Wednesday, December 19, 2018

the point and counterpoint about the risks the liberal arts face in the US and the question of whether, say, an MFA isn't a big scam continues to percolate

In a lot of ways worries in the current administration that the liberal arts may not survive the tech era seem pedestrian, even if there have been real reasons to be concerned how well arts funding may go in the United States.

Yet it can seem that for any concern about the future of liberal arts educations in high education as questions about testing and class and austerities go, there can reliably be a question as to whether or not the higher education in liberal arts isn't itself part of the problem.  In some cases there can be polemics to the effect that the master in fine arts has become, basically, a giant scam. Thus Charlie Tyson writes:

One of the glorious features of contemporary art is that any material — tangled museum ropes, used lipstick tubes, untreated lumber — can be made interesting with the aid of a canny framing. (One student brings in a basket of bread for participants in his critique; the program director hastens to explain that the bread is not part of the work.) The ability to position one’s efforts as protest or satire, experiment or dream, is more than glib posturing. What the ritual of critique tests, however, is command of a particular vocabulary, one that emphasizes transgression, resistance, and rupture. An irony is that this insistence on verbal virtuosity privileges certain educational and class backgrounds.
In today’s M.F.A. programs, Fine concludes, "learning to think takes priority over learning to make." But do M.F.A. students learn to think well? Art schools require students to justify and explain their art in highly theoretical terms, but give them no adequate instruction in philosophy, literature, or any other discursive field that prizes subtle distinctions or analytical clarity. M.F.A. candidates are assigned books by Fredric Jameson, Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, and other prophets bellowing down from the cliffs of high theory. But the students seldom do more than skim the reading, Fine reports, so as to reserve the bulk of their time for work in the studio. Seminar discussions of these complicated theoretical texts — led, typically, by professional artists, not art historians, literary theorists, or philosophers — do little to explicate the ideas. Students are encouraged to invoke theory, Fine suggests, as a way of claiming authority. The actual texts often remain unread.
The problem, as I see it, isn’t that M.F.A. students are being educated in what is sometimes dismissively called "bad philosophy." We can, and should, argue about the merits of the various theorists in the art-school canon, and about how much theory artists need in the first place. The problem is that this education in theory, supposedly central, is superficial: The thinkers are too often reduced to slogans or catchwords. (Scholars in the humanities are not immune to this kind of posturing, but judging from Fine’s account, it seems rarer there.) That we get artist statements quoted here that begin, "I question modernity, while constantly interrogating Cartesian duality …" — blind lumbering in the dark plains of philosophy — results not from student incompetence but from misplaced expectations.
The single most significant effect of the proliferation of M.F.A. programs, Fine surmises shrewdly, is as a benefit not to students but to their teachers. Art schools have created a job market for working artists, granting badly needed stability to practitioners. The M.F.A. is a place where the specialized tastes of the art world are promulgated and where ascendant artists claim time to experiment. But it is, above all, a patronage system.

Tom Wolfe wrote near the end of The Painted Word that by the 1970s art theory had ascended far up its own fundamental aperture and came whisking down, as if from the heavens, as pure theory, literature.  One of his insults of the way art education had developed within the United States was with the mock axiom that if he didn't have a theory of seeing he couldn't even see a painting.  The irony was not even implicit, Wolfe spelled it out in page after page, that a great deal of what passed for compelling modern art was less about the art itself than about the literary theorizing and philosophy with which the art object was presented as an art object, the proverbial as well as more literal framing contexts within which the art object could even be perceived to be an art object.

Which could be put another way, that the literary processes of branding can take precedence over the art work itself being explicable as a work in visual media. 

Now I love theoretical stuff.  I sincerely love theoretical and analytical studies, particularly in music.  So I'm working on refining a piece I wrote last year about the possibility of temporal/spatial correspondence between the syntactics of ragtime and sonata form because I realize I should include musical quotations from the works I've referenced which I hope to do with some help from IMSLP.  I can "tell" you that James Scott recapitulates B strains in some of his work but I should really show you how he does that, or that a recapitulation of a B strain as a conclusion to a ragtime can also happen in something like "Grizzly Bear Rag".  I hope to tackle that some time in the next few weeks if I don't end up waiting to do that until 2019. 

But I hope you can pick up that working toward a conceptual or theoretical foundation from which to write sonatas in ragtime, one of the immensely popular styles of music in the United States in the 1890s through 1920s, is not "just" a theoretical enterprise.   What I sense has been a problem perceived on either side of the academic and commercial art scenes is that each of these scenes in the United States in particular, has seemed to become, in the eyes and ears of many people, far too insular and self-referential.

In a way there's not a lot that can be done to remedy that ... but in another way there's a lot you could do to remedy that if people were willing to restore some kind of synergistic relationship between academic and popular art forms.  It's been happening for generations.  Guitarists could turn to Villa-Lobos and Leo Brouer as exemplars of such a high/low fusion in classical guitar music.  But I don't want to belabor that point with too many historical instances.  Ideally you can already think of any number of such instances yourself.

It's not that the idea behind an MFA has to be a bad thing ... it's that it seems there are people who are regarding the contemporary American MFA as having picked up a lot of bad elements. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

over at OldLife D. G. Hart muses upon something Kevin DeYoung wrote that gets me wondering about something else


 Chortles Weakly tweeted a link to an old (2014) article by Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly about denominations and parachurch organizations. One paragraph stood out:
The ministries of T4G and TGC are distinct and prominent on the landscape of American evangelicalism, but they are not novel or unique. Other ministries share many of the same aims and inhabit the same theological universe of evangelical Calvinism. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), founded by the late James Montgomery Boice in 1994, is something of a forerunner to today’s most popular partnerships. This multi-dimensional networking and resourcing ministry is similar in many respects to TGC. Several church-planting networks also contribute to the scene, including Acts 29 (now led by Matt Chandler) and Redeemer City to City (under Tim Keller). While some such church-planting networks function as something closer to denominations, with pastoral training and a vetting process, they nevertheless together represent this growth of intentional collegiality that is not merely denominational.
Notice that one parachurch organization is insufficient for all the interested parties. TGC wants unity. Its members want to be the voice of broadly Reformed evangelicalism: 
And yet, we’re supposed to look to these gents for wisdom?

I keep thinking of that rave review Kevin DeYoung had for the Doug Wilson and Randy Booth book called A Justice Primer, retracted after the first edition was found to be brimming with plagiarism, now republished in a second edition as of August 2018.  I plan to get around to reading the book once a suitably second-hand copy is at hand. For those who don't remember the review, it's brief.

Douglas Wilson and Randy BoothA Justice Primer (Canon Press, 2015). I thought this was a book on social justice, economics, and big picture politics. It’s actually a book about how the Bible would have us judge each other (or not) in the mad, mad world of blog warriors and internet vigilantes. This book is full of refreshing wisdom. I hope it reaches a wide audience. And if you already know that Doug Wilson is a good-for-nothing scoundrel (and I don’t know him personally and do strongly disagree with him at times), then that’s an indication that you really need this book. [UPDATE: It seems that portions of the book were plagiarized, which, while not changing the nature of the content, cannot help but affect one’s opinion of the book. I hope Wilson and Booth will respond to the evidence presented in the link above. NEXT UPDATE: The book has been discontinued by Canon Press because of “negligence and gross incompetence” resulting in plagiarism and improper citation.]


since this blog somehow got a reputation for being a watchblog on the subject of Mars Hill it's only natural I might be curious to eventually find out what Wilson and Booth might have to say about blog warriors (of which Wilson himself is a particularly determined exemplar).  But when I was about to get a copy of the first edition, poof, it was gone ... like the Joker's pencil in The Dark Knight

But now it's back, in a second edition.  Is the book still awesome or has DeYoung forgotten about it? 

So when Hart closes his post with, "And yet, we’re supposed to look to these gents for wisdom?" there's more than just the spread-too-thin issue to consider by now. If TGC contributors can rave about a book that turns out to have been full of plagiarism rather than, oh, being the kinds of readers and scholars who could have spotted the plagiarism and noted it in a review when they first had a chance to review it ... should we take these guys seriously as knowing how best to advice us about things related to church stuff?  It would seem increasingly the answer to that question or set of questions is very likely "no".  

HT Phoenix Preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber says it's okay to look at porn if it's ethically sourced ... a reminder that affirming the legitimacy of Christian pornography was something Mark Driscoll mentioned as William Wallace II back in 2000

If the mantle of hipster cussing pastor who has edgy things to say about sexuality has been passed from Mark Driscoll to another, the mantle may have passed on to Nadia Bolz-Weber.

But somewhere maybe William Wallace II realizes his shtick has been appropriated by an ELCA pastrix ...

In a recent interview with a New Jersey-based publication, pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber says her new book—Shameless: A Sexual Reformation—touches on the issue of sexual ethics and the church.
Bolz-Weber argued we shouldn’t shame those who consume pornography if, and only if, the pornography is “ethically sourced.”
I wonder if Bolz-Weber understands that this gimmick might be at least twenty years old as a core idea and that it is at least eighteen years old by now in terms of being published on the internet by a pastor.  
Who else among the cadre of cussing pastors who are hip and real have broached the topic of how pornography can be done in a Christian way?

Ah, that's right, Mark Driscoll, when he wrote as William Wallace II and published a post called "Using Your Penis"

We've published this before here at Wenatchee The Hatchet but let's revisit a somewhat lengthy stretch of it just so people can see for themselves.  A few salient passages will be highlighted in red.

Author  Topic:   Using your penis  
William Wallace II
Member   posted 01-08-2001 10:59 PM              
The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may seem, it is not your penis. Ultimately, God created you and it is His penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while. 

While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wandering the streets looking for a house to live in. Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home. 
Therefore, if you are single you must remember that your penis is homeless and needs a home. But, though you may believe your hand is shaped like a home, it is not. And, though women other than your wife may look like a home, to rest there would be breaking into another mans home. And, if you look at a man it is quite obvious that what a homeless man does not need is another man without a home. Paul tells us that your penis actually belongs to your wife, and once you are married she will trade you it for her home (I Corinthians 7:4), and every man knows this is a very good trade for him to make. 

With his penis, the man is supposed to please his wife and learn how to be patient, self-controlled and be educated on how to keep his home happy and joyous (I Corinthians 7:3). The man should be aroused by his new home, and his wife should rejoice at seeing his penis rise to greet her (Song of Songs 5:14b). 

[This message has been edited by William Wallace II (edited 01-08-2001).]
IP: Logged

William Wallace II
Member   posted 01-18-2001 11:13 AM              
Christian pornography. Christian phone sex. Christian cyber-sex. Christian lap dances. 
Someone recently asked me about these issues. And, they are quite valid. 

The problem with many unfaithful unmanly unmen is that they have heads filled with desires and dreams, but they marry a Christian women raised on a steady diet of gnosticism (so she hates her body) psychology (so she thinks too much before she climbs into bed) and guilt ridden don't have sex because it's a dirty nasty thing that God hates and makes you a slut youth group propaganda from hell/Family Books. 

So the poor guy is like a starving man who is told he can only eat once ever couple weeks and his restaurant only has one crummy unspiced bland item on the menu and he either eats it or starves to death. 

Bummer for that guy. 

What the guy wants is to see a stripper, a porno, and have some phone and cyber sex. What the guy needs is a good Christian woman. The kind of woman who knows that men like unclothed and sexually aggressive women. Why? Because they are breathing. As long as a man is alive he is ready for sex every minute of every day. 

Ladies, listen closely. The guy will never get the big dreams out of his head. He can either explore them with his wife, become bitter and sexually repressed, or sneak off to Deja Vu or log on to the net and escape in a moment of adventure. Birds fly, ducks float, dogs bark, and men think about sex every minute of every day because they have a magical ability to continually think of two things at one time, one of which is always sex. Any man who denies this is a liar or has broken plumbing.

So it would behoove a good godly woman to learn how to strip for her husband.
Some nice music, a couple of drinks, candlight and a wife who has thrown her youth group devotionals to the wind would be nice. Most women do not do this because they are uncomfortable with their bodies. Know that for a man there are two variables with a woman's body. One, what does she have to work with? Two, how does she use it? Now I will tell you a secret, number two is the most important. 

How about a Christian guy who wants to watch porno? Maybe his wife should get a Polaroid and snap a few shots of her in various states of marital undress and bliss and sneak them into his Bible so that when the guy sits down to eat his lunch at work and read some Scripture he has reasons to praise God. Or, maybe if the lady would plug in a camcorder and secretly film herself showering, undressing, making love to her husband etc. she could give it to him when he's on the road for weeks at a time, or maybe just so the poor guy can see his wife as some undressed passionate goddess. I have yet to find a wife take me up on this be rebuked by her husband. 

And what guy breaking his stones on the job every day wouldn't like a hot phone call from his wife now and then telling him in great detail what awaits him when he gets home. Or how about the occasional instant explicit message from his wife rolling across his screen giving him some reasons to expect that dessert will precede dinner that night. 

Do you know why the adult entertainment industry is raking in billions of dollars? Because people like to have sex and have fun. Does it lead to sin? Yes. Can it lead to worship. Of course. If you resist this message, please stay single until you get your head straightened out. If you are married and fully constipated, bummer for you and your upcoming divorce. 


If all of that quoted above was not Mark Driscoll's way of saying that ethically sourced porn was something Christians could legitimately enjoy within monogamous marriage, well, I don't know what else it could have been saying.

If Mark Driscoll, as William Wallace II, extolled the possibility of "Christian pornography" as being legitimate between husband and wife then whatever train Nadia Bolz-Weber thinks she may have boarded with her forthcoming book is a train that Mark Driscoll boarded back in 2000 as William Wallace II.  He first preached through Song of Songs back in 1998. Some twenty years ago there was that Mother Jones article wherein Driscoll said ...

“There are gays all over our church and I don’t need to yell at them like the religious right,” Driscoll says. “You can be a gay or punk and we’ll treat you like everybody else. Even if you never become a Christian, we’re still friends.” 
Mars Hill is all about acceptance. Compared to the religious right’s favorite son Ralph Reed, a vision of fundamentalist zeal in a blue suit, Driscoll seems downright countercultural. He’s unabashed about using the pulpit to discuss sex. “I speak very frankly about the reasons God made our bodies to experience orgasm, the Bible’s approval of oral sex between a husband and wife,” he says. “Once you’re married and as long as you remain monogamous, God tells his children to be unblushingly erotic and passionate.” 

He offers classes at church on topics such as “evangelical feminism” (“the Bible is clear that men and women are both created by God in His image and likeness and totally equal in every way,” he says) and disavows any link with conservative politics. “I used to think it was part of Christianity to be conservative,” he says. “I was further right than Falwell and Limbaugh.” Now he says he doesn’t even vote. What changed? “It got boring,” he says with a shrug. “And I realized that politics didn’t change anything, that in the meantime, people were still starving.”  [emphases added]

So if Bolz-Weber might really believe she's bringing something new to the pop Christian publishing table here's a news flash, Mark Driscoll was going that direction twenty years ago.  If even William Wallace II, better known as Mark Driscoll, could produce a litany of pornography that he considered, in Bolz-Weber's taxonomy, "ethically sourced" it may just be that there's absolutely nothing about Bolz-Weber's idea at a practical level that wasn't articulated by ... Mark Driscoll, two decades ago.

Sure, it's likely Bolz-Weber is aiming to endorse as okay a variety of things that Mark Driscoll would consider sinful but the core gimmick of saying that the right kind of porn is the right kind of thing for Christians to consume can't be one of those things.  Mark Driscoll, as we've quoted at moderate length from his William Wallace II days, was praising the legitimacy of Christians enjoying what Bolz-Weber might call ethically sourced pornography back in 2000.

There is nothing new under the sun ... apparently least of all at the pop Christian publishing industry ...

Having seen a response over at Phoenix Preacher regarding what Driscoll advocated, a bit of clarification.  The point I've considered at the post is not whether Driscoll and Nadia Bolz-Weber would agree on homosexuality or pornography use, the point I've proposed is that these are two celebrities who are using a cheap gimmick to sell books that never needed to be written and published in the first place and have assimilated talking about sex as a spiel into their public personas.  What these markets rely upon is the assumption that nobody reads across their respective liberal or conservative, red-state or blue-state trenches to observe the ways in which the same cheap gimmicks and rhetorical flourishes get used.  The long-form case that Driscoll became increasingly permissive across his twenty year career of writing publicly about sex and marriage and what was acceptable in marriage (which Driscoll himself, as William Wallace II, outlined as the creation of some kind of Christian porn) is a somewhat different topic.  There's any number of arguments to be made that what he advocated as acceptable within a Christian marriage is still ridiculous, foolish and perhaps even dangerous in terms of media use and production; but that's also not what I was looking at in this post.  Let's put it in a more direct and polemical way, hacks of this sort resort to the same stunts and gimmicks to promote their brands regardless of real differences of conviction about any number of issues. 

If either a Bolz-Weber or a Driscoll were writing a book-length treatment on recovering the value of lifelong celibacy that would be more of an effort to buck trends in the pop-level Christian book industry. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

another some links for the weekend, what's left of it post

this set of links for the weekend is older stuff I didn't get around to mentioning back when the news pegs were newer.  Take this one, for instance, that the founders of Aardman studios

The owners of Aardman, the animation studio behind Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and Morph, are handing over a 75% stake in the business to their 140 employees in a bid to protect the Bristol-based company’s independence.

Now maybe Shaun the Sheep is not quite Wallace and Gromit level wonderful, but it's still pretty charming. :) 


American history has largely forgotten what Washington knew. Narratives of national expansion and Indian conquest often neglect the complexity of Indian relations and ignore the reality of Indian power in the very formative years of the nation. Historians of the early Republic who focus on creating a new nation, the rivalry between Hamilton and Jefferson, and the challenges posed by relations with Britain and Revolutionary France often treat Indian affairs as tangential or even irrelevant. In fact, federal officials devoted much time, attention, and ink to conducting diplomatic relations with Indian politicians who, as the Moravian Rev. John Heckewelder observed, “display[ed] as much skill and dexterity, perhaps, as any people upon earth” in “the management of their national affairs.” Indian nations figured alongside European nations in the founding fathers’ thinking about the current and future state of the union. Indian leaders were adept at playing on American fears of British and Spanish backing for Indian resistance. Debates over the sovereignty of the United States and struggles over the extent and limits of federal authority and states’ rights centered on Indian treaties, and Indian issues, wars, and land policies were critical in developing a strong central government.

It would appear that some eagles really, really do not like drones!

Things Banksy related that I meant to link to earlier ... Banksy and the art-world related.

I recently sat disconsolately through a screener of director Nathaniel Kahn‘s new artworld documentary, “The Price of Everything.” Its dyspeptic take on the artworld turned my stomach. The film miscarries by not delivering what’s promised in its own synopsis:

While holding a funhouse mirror up to our consumerist culture, the film ultimately reaffirms the transcendent power of art itself [emphasis added] and the deep need we have for it in our lives.

Banksy’s stealth video of the bidding on the above work at Sotheby’s and the sales job that preceded it adds yet another layer of satire to a subversive intervention that has a more serious subtext—a critique of self-sabotaging auction houses that have damaged their credibility as a transparent public marketplace where buyers can feel reasonably confident that they are paying fair market value, equitably arrived at, on a level playing field.

Here are some excerpts from the auction house’s unintended self-parody in “Shred the Love–The Director’s Cut”:

Sotheby’s, London, employee: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of interest on it [the Banksy], as you can imagine. It’s, I think, by far the most asked-about lot in the sale.

Another Sotheby’s employee: Yes, and the artist put the frame on it as well….He quite likes the romanticism of having the National Gallery-esque [!?!] frame.

Cut to the Sotheby’s partygoers enjoying a good laugh (as Banksy and his merry pranksters, observing this swanky scene, must be also having, for different reasons).

Sotheby’s employee: I think this [the $260,600-390,900 presale estimate] is a fair price….Everyone’s got a chance!

Auctioneer Oliver Barker, exulting in the frenzied bidding on the doomed painting: We’ve never finished an auction with such energy. [BOOM!]

Little did Barker know what would happen next—the public shredding of a $1.4-million market trophy. At the end of his “Director’s Cut” video (with some 2.87 million views, at this writing), Banksy also shows us what was supposed to have happened—a complete shredding, not the half-shredding that auctiongoers (and Barker, who managed to keep his cool under alarming circumstances) had witnessed on Oct. 5:

in such a context it maybe isn't surprising that the proposal that an MFA degree in this day and age is basically a scam continues to have "feet".

Perhaps it's inevitable that Taylor Swift would endorse Democratic candidates and thereby semi-redeem herself in the eyes of other entertainers and culture journalists but ... her use of facial recognition technology to help track and apprehend stalkers has gotten some understandable protest.

Not that anybody needs a dozen or more stalkers, obviously!  But a "pre-crime" approach to keeping tabs on stalkers does seem creepy.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 ... decades ago it began and it's got a new variant out.  Slate has a piece commemorating what seems like a quintessentially Generation X sort of creation.



But Minnesota offered Hodgson a chance to try something daring he might not have gotten away with somewhere else. “I kind of knew I had a certain amount clout coming back to Minneapolis, and I wondered if I could use that to make a TV show made in Minneapolis rather than going to New York or L.A.,” Hodgson says. It would no doubt have been easier to get a typical TV show made on the coasts, but something strange and experimental, put together by hand and involving puppets and bad movies, might be better launched from the Midwest. With some help from performers from the late-’80s Twin Cities comedy scene, some of whom would stay with the show for years, it worked.

I've mused in the past about how what can be broadly defined as Generation X might have to be understood as having been born around a singular change in intellectual property and trademark. 

The kind of lazy bromides and axioms that can be rolled out about Wes Anderson films at The New Republic inspired me to reposition the work of someone like Anderson in light of a Generation X conundrum with respect to artistic activity.

Wes Anderson films as iterations of "boys not growing up" over at The New Republic--a few thoughts on Generation X growing up with the puzzle of how to play with the trademarked toys our parents bought for us

Since we're just a week or so away from, you know, some movie called Bumblebee, and a recent release was Into the Spider Verse, another Spiderman film, the idea that kids these days can't come up with their own ideas is a canard that seems eagerly taken up when something meets with a journalists disapproval.  Conversely, if a journalist raves about product X then now  matter how derivative The Last Jedi might be in terms of plot formulas, or how rote the Ghostbusters franchise reboot was doomed to be from jump, if journalists decide "we need this right now" that's that.  Whether from a red state pundit like Mark Driscoll or even blue state punditry at The New Republic, it's easier to cast a sweeping judgment on a generation than to consider that a generational response might be indicative of being stuck with the hand they've been dealt and trying to make the best of it. 

If this can be done for Millenials by saying that millenials didn't kill the US economy, the US economy gutted the possibility of millenials participating in the American Dream, then I could propose as a member of what's loosely called some kind of Generation X that what we have done in the arts is see how much can be done with a world of IP that was copyright and trademarked or had those extended ad infinitum, encompassing the popular culture we grew up and learned to love before any of us could be of the legal age to contribute to it in an institutional way.  

Whether it's Brad Bird or Christopher Nolan or any number of other directors or writers in mainstream cinema, I suggest we keep in mind that complaining that members of Generation X onward somehow aren't creative enough to please journalists might be putting the cart before the horse.  Journalists tend to write about what other people do more than they ever attempt to come up with stories of their own.  If we want to entertain the idea that Millenials were toast before they realized they were toast in economic terms, Generation X was stuck having to deal with a legal and economic regime in which all their pop culture was trademarked and locked into copyright that was extended so far into the future we of Generation X will die before any of our pop culture touchstones might even risk becoming public domain. 

So for those who are committed to working with the contemporary (i.e. the last forty years since copyright got expanded and extended), there's sampling in the more conventionally understood sense.  Others may do work-for-hire or gain the clout to pull a Nolan or a Raimi and work with characters they love.  Still others, and this is what I suggest might be easiest to do in IP terms, is go trawling back so far into the sea of public domain music and literature to radically transform and revise the possibilities of older styles and gestures. Some call that pastiche but that's a topic for some other time.