slot:

A bookshop with book-y doors:

Can you spot the cat?

These are my two favorites. There were many more doors, but no time to photograph them!

I almost forgot dinner last night. Le menu:

I didn’t feel like eating baby cow, and I’m not much of a piscivore, so I did what one reader suggested the other day: ordered the sirloin steak, which is always available. First, though, a spinach salad:

Sirloin steak ordered rare but cooked medium rare, or even a tad more. It was okay but next time I’m going to order it “mooing”. It’s hard to cook such a thin steak rare on the inside and cooked on the outside.

Sticky date pudding with spun sugar ornamentation. As usual, this was the best course:

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 23, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today we have an unusual combination of biology, art, and the history of science, contributed by Athayde Tonhasca Júnior. His notes are indented and he wrote this: “Some of your readers may be interested in learning about Maria Merian, a remarkable and not widely known scientist.”  So here we go! (Do click the photos to enlarge them.)

Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses (8 AD) is a collection of myths and legends with a central theme of transformation or metamorphosis, from the Greek meta (change) and morphe (form). The poem has had a profound influence on Western literature and art, so classicist-inspired biologists and naturalists had a perfectly fitting word to describe one of the most fascinating and baffling biological phenomena.

Fig 1. Ovid manuscript on parchment, 11th to 13th century. Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli.

Metamorphosis is the process in which some insects and other animals undergo radical change in form and function when growing from immature to adult phases. This transformation requires the complete dissolution of the animal’s internal organs and their reassembly into a new creature entirely: see an example of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. The mechanisms and chemistry of metamorphosis are still not fully understood.

Metamorphosis seems so disconcerting that for centuries nobody would consider that larvae and adult insects were the same animal. That view began to change with the work of Jan Goedart (1617–1688) and Jan Swammerdam (1637–1680), Dutch naturalists and entomologists who demonstrated that larva, pupa and adult insect were phases in the development of a single individual.

Goedart’s and Swammerdam’s drawings and descriptions did not go unnoticed by a young German expat, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a woman with a remarkable biography. Since her teenage years, Merian painted, collected and studied plants and insects, particularly moths and butterflies. She married and started a family, but never abandoned her art and scientific investigations. She moved to Amsterdam after leaving her husband, supporting her two daughters through her publications, selling hand-mixed paints and linens, and teaching painting and embroidery to young women.

In 1699, at the age of 52, Merian and her youngest daughter left for Surinam, then a Dutch colony. In a venture that would be gutsy today, the Merians travelled alone through the South-American jungle for two years, observing, drawing and collecting plants and animals. Merian was one of the first persons to record parasitic wasps emerging from the cocoon of a moth or butterfly, and the metamorphosis of a tropical butterfly. The two women returned to Amsterdam loaded with preserved animal and plant specimens. Merian published her book about her studies, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, and continued painting, publishing and trading specimens until her death.

Fig. 2. A Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium volume bound with calf leather with the accompanying text in Latin. Merian dedicated her publication ‘to all lovers and investigators of nature’.

Artist-naturalists of the period were predictable and formal: they usually depicted specimens singly against a neutral background. But Merian drew and hand-coloured animals and plants in their surroundings and interacting with each other. Her paintings were descriptive, for example showing a flower reproductive cycle from bud through fruit. Or all the stages of a butterfly, from caterpillar to imago (the adult, mature stage), host plants included. Merian’s plates portrayed ecological communities and species interactions almost two centuries before German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term oecologie, which was the foundation for the field of Ecology.

Fig 3. A butterfly’s life cycle and a pomegranate (Punica granatum). Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, 1726 edition.

Fig 4. Ants and spiders from Suriname. Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, 1705:

Merian’s artistic style become a standard for scientific illustration, still in use in today’s nature guides. Through her beautiful and accurate art and observations, Merian made metamorphosis and other biological phenomena widely known, and helped dismiss the entrenched belief that insects generated spontaneously.

Fig 5. Metamorphosis of a frog, M.S. Merian, 1701.

Fig 6. A spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) and a false coral snake (Anilius scytale) Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, 1705.

 

Merian was respected and acknowledged by fellow naturalists of her generation. Carl Linnaeus would later classify insects based on her drawings, and Goethe, who was a poet and a naturalist, celebrated Merian for her ability to move ‘between art and science, between nature observation and artistic intention.’ But eventually her work was forgotten until the 1970s, when the Soviet Academy of Sciences republished her paintings. The world rediscovered Merian’s achievements, and she has been celebrated in currency, postage stamps, academic publications, books and museum exhibitions. A plant genus (Meriania), a lizard (Salvator merianae), a toad (Rhinella merianae), a spider (Metellina merianae), among other species, have been named in her honour. These accolades are well deserved. Maria Sibylla Merian was the woman who made science beautiful.

Fig 6. German banknote depicting Maria Sibylla Merian and a parasitic wasp.

 

Heather Mac Donald reviews more art museums

February 19, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Heather Mac Donald is funny and snarky when she goes after the wokeness that is taking over art. In fact no matter what art you mention: music, paintings, novels, plays, and so on—it’s all being Wokeified. That holds not only for older art, but also for newer art, which is minutely scrutinized for ideological purity (think of Spielberg’s new movie version of West Side Story, which, though he tried mightily to filter out the impurity, was still found wanting by Pecksniffs).

Mac Donald’s collection of writings for the City Journal is here, and you may want to read her two-part series on the Wokifying of Music, “Classical Music’s Suicide Pact”, Part I and Part 2.

And as for older art, well you can just forget about it. If your standards are Progressive Leftist purity rather than aesthetics, your art history is going to have to be revised, redacted, or removed, and that’s happening.  The other day I highlighted Mac Donald’s takedowns of two exhibits at the Met, and she’s continuing on with the article below about an exhibit on Hogarth at Tate Britain as well as a new exhibit at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Click to read:

The circumstances of the Tate exhibit did not bode well:

Tate Britain invited 18 consultants from academic identity studies and the contemporary art world to interpret works by the eighteenth-century social critic and satirist William Hogarth, the subject of its exhibit “Hogarth and Europe.”

What happened is exactly what you might expect: the wall cards are pure insanity: an example of people reading into Hogarth ideological messages that they detest—but aren’t even there. There must be a name for this kind of delusion. Psychosis?

One example:

The wall text by guest curator Sonia E. Barrett, a German–Jamaican installation artist, who, according to her Tate bio, “performs furniture to explore themes of race and gender,” is emblematic of the results. The point of a Hogarth self-portrait, Barrett explains, is the chair in which the artist sits as he works on a cartoon for an oil painting. That chair, in Bennett’s view, represents both Hogarth’s sexism and Western slavery. In a treatise on art, Hogarth had praised the female form as the epitome of beauty. And now here he is sitting on a chair that is as shapely as a woman’s body—just like a male chauvinist! “The curvaceous chair literally supports him,” Barrett notes grimly.

Barrett is not through with the chair. She claims that it is “made from timbers shipped from the colonies, via routes which also shipped enslaved people.” The next connection will jump out to anyone even remotely acquainted with postcolonial studies: “Could the chair also stand-in [sic] for all those unnamed black and brown people enabling the society that supports his vigorous creativity?” Honest answer: No. Hogarth had no intention of representing enslaved people by painting himself in his chair; the chance that he was even aware of the wood’s alleged origins is slight.

Seriously! Here’s the painting. The chair didn’t jump out at me, but apparently Hogarth was well acquainted with postcolonial studies:

Thins didn’t fare much better in Amsterda. (I’m leaving out some of the paintings Mac Donald discusses). Even what many regard as one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, “The Night Watch”, gets criticized for–surprise!–lack of ethnic diversity

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has also entered the revisionism business, rewriting 80 of its wall texts to incorporate anticolonial perspectives. As usual, these texts “read the absences” in a painting (to echo deconstructive rhetoric), rather than the presences. Rembrandt’s monumental canvas, The Night Watch, is the artist’s and the museum’s most famous painting. It is a structural tour de force, assembling 34 individuals associated with Amsterdam’s civil guard in various groupings under contrasting sources of light. To a curator dedicated to racial justice, however, the only noteworthy thing about the massive composition is the pigmentation of the subjects’ skin: “As in most other 17th-century works, only white people are seen in this painting.” Yet a “modest community of African people actually lived nearby,” the curators note, whom Rembrandt should have memorialized in his great civic tableau if he had cared about racial diversity—which of course he should have.

Calling Amsterdam’s African community “modest” is undoubtedly an overstatement. If just one of the 34 individuals in the canvas were black, that would correspond proportionally to a 3 percent black population in Amsterdam. By comparison, California’s current population is 6 percent black. There is no chance that blacks made up 3 percent of Amsterdam’s seventeenth-century population; their presence was likely well below 1 percent.

Well, Mac Donald could have used some statistics here, for you’d need to calculate the probability that there would be no black people in the painting given the proportion of blacks in Amsterdam (not known), coupled with the assumption that the company depicted would have been a random selection of Amsterdam’s inhabitants (ludicrous on the face of it). That none are shown is hardly an indictment of racism.

And of course the Civil Guard would have been all white people. The fact is that Rembrandt was simply painting the identifiable individuals in Captain Banninck Cocq’s company of civil guards, who actually commissioned the painting. Now Cocq may have been bigoted in selecting his men, but we don’t know.

Was Rembrandt, anticipating the critics of four centuries hence, supposed to tell Captain Cocq to “stick in some diversity”? The painting is what it is—i.e., a portrait of its subject—and it’s a masterpiece given the limitations of depicting motion in what’s essentially a vanity painting

There’s one more, and the pivotal feature of this still life turns out to be salt, which isn’t even depicted:

The wall text to Willem Claesz Heda’s Still Life With Gilt Cup faults the artist for not representing events that had not even happened yet. The work is a gorgeous arrangement of creamy linen, jade glass, pewter, a half-eaten roll, oysters, and a peeled lemon, against a velvety taupe background. A useful curatorial gloss might have explained the still life convention of overturned tableware, as seen in this canvas. Instead, the curators focus on only one item: salt. “One year after this picture was painted,” the wall text notes, “the Netherlands conquered Bonaire for its salt pans. The Arawak (the original inhabitants) and enslaved people from West Africa were forced to mine the salt pans. They stood day in and day out barefoot in the stinging salt water and under the blazing sun. In the Netherlands, this salt was used to preserve meat and fish or ended up in luxurious salt cellars, like the one shown here.”

Why did Heda bother to work out the structural relations in his composition? He could have painted a mound of salt and been done with it, had he even anticipated the coming conquest of Bonaire. The resulting loss of beauty that such a switch in subject matter would entail means nothing to the revisionist curator, who is indifferent to everything outside of his political program.

Here’s that lovely painting, and note that NO SALT IS VISIBLE! But that doesn’t stop the Pecksniffs, who just mentally journey into the future from 1635 and lambaste the Dutch conquerers (not Heda) for their odious behavior. But on these grounds, one could criticize virtually any painting a few hundred years old because the nation in which the painter worked happened to do bad stuff. Every nation has done bad stuff.

But what does that have to do with art?

h/t: cesar

Heather Mac Donald on two new exhibits at the Met

February 17, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Of course Heather Mac Donald‘s a right-winger, but don’t ignore her writings. How else would you learn about these two new exhibits at the Met?  And she’s a good writer who has interesting things to say. I’ve read her last two books, The War on Cops and The Diversity DelusionEven if you’re on the opposite side politically, she’s the enemy who has the best arguments that you need to know.

Together with the shenanigans at Chicago’s Art Institute, this gives a good idea of what’s going to happen to art museums (and art instruction) in the near future: all art will be made to fit an ideological narrative.  That reminds me of Soviet-style art, which of course was dreadful and deadly, and takes away one of the values of art: to be “heterodox”.  From now on, there will be only two kinds of art: art that supports the oppressor, and art that supports the oppressed. Even the still-life paintings of the Dutch masters fall into one of these classes (the former, of course).

Plus, you would never read this stuff in the New York Times or Washington Post! Click screenshot for an edifying read:

It’s a long but entertaining piece, and deals with the shows “In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at the Met”, as well “The African Origin of Civlization.”  I’ll just give a few quotes to show what we art lovers will be facing in the next ten or fifty years.

On the Dutch show:

Thus, the commentary accompanying “In Praise of Painting” wearily notes that “of course” there are “blind spots in the story these particular acquisitions tell. Colonialism, slavery, and war—major themes in seventeenth-century Dutch history—are scarcely visible here.” It is hard to know who is more at fault, in the Met’s view: the artists or the art lovers who collected their work. Few seventeenth-century Dutch paintings treat of “colonialism, slavery, and war,” and fewer still approach the technical mastery of the Dutch canon.

This one, about Dutch still-life paintings, really burns my onions, but Mac Donald describes it with the appropriate snark:

“In Praise of Painting” adopts that strategy as well. “Still life paintings pictured the bounty provided by newly established Dutch trade routes and the Republic’s economic success, while omitting the human cost of colonial warfare and slavery,” the accompanying wall text points out. The curators do not reveal how a still life painter should portray the “human cost of colonial warfare and slavery.” As even the curators admit, a still life by definition focuses on “things without people.” The Dutch masters, who brought the nascent genre to peak gorgeousness, may have delighted in the dragon-fly translucence of grapes and the somber radiance of silver and cut glass; they may have taught us to see beauty in a kitchen’s bounty. Not good enough. They should have anticipated twenty-first-century concerns about racial justice and revised their subject matter accordingly.

and

The museum’s benefactors also receive a feminist whack. “Only one picture painted by an early modern Dutch woman has entered the collection over the course of nearly 150 years,” the curators scold. Which Jacob van Ruisdael or Gerard ter Borch would the curators forego for a painting chosen on identity grounds? There simply weren’t as many females as males painting in the seventeenth century. Today, there are; women have unfettered access to art schools and galleries. The Met’s founders bought its female-painted Dutch Baroque canvas—a towering arrangement of peonies, tulips, roses, and marigolds—in 1871. Sexism did not prevent that addition to the museum’s original holdings, but sexism, we are to believe, prevented follow-up purchases.

Doesn’t the painting below reek with colonialism? All that cheese, fruit, and bread purloined from Dutch colonies!

A banquet still life: Nicolaes Gillis, Laid Table, 1611, oil on wood, 59 x 79 cm, Private collection. https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/gillis/laidtabl.html

On the African Origin of Civilization exhibit:  This one has the theme that our civilization really began in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose denizens went to Egypt—envisioned as a black civilization—and then left Egypt to go South again. Egypt, rather than Greece and Rome, is seen as the origin of many of the founding and sustaining principles of the West. You can read Mac Donald’s take for yourself; suffice it to say that she’s no fan of Afrocentrism.

What bothers me most about the exhibit are two things. First, it appears to rely heavily on the Afrocentric scholarship of Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), a Senegalese historian and writer whose work has largely been rejected, even by black historians. Mac Donald, for instance, reports such a dismissal by Kwame Anthony Appiah, a scholar of African history:

Contrary to the Met’s designation of Diop as “influential,” outside the mainstream is where his scholarship has remained. His oeuvre is a marginal presence in African or Egyptian studies, except in the most fervent bastions of Afrocentrism, such as Temple University’s Department of Africology and African American Studies (which also offers a course on Ebonics). Frank Snowden, a Howard University classicist, showed definitively in 1989 that Diop, in Snowden’s words, “distorts his classical sources,” including Herodotus. Oxford University Press’s African History (2007) notes that Diop’s theories have been “convincingly rejected by archeologists and historians on empirical grounds.” Kwame Anthony Appiah called Diop an example of “romantic racialism.”

And yet Diop’s ideas are the very nucleus of this exhibit!

Worse, the exhibit dishonestly distorts Diop’s own words to buttress its Afrocentric thesis:

The show is based on the writings of Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop (1923–1986). Diop held that ancient Egypt was black, that ancient Egypt and modern Sub-Saharan Africa are part of a unified black civilization, and that this black African civilization, not Greece or Rome, is the source of Western civilization. The exhibit opens with a covertly doctored quote from Diop: “The history of Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians connect it with the history of Egypt” (more on that doctoring below).

. . . The original Diop quote with which the Met opens its “African Origin” show, before the Met doctored it, was more explicit about Diop’s racial agenda. The actual sentence reads: “The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians dare to connect it with the history of Egypt” (emphasis added). The Met removed the words in italics, underplaying the Afrocentric angle and smoothing over Diop’s own acknowledgment of how outside the mainstream his scholarship was.

If Mac Donald isn’t making this up, it stands as an example of arrant dishonesty on the part of the Met, for they didn’t even note that the quote had been changed. And of course the change wasn’t accidental: it was made to support the centrality of his Afrocentric thesis.

Yep, this is what we’re in for. I think the only way for us art fans to deal with this trend is, when you go to a museum, do not read the labels. In fact, don’t read anything at all!

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Socialist realism! Lots of paintings at this site:

Maus banned in a Tennessee school distrinct because of eight swear words and a naked rodent

January 27, 2022 • 9:30 am

Today we’ll have two posts on how the “Elect”—et’s use that instead of “woke”, so as to conform to John McWhorter’s supposedly non-pejorative word—are changing or banning art to both confirm virtue and prevent others from enjoying good painting, dance, and writing. One source will be the liberal media; the other the conservative media. This first post deals mainly with literature, but I’ve put some “racialization of art” stuff at the very bottom.

Let’s start with the liberal media, which of course reports Elect shenanigans less often than does the liberal “MSM”. In this case, however, the Guardian is the source. This concerns Art Spiegelman’s “graphic novel” Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature (the “Special Awards and Letters” category) in 1986.

Before I first read Maus, I was disdainful of “graphic novels,” thinking they were just comic books for adults, made for people who wanted to look at pictures rather than read.

Was I wrong! I first saw Maus at the 57th Street Bookstore soon after I arrived in Chicago, and, knowing the plaudits it got, I pulled it off the shelf.  I started reading, and then couldn’t stop. The artwork, I found, added immensely to the power of the book, especially the depiction of all characters as animals, though one wouldn’t expect that power in a book about the Holocaust. I bought it, which I rarely do with books due to my groaning shelves, and it’s now one of several graphic novels I own. (The other two are volumes of wonderful series The Rabbi’s Cat, given to me by a friend.) It’s not just that the books have moggies in them; the attraction is, as in Animal Farm, that messages can be driven home more deeply using animals as metaphors than by straight depiction of human actions.

At any rate, everyone should read Maus (and I also recommend The Rabbi’s Cat).  But, according to the Guardian the good (?) people on a Tennessee school board have taken it upon themselves to deprive students of this access—for no good reason.

Click on the screenshot below to read the piece. You know it’s gotta be egregious censorship if the woke Guardian reports it!

Why did the school board, which after deciding to redact the book, find it more practical to ban it outright? Because there was a single depiction of nudity OF A MOUSE and a few swear words that kids hear (and use) every day. An excerpt from the article (my emphasis):

Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.

The graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by New Yorker Art Spiegelman, uses hand-drawn illustrations of mice and cats to depict how the author’s parents survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

The graphic memoir elevated a pulp mass medium to high art when it nabbed a slew of literary awards in 1992 but appears not to have impressed educators in Mcminn county.

Ten board members unanimously agreed in favour of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum, citing its use of the phrase “God Damn” and drawings of “naked pictures” of women, according to minutes taken from a board of education meeting earlier this month.

Here’s the only passage about nudity (OF A MOUSE) in the school board minutes (have a look at the link above):

Mike Cochran- I will start. I went to school here thirteen years. I learned math, English, Reading and History. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. In third grade I had one of my classmates come up to me and say hey what’s this word? I sounded it out and it was “damn,” and I was real proud of myself because I sounded it out. She ran straight to the teacher and told her I was cussing. Besides that one book which I think she brought from home, now I’ve seen a cuss word in a textbook at school. So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it.

. . .We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there. You see the naked pictures, you see the razor, the blade where the mom is cutting herself. You see her laying in a pool of her own blood. You have all this stuff in here, again, reading this to myself it was a decent book until the end. I thought the end was stupid to be honest with you. A lot of the cussing had to do with the son cussing out the father, so I don’t really know how that teaches our kids any kind of ethical stuff. It’s just the opposite, instead of treating his father with some kind of respect, he treated his father like he was the victim.

We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.

At least Mickey Mouse had the decency to cover his shame with pants!

At first they thought about just redacting the panels with nudity and cussing, but that would lead to copyright violations:

“There is some rough, objectionable language in this book,” director of school, Lee Parkison, is recorded as saying in the session’s opening remarks.

Parkison continued to say he had “consulted with our attorney” and as a result “we decided the best way to fix or handle the language in this book was to redact it … to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to.”

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

. . . After much discussion over the redaction of words the members found objectionable, the board eventually decided that alongside copyright concerns, it would be better to ban the graphic novel altogether.

Eventually they voted to entirely remove the book from the eight-grade curriculum. Those kids are about fourteen years old, and you tell me that none of them has seen a drawing or photo of a naked woman before, or heard (much less used) the words “God damn”.

But apparently the use of animals was said to”brutalize the Holocaust”, as if it wasn’t sufficiently brutal. Indeed, to bring home the nature of the Holocaust, pictures (either photos or artwork) are essential; words alone are insufficient:

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

“I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel,” Allman said in reference to the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during the second world war.

“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” he added.

Allman also took aim at Spiegelman himself, alleging: “I may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy.”

“You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”

Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”.

“We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there,” Cochran said.

“We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”

Here we have a bunch of Pecksniffian parents making the decision that fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t have access to a famous, powerful, and moving graphic novel.

Spiegelman’s reaction:

Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the outcome in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” the 73-year-old author said, adding he thought the school board was “Orwellian” for approving the ban.

Spiegelman’s Jewish parents were both sent to Nazi concentration camps and his mother took her own life when he was just 20.

“I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said. “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.”

Well of course not all of Tennessee is demented, but there are some school board members who are acting, well, I won’t give my reaction.  Let’s just say it’s similar to Neil Gaiman’s:

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I don’t know where else to put this item, but it appears that Wokeness Electness has invaded the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I don’t know how far the rot has spread, but readers might check for themselves.  We know, at least, that David and Canova, were racists.  They could at least have depicted Socrates as a person of color!

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

h/t: Jean

The lies of the Art Institute of Chicago

October 26, 2021 • 11:00 am

If you’ve read this site, you’ll know that the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) recently got rid of 80-odd volunteer docents, peremptorily firing them via email despite the fact that most of them had worked (for free) for many years and knew tons about the art. They were good guides and cost the AIC nothing.

The reason was clear: the docents were mostly older white women of means, who had the time for the rigorous training and heavy schedule of giving tours. But because the docents didn’t “look like” the population of Chicago (i.e., there were few African-Americans or Hispanics among them), they had to go—en masse. They’re being replaced by a much smaller and less well-trained staff of paid volunteers, with promises that someday real volunteers will return. In the meantime, the newly-fired docents have been told they can apply for the paid jobs, but given that these jobs are meant to increase racial diversity, they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. Their consolation prize is a three-year free membership to the AIC. Big whoop!

I’m all in favor of diversity, but firing a well-trained group of ardent volunteer guides and art-lovers is not the way the AIC should have gone about it. I won’t go into the alternatives, but the readers here suggested many.

In the meantime, I heard from one reader who is a member of the AIC and wrote to them in protest. This reader got a mealy-mouthed generic response that had a list of frequently-asked questions about DocentGate and their answers. I’ll show two. The two documents I mention here, by the way, are available via judicious inquiry.

From the FAQ:

Why is this decision being portrayed in the media as being about socioeconomics and race?

Unfortunately some have tried to portray this positive evolution of a hybrid educator program into a discussion of identity politics, which it is not. We are simply updating an education model to best serve Chicagoland students. During this time when tours have decreased due to the pandemic, we will use paid educators, and as demand for school tours increases with recovery from the pandemic, we will bring in additional paid educators and institute a new hybrid model that incorporates volunteers with updated training.

Note the weaselly first sentence which says it is “not” a discussion of identity politics. But, as I’ll show you in a minute, that’s an arrant lie, for a letter from James Rondeau to AIC members shows it’s all about identity politics. As I said, increasing diversity among guides is a laudable goal. But why does the AIC lie about it here?

One more lying answer:

Why was the program unsustainable? 

The docents went through rigorous training, and the demands of the program were unsustainable in numerous ways. In nearly all recent news articles, the docents themselves acknowledge how difficult the work was to manage—a topic that the docents and museum had long been discussing. Many talented and qualified candidates could not participate because of the time the training required and when the training was offered.

Part of the reason we are taking this time to step back and evaluate is to make it easier for all volunteers—current and potential—to engage and contribute in the future. We‘re committed to creating a new program that does not have so many barriers to entry. We value the docents’ knowledge and experience and look forward to the insights they will bring to the advisory council that will be consulting on the direction of the new hybrid model.

I doubt that the docents would agree with this. After all, the program had done on for 60 years, and even though docents may have kvetched (I’m not aware of any beefs), nobody quit. They canned the program not because there were barriers to entry involving too much training, but because there were not enough docents who were people of color. Why can’t the AIC just admit that this is all about increasing diversity among the docents? They only look worse when they dissimulate and lie about it.

Now about those lies; here are some excerpts to a letter to all AIC members by the President and Director James Rondeau (also available on request). Do you think race isn’t involved? In fact, it’s EVERYTHING. I’ve bolded a paragraph that shows this.

One year after stating our commitment to racial justice and equity, I feel it is critical to do several things, the first of which is to reaffirm this commitment.

Last year, we pledged to renew our ongoing assessment of our organization and its culture, internally and publicly, and prioritize efforts to ensure visitors and staff are welcomed; foster employee engagement and trust; elevate artists and histories that have been marginalized; develop programming that is diverse, challenging, and impactful; continue to evolve educational programming to reflect current social discourse and inspire students from wide-ranging backgrounds; cultivate a visitorship that more accurately reflects the demographics of our city; and honor and embrace our civic role.

This one-year marker offers an opportunity to reflect on the steps we have taken toward addressing these inequities, to acknowledge where progress has been more difficult and slower than desired, and also to look ahead.

We acknowledge that this work—dismantling decades of marginalizing, exclusionary practices and their impact on the present—is continual and ongoing, and we recognize that an anti-racist philosophy must be ingrained into every aspect of our work—every day, in every encounter, in every decision. These ideas are reflected in a new identity, vision, and strategy document. This guiding plan—developed, reviewed, and iterated with colleagues throughout the museum—provides a revised mission as well as new values and equity statements. Moreover, it incorporates equity and inclusion principles into every one of our goals—from increasing the accessibility of our content and ensuring our spaces are welcoming to all to fostering organizational health and honoring our civic role.

. . . Throughout the last year, we have put an enormous focus on staff and internal culture—because to be the museum we want to be for our visitors, we need to create and support a more inclusive environment for our staff. As part of a substantial reorganization, we created a crucial new division of People and Culture, including the department of Inclusion and Belonging, a new team that is integral to both advancing our equity efforts and fostering a supportive anti-racist employee culture. While this team’s work is just beginning, their first priority has been to create opportunities for community and support for employees, especially during moments of institutional, local, and national trauma. Next, they will focus on building actionable working plans to measure progress around hiring and promoting more inclusively, establishing leadership development programs specifically for BIPOC colleagues.

Not about race my tuchas! I’ll send this letter to anyone who asks.

The AIC has apparently already established an “affinity space” (a segregated space) for black staffers, and plans on “launching an Asian/Asian American and Pacific Islander affinity space to offer supportive space for A/AAPI colleagues.”

Finally, two statements in Rondeau’s letter support the hypothesis (see yesterday’s post) that part of the reason for having diversity among the guides is to start interpreting art through an ideologically compatible lens as a way of “disrupting Western culture”. This, of course, is my cynical interpretation of these statements from President Rondeau (emphasis is mine):

We have also focused our attention on our collection—strengthening the representation of works by BIPOC artists in our holdings through important acquisitions and presenting a more diverse representation of artists in our galleries—especially Black artists with connections to Chicago. This work comes to life in a variety of spaces, but particularly in our contemporary galleries. Moving forward, we are evaluating how these works are presented to our audiences with a more critical lens and have instituted a process to reassess label text to provide more diverse perspectives in the galleries. . . 

. . . When we are able to host students on-site again, we are relaunching our in-person school tours with a wholly different program—one developed in collaboration with teachers, artists, volunteers, and school administrators—to prioritize equity and inclusion. This evolving program, virtual and in person, transforms not only the content of our tours but the approach to be one of connection and exchange that uses art as a catalyst for the holistic engagement of students with themselves, each other, and the world around them.

In other words, art appreciation is going to become an ideological tool. Or so I think. But even if I’m wrong here, I don’t understand why the Art Institute had to lie about its motives, and do it so transparently that anyone with two neurons to rub together could see what’s really happening.