Saturday, October 29, 2016

some links for the weekend, the death of Jack Chick, decline in MFA applicants

Over at The New Republic Jeet Heer had a not entirely surprising (as in at all) piece discussing how the lately departed Jack Chick was the Leni Riefenstahl of American cartooning.

I.e. you might find his views detestable but it's beyond all possible dispute that Chick tracts, as comics, were a touchstone within the medium, even if you really hated getting them handed to you

Christianity Today also has a piece on the departed cartoonist

Across the country, art schools have minted a growing number of visual art MFA programs over the last 10 to 15 years. Many of them now face a challenge, as application numbers and enrollment figures are falling, according to the better part of a dozen insiders who spoke to artnet News, some of them on condition of anonymity. 

The increase in number of MFA programs has been dramatic. New York’s School of Visual Arts, for example, had just four graduate programs two decades ago. By 10 years ago, the school had doubled that number, and by five years ago that number had nearly doubled again. Today, the school hosts 11 MFA programs among its 21 graduate programs, which accommodate over 600 students (and which also include specialties in art education and art therapy). The school even has MFAs in both fine arts and art making.

The increase in the number of programs turns out to not have a correspondence with the number of living students who are willing to sign on, at least lately.

Over the last twenty some years I've come to the conclusion that one of the things vocational artists need to consider is that they can have only one of two relationships to institutional norms and power structures--you can either be a servant of the ruling class or a member of the ruling class but you can only ever be one of these relational dynamics.  While artists and would-be artists in the United States might feel drawn to ideological and political theories that exempt them from having to identify themselves as being one of these two categories of people as vocational artists a consistently applied understanding of the axiom "all art is political" should bring with it an understanding that if all art is political then you have to understand which empire (if you have a choice about that) you're serving. 

The arts have been the domain of leisure and education so if you're a vocational artist you may just be a member of a ruling class even if you don't think you are.  Leftists tend to view the ruling elite as a financial oligarchy while rightists tend to view the ruling elite as tenured radicals but why should we rule out the likelihood that both elements are co-extensive?

HT to DG Hart ...
making America great again just like England, France, Russia and Germany ...

Hart links to this article here and notes that it's in the history of empires to imagine their values and norms are universal and universally good for humans.


To end on a slightly hopeful note, allow me to make two final cultural references. The first comes from one of my favorite films, Lawrence of Arabia—itself a gloriously imperfect meditation on empire. In a pivotal early scene, Lawrence rejects the fatalism of his desert comrades after one man falls off his camel in the night and is lost in the desert wastes. Lawrence wants to go back and rescue him. His friends tell him not to bother because his fate is sealed, or as Sherif Ali puts it: “It is written.” Lawrence rejects the philosophy behind this passive construction as well as his friend’s advice and rides back to rescue the man anyway. When Lawrence returns with the man, both of them worn out and near death, Lawrence manages to croak to Sherif Ali, “Nothing is written.” Nations, like individuals, should not be in a hurry to surrender to fate and toss aside our freedom of choice. We still have the ability to write our own destiny.

It doesn't get more "not fate but what we make", does it?  The larger case for how and why the various empires of the West viewed their ideals as universal human goods is worth it, all the same.

As Hart put it:

One lesson is that American exceptionalism is pretty ordinary.

The second is that the United States had a real chance to be exceptional by not following the ways of European greatness. A modest republic of hardworking and self-discipline citizens with a limited government was what some had in mind. That would have been great.

That was (and is) too much to hope for.  American exceptionalism and cultural imperialism are so organically saturated within the left and right that the only reason the groups of the left and right don't see themselves as guilty of the same essentially jingoistic form of cultural imperialism is they've convinced themselves that the color of the sugar-water beverage constitutes a foundational difference in core values.  It's hard not to notice this in this election cycle.  Progressives tend see themselves as continuing the ideals formulated within the foundation of the United States and, really, daring to apply those ideals of individual liberty more consistently.  Conservatives tend to see themselves upholding those values, too, obviously.  If the propagandists of the left and right weren't so busy trying to paint each other out as traitors to the ideals they might have time to notice that those ideals are, give or take a few qualifying elements, have often been the ideals of Western imperialists since the dawn of Western imperialism. 


Cal of Chelcice said...

I'm a bit bemused to see Hart cut through the cobwebs of Imperial propaganda to only bite a republican (little r, not the party) hook. America was never that yeoman's paradise, and such a dream was concocted by men who could not appreciate the land they farmed was taken by force and maintained, in large parts, by enslaved labor. Republican criticisms of feudalism, subjecthood, aristocracy etc etc. are hollow lest one bite the bullet of the racial inferiority, and thus exclusion, of Africans and Indians.

Trump as the so-called "blue-collar" businessman who made it big is a legend fitting the legends of the gentleman farmer Washington (a grandee who married into wealth and status) and Jefferson (an heir to Tidewater socio-political clout).

I'm always amazed at Reformed people like Hart who are a sucker for good ol' fashion Americana. You'd think they'd be more aware of the noetic effects of sin!


Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

It seems the noetic effects of sin can't be fully grasped even after a lifetime of discovery. :)

With some American Indian in the lineage here, it's been interesting at a local level to consider the unhappy legacy of the PNW tribes on slavery. Progressives who would look to the American Indians for a more broad-minded approach to sexuality and gender tend to skate swiftly over their practices with regard to slavery and intra-tribal caste systems. Sherman Alexie has remarked over the years how a lot of what white progressives imagine was the history of the American Indian tribes turned out to be the pious forgeries of ... white progressives from the 19th century. Years ago one of my Indian friends who was Hopi remarked that the galling thing about Dances with Wolves was how it insisted on lionizing a tribe that tried to massacre his people, how can you root for them when you know that?

Even though it seems we're better situated than ever before to have a scholarly and careful approach to history that tries to avoid simplifying things unnecessarily our left and right seem determined to exempt themselves from the bloodiest and most shameful parts of our shared history. The left and the right seem to be pining for apocalyptic fantasies that locate us in a future or a past that hasn't existed except in the swirling rhetoric of the left and the right. It has been interesting this year to mull over how for the left the evil ruling class is the financial sector and how for the right the evil ruling class is the academic sector when there's no really clear reason why both ruling classes can't bear some blame for the situation at hand.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

well, maybe Hart's struggling. Sometimes he'll publish something like this.

Maybe he needs some gentle persuasion. :)