Friday, December 03, 2004

TODAY'S CONSERVATIVE ART SEMINAR. The science of determining what artworks go with what ideology has reached, via esteemed critic Lawrence Kudlow (on George W. Bush Economy I: "Aggressive new growth package! Dynamic new officials!"), a new low:
Judith [Pond Kudlow] and her associates, especially Andrea Smith from the Florence Academy, are leading lights in the return to classical painting. Sometimes it’s called natural realism. I just call it conservative art. Let me tell you what it’s not — it’s not modernistic, abstract, self-centered expressionism. It’s not just throwing paint at a canvas. It doesn’t tear down art, or the rest of the world, for that matter. It’s not the negative pessimistic crap that too often passes for art in blue states like New York and, well, you know where else. These are just beautiful, calm, pleasant pictures. Stuff you can enjoy looking at, which is what I think art should be.
That Kudlow is revewing the work of his own wife ("Yes, I am biased. For heaven’s sakes, Judy’s my wife. And I love her") is not so strange -- where would the art world be without nepotism? I do marvel at the scope of his analysis. The "crap that too often passes for art in blue states" could be Tracey Emin, or it could be Van Gogh, given that Kudlow's model for the production of "unbelievably good literature and art" is "the post-Civil War period [in America], when we became the premiere global economic power. There was no income tax, and money policy was based on the gold standard. Our navy began to rule the world. Industrial production was unparalleled. Religious virtues governed our culture..." Fancy poor Vincent slogging away in hovels, unaware that he lacked the economic and moral foundations for unbelievably good art!

One would like to introduce Kudlow to Austin Bay, who has a keen appreciation of the sort of modern art that doubtless occupies a spot on Kudlow's slag-heap. In February Bay found in a painting by Jackson Pollock inspiration for a deconstruction of America's pre-9/11 intelligence:
There's a Jackson Pollock painting titled "Lucifer." When I worked one summer for the now-defunct Houston Post, I used to walk past a poster of Pollock's Satan, an "abstract" of slashes, swirls, black scratches of color, each stroke individually perplexing. Over the summer, passing the poster on a daily basis, I saw Pollock's vision of evil emerge. The splatter became coherent, a unified vision organized by a gifted talent...

New eyes may see nothing but wild paint, though Pollock's title is a clue that something emotionally cold and dangerous lurks in the arrangement of color.

But if you don't detect it, no big sweat. It's merely framed canvas.

However, in the art of intelligence analysis, the world is the canvas -- a canvas inevitably frustrating the most astute frame of reference. What you don't see on that complex globe, and sometimes what you do see but don't understand, may get millions of human beings slaughtered...

In the aftermath of that unacceptable tragedy, both morticians and art critics will curse the leaders who dithered and didn't attack.
Bay knows that art can be more than "stuff you enjoy looking at." It can also be a metaphor for government operations. It unites the human race -- those who employ oils and pastels as well as those who employ embalming fluids -- in rage against the Clinton Administration. It serves a higher purpose!

Kudlow and Bay are both outstripped, though, by John Derbyshire. He reviews Tom Wolfe's latest very creatively, taking the role of an anxious parent. Having delectated all the "coed bathrooms, affectless recreational coupling, and heroic drinking" in Wolfe's bildungsroman, he turns inward:
One thing I very particularly wanted to know, as father of a bright, pretty, almost-12-year-old girl, is: How true is Wolfe's portrait of elite-campus life? Are modern college campuses really such riots of drunkenness and affectless sexual "hooking up"? Is potty-mouth slang really this universal? Is class snobbery really this rampant? I had trouble believing things were quite as bad as Wolfe paints them.
(Pause to wonder whether Derbyshire ever saw Jonah Goldberg's cultural touchstone, Animal House.)

Thus agitated, Derbyshire consults a "young friend" who informs him of the undergrad life he experienced, not to say enjoyed: "The probability of a hookup getting all the way to full-on intercourse the first time is a function of the status disparity between male & female." (The young man also says "Leftism, or at least apolitical attitudes, are required to get action... don't be openly rightist about anything or you're set for years of social & sexual ostracism." I guess we can assume he got away clean.)

In his anguish Derb haunts the NRO break room. There he had previously confessed some trepidation when his bright, pretty 12-year-old had come home from a class trip to a Holocaust Museum and pronounced it "Very boring... Oh, you know. Racism is bad. Respect for people who are different. All that." One might imagine from this politically-incorrect rejoinder that the Derbyshire daughter would make a fine National Review columnist someday, but her father is unassuaged: "I can't help thinking that there's something wrong here."

Now that he has read I Am Charlotte Simmons, and noted the collegiate characters' "cruel, oppressive cult of coolness, [whereby] all point and purpose drains out of life, and a dull, solipsistic hedonism takes over," Derbyshire's state is imaginable as he sifts through responses to his column, offering conflicting reports on his daughter's prospects at college, including such hair-raisers as this: "College is an expensive hiatus during which young men and women experience depravity, drunkenness and depression out of sight of their parents -- who benefit from not seeing the suicides, abortions, rapes and baseness." Bluto himself couldn't have put it better!

Ah, well, Derb consoles himself at last, at least Jesus is still at Radio City.

From all this, what may we conclude? That for a certain sort, art is a cautionary tale, or it is something pretty to look at. Such types have been with us through the ages, of course, and some have even written criticism, but it is rare to see any so proud of their own philistinism.

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