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Old 10th July 2005   #1
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Join Date: July 2005
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Default Book: ''The Rape of the Masters''

I first learned about this book from a review at the Art Renewal Center, and as soon as I read it, I knew I had to post about it here:

The Rape of the Masters

When I looked it up at Amazon, I found a quote about this book which intrigued me even more: "Roger Kimball's brilliant book sets out to repair the damage inflicted on art short, a restoration project." And that quote is attribtued to Philippe de Montebello, Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

The books is very much in line with some of the art discussions that have appeared here, from time to time. And as we all know, until a few season ago, the fashion world was very much a part of the insanity that Kimball describes.
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Old 10th July 2005   #2
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Default The activist factory

Even in this short review, the examples that the writer provides--of the types of academic abuses that Kimball critiques in his book--are quite obscene. Such interpretations tell us nothing about the artists, but everything about the twisted mindset of the interpreters.

Sadly, these examples are not sensationalistic, or exaggerations for effect, but comprise a truthful expose of the political indoctrination that currently dominates not just art history, but every branch of the humanities.

And what is even worse than the specifics of these abuses is how systematic the teaching of politically-motivated misinterpretation really is. It is nothing less than a mass-brainwashing campaign, one that leaves many humanities departments little better than "activist factories," which produce amateur political scientists rather than proficient art scholars.

For example, humanities students no longer benefit from the kind of first-year survey studies ("Plato to NATO," or "Beowulf to Virginia Woolf") that older graduates remember--the kind that endowed them with a comprehensive chronological understanding of their field. Rather, what they are principally taught in their first-year courses are political theories; and specifically, a triad of Marxism, feminism, and post-colonialism.

Only once the students are thoroughly schooled in these theories are they allowed to "confront" the artistic works themselves. And when they do, the goal of their research papers is simply this: to interpret these artistic works in light of one (or more) of these political theories.

Thus, a Bronte novel is only significant if it can be used as a case study for a feminist approach, a Shakespeare play is only valuable if it can fuel a Marxist reading, and so forth. Art has been completely subordinated to politics.

It is as if the professors fear the subversive aesthetic power of the works themselves, and only feel that it is "safe" to expose students to those works once their reactions have been carefully pre-programmed.

The parallel to the fate of timeless feminine beauty is obvious. Just as political theorists carefully "manage" the dissemination of the Western tradition in art, so that students approach every work within the prescribed, political paradigm, so does the modern media carefully suppress and manipulate any presentation of Classical feminine beauty. This manner of beauty is only seen when it is presented to the public through a hostile interpretive lens; e.g., in a weight-loss program, or in a diet ad, or in a "reality" series in which a full-figured actress bemoans her own appearance. The goal is always to control how the viewer responds to timeless beauty--just as the goal of the modern academy is to control how students react to art.

* * *

And the surprising thing in all of this is that no one has yet had the temerity to ask fundamental questions such as this:

If we are adopting post-colonial readings, why not imperialist readings?
If we are encouraged to adopt Marxist theory, why not fascist theory?
If we are taught feminist approaches to texts, why not "masculinist" approaches?

And if the thought of imperialist, or fascist, or "masculinist" readings seems absurd, or even morally repellent--as perhaps it should--then how are Marxist, post-colonial, or feminist readings any less objectionable? Who is to decide which political ideologies are the "correct" ones, and which are not?

This is the twisted path down which these approaches to art eventually lead. This is what happens when politics take precedence over beauty.

* * *

The questions that arise from this book are uncannily similar to those that arise from the topic of this forum.

On the one hand, it would be better if we could just ignore the types of academic abuses that the book discusses, and focus exclusively on valid aesthetic interpretations of art.

But on the other hand, the wilful political misinterpretation that Kimball describes is omnipresent in the modern university--as ubiquitous as the androgynous standard is in the mass media. One cannot stick one's head in the sand and ignore it. It's everywhere. And for that reason, a book such as this is as necessary, in order to expose its mendacity and hollowness, and demonstrate that the "emperor has no clothes."

And in this day and age, when students seldom receive a "classical education" in their pre-univeristy days, they usually enter college with little first-hand exposure to art or literature. As empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, they absorb whatever theories they are given--lacking the kind of personal communion with the artists or their works that would enable them to counter their hostile indoctrination.

Therefore, as the ARC reviewer identifies, the most important contribution of a book such as Rape of the Masters is that it "gives disenchanted art students a voice and a rhetoric for expressing their views."

Just as the mass-media suppression of Classical feminine beauty would never have been possible if a greater portion of the populace had been aware of the aesthetic legacy of the West, so would academic abuses such as Kimball describes never have become institutionalized and dominant if more individuals grew up with an awareness, understanding, and love of that aesthetic legacy.

But in the absence of such an upbringing, Kimball's book would be a useful primer for any student already engaged in, or planning to enter, a modern humanities program. This work, and others like it, would enable students to see outside the box in which their minds are being ideologically enclosed. It would give rhetorical substance to their intuitive belief that the ideological lens through which they are being taught to see works of art only shows them a very distorted picture.

Werff, Adriaen van der (1659-1722), Daphnis and Chloe:

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Old 13th July 2005   #3
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Default Re: The activist factory

"The activist factory" -- that really puts the finger on it, doesn't it? How sad and ironic that colleges/universities, the very institutions that are supposed to be expanding people's minds, are now doing more to close them, and guide them along a predetermined path, than any other institutions.

The great critic Harold Bloom has an apt phrase for the critics who are politicizing literary studies -- which Rape of the Masters shows is taking place in other fields as well. He calls them collectively the School of Resentment. It's hard to disagree.

But one thing is certain -- it's not enough to ignore this movement, and concentrate on pure aesthetic studies. That's what I think a lot of older professors did in the past. They ignored the rising tide of politicization, and it grew unchecked, like an epidemic.

Both are necessary, I think -- a celebration of the good, and a vigorous opposition to the harmful. The same is probably true in the conflict between timeless beauty and anti-feminine modernity.
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Old 19th July 2005   #4
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Default Re: Book: ''The Rape of the Masters''

We recently received a response to the "core" question of this site, as posted on our "Timeless Beauty" page (i.e., Why does the media resist plus-size beauty?) from one Lucia O'Doyle, and Lucia's comment seems pertinent to this discussion as well.

Lucia writes:

Our modern society has been caught up in a effort to eradicate femininity and feminine nature. Both in opinion, actions, and body type women have been allowing themselves to be molded into more masculine forms. What many women consider feminist is nothing but the masculinization of society.
It is certainly a persuasive point. One might offer the caveat that the essential identity of both genders has been demeaned in the modern world. But Lucia's statement may actually come closer to the truth of the matter, because essential femininity has been undermined far more assiduously (for reasons that deserve careful consideration) than masculinity. Although traditionally masculine images and personalities are still presented to the public, images of timeless femininity are almost entirely suppressed, and if they are presented at all, they are portrayed simply in order to be undermined, or even vilified.

"Erbluth"--hand-painted portrait on a c.1900 porcelain plate, by Wagner, after Angelo Asti. Note the soft fullness of the model's facial features. This ideal of beauty was suppressed in mass culture for nearly a century, until plus-size modelling began to revive it . . .

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