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Wednesday, 28 August 2019


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Thanks for the third footnote. I was one of those people who are under the impression the Corcoran had been "rebranded" in honor of Col. Flagg, as a sop to the conservos. (Where I grew up, branding was something that took place in late spring, and was somewhat painful for all involved.)

Get along! Hah! Not when there is all this money at stake!
Not to mention re-election, privilege and power!

Mike, does this mean that Dorothea Lange's famous photograph “Migrant Mother” is no longer considered politically correct? I’m just curious what your thoughts are?

I have just landed here from the All About Jazz website. At the top of the page we can see Chick Corea standing with a group of musicians of various complexions happily playing together making music if not art.

Corea is a musician who happily "culturally appropriates “on many music styles such as jazz, European classical and Latin.

Is not jazz a melting pot of “culturally appropriated and appropriating” music and musicians creating some wonderful art in the process at times?

I have been listening to a disk, Salvator Mundi, by two British musicians Mark Lockheart and Roger Sayer that happily mixes jazz saxophone with classical church organ music to make something new and interesting.

There is a lesson for photography here, I think.

I hate this movement aided and abetted by the Twitter mob that seems to be coming mostly from American academia, where we need to be rigidly segregated by how we look, where we pray and what we do between the bedsheets.

A couple of points. First re PC and other political posturing, Lewis Carroll had it covered. Humpty Dumpty told Alice:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” To which, Alice asked:
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ To which HD replied:
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
Carroll had it right. Where poliitics and politicians are concerned, PC and most else follow the HD rule. Reality be damned.
The second point is about Artspeak. Obfuscation, complexity, and meanningless conjunctions are its lifeblood. If a "normal human" can understand it, it is not Artspeak. Its the ultimate insiders only style non-communication jargon.
I'm afraid my tolerance for either evaporated years ago.

There is so much that could be said here well beyond a simple comment. Artists have struggled against marginalization on an individual and group basis for eons. A couple that come to mind was the time that Subhankar Banerjee had a show on the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge in the premiere exhibition rotunda at The Smithsonian, and within days of the Republican Senate discovering the photographs contradicted the lies they were selling the public on behalf of big oil, his exhibit was moved without notice to... the basement loading dock! Ahn Sehong who documented the Korean "comfort workers" had his show cancelled at the last minute by none other than Nikon in Japan.

On a group basis, The Black Photographers Annual in 1973 highlighted the work of many under published Black photographers- I remember many in the photographic community being astonished at the quality of the work, and the publication itself! En Foco attempted to do much the same for the Latinx community- my understanding of which was to primarily differentiate between Hispanics originating in Spain, and those in the New World diaspora. And of course, women have never had it easy in the arts or any other business for that matter...

So yes, there will always be this ongoing give and take, sometimes achieving some very desperately needed reforms, and other times bordering on the ridiculous... until that time we can all just get along.

David Brinkley once called Helms a "tinhorn."

Respectfully, Mike: I don't come here for politics. So, now I will take my leave for a while because of politics. I will check in next year to see if you are back to photography.

Just a thought: Drive people away and your affiliate links become dormant.

My own politics tend to be centrist on most any issue, which, as you so cogently (if not concisely) observe, glues me squarely to the receiving end of one obvious visual metaphor: The Bullseye!

I never stop learning something by reading this blog, Mike. That’s why I have been following you for all these years, and I keep coming back. You are unique and interesting, but not too serious. And you have a great following! Thanks.

Photography is an incredibly encompassing ocean, and the tides go in and out. Henri Cartier-Bresson: “The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!”

Honestly, I am not seeing the disapproval in that review that you do. It strikes me as a fairly neutral review, and as these things go a fairly good review, walking as it does the line between simply wandering off in to politics, or wandering off into technique.

I'm probably not much interested in the show itself, although it looks OK as contemporary Fine Art Photography things go. There's certainly much worse slop being printed Very Enormous and displayed in white cubes these days.

I'm not sure I agree with the idea that these artists are some sort of new mainstream, but it's an interesting tack to take.

I know a couple of Filapinas who fit the definition of smartest person in the room. I also know more than a few caucasians who are dumb-as-dirt.

I'm an Okie Red-Neck—99 & 44/100% Pure White Trash. But, politically I'm somewhat to the Left of Leon Trotsky.

My mother was a Shiksa who spoke Yiddish—oy gevalt!

One of my sons is married to a Filapina, the other to a Latina—no bigots in my family.

Mind over matter—if you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

I know a few woman artists who categorically refuse to be in shows of women artists.

I can’t remember the last the Whitney Biennial that wasn’t mired in some outrage or another. Seems like it used to be every artist wanted to be the Biennial but now they hope they get chosen so they can refuse to be in it.

I saw this years version in the spring and it was sort of meh for the most part except for some color photos on the floor that no-one goes to unless they are visiting with the staff, and the video installation about using A.I to identify brands of tear gas in videos. Most of the work looked like MFA shows from the 80s to me.

When I arrived at CalArts in 1982 I first encountered “not politically correct” in daily if not hourly conversation as a joke to indicate proscribed language irrespective of left or right. The joke was that the communists were always going on about political correctness and the socialists used the term to make fun of them. The term was borrowed to mean conventional monolithic values - usually imposed by a higher authority.

Political correctness was seen to be part of authoritarianism, - it was coined by the Nazi’s before the communists apparently - and describing the CalArts art tradition as anti authoritarian is a vast understatement.

How cultural conservatives, who by definition are trying to impose a monoculture of politically correctness on people who think that there should be the freedom of choosing among many cultures, appropriated the term to describe liberals is a mystery to me. I’m also kind of mystified as to what “conservative” is supposed to mean now anyway.

The Wikipedia history is pretty spot on and less of a ramble.

Tom Wolfe wrote an often-ridiculed book called "The Painted Word" in which he argued that much of modern art relies on text to explain to people what it's all about -- that you can't experience the art without the text, because, really, the art was a lot of paint with little discernible content. His point was (I think it well-taken) that critics and art commentators had become essential to the art world, and once that happened...well, critics and commentators are basically (with notable exceptions, but not many of them) bs generators, and stuff like this review became inevitable. Not only inevitable, but actually a trend that has been around ever since Picasso started baffling conventional critics 120 years ago.

By the way, I've been told that Jane Fonda was one of the first popularizers of the phrase "politically correct," saying that she wished to make politically correct movies like "The China Syndrome." The phrase was then used without irony, and was one of the many gifts Jane bestowed on the rightwing whack jobs.

Gordon Lewis: "but even the most right-wing person in our culture probably thinks it's OK to marry for love, or that we should be able to work at whatever job we like, or that women should vote."
You don't have to live in the farm belt of California I grew up in and live now, you have no idea.

Chuck Albertson: The branding wasn't that big a deal but all the castrations were pretty exciting.

Everything seems to need a political agenda lately and curators use other people’s art to make their own point of view known.
Gordon’s point is exactly right, the more we go out of our way to identify by race, the more it decides us.
Let the work speak for itself, period.

I agree with the Whitney. I agree with Gordon. I agree with Sanjeev.

The Whitney: Now and then it’s fine to stir up the pot a little and reach deep down where the ladle doesn’t usually go. Sometimes good and unexpected things come to the surface.

Gordon: Yes it’s a relief to break free from the expectation of being focused on identity.

Sanjeev: To borrow from Duke Ellington, “If it looks good, then it is good.”


Or should I say, "Bravx"?

Way-back in the 1970s, I was shooting a training film for an insurance company. Sunny (a female) was our soundman. Someone with the client referred to her as a soundPERSON. Her curt response was: Ten years ago, I was good enough to be a soundMAN ...and I'm still good enough to be a soundMAN. Nothing more PC was said.

For all you gearheads, I was shooting 16mm Ektachrome. It was transferred to video tape, for editing. It was distributed to the companys offices on one inch video cassettes. Here's a Sony U-matice 1" casset player https://www.labguysworld.com/VP-3000_002.jpg

Untitled (Dominoes) is a nice photo although I wish the two people in the foreground weren't out of focus. The rest of it looks like Robert Mapplethorpe with an expensive digital camera. According to this he is now passe':


"In 2003, Mr. Szarkowski told me that Mapplethorpe “was a pretty good commercial photographer who photographed things people weren’t accustomed to seeing in mixed company.”

“It’s not photographically interesting,” he added.

Put a little more generously, Mapplethorpe had the canniness and the guts to exhibit pictures that framed his sexual obsessions with a formal elegance that allowed them unprecedented entree into galleries and museums. He aligned perfectly with the historical moment, but that moment has passed."

That had always been my opinion. I never really know what to think from art reviewers so I try to avoid them. They tend to be just like film reviewers. They have write something quickly about something that really needs a more considered approach. Most reviewers all hated Stanley Kubrick films when they were released too.

On my way to work. No time to read all the other comments. Sorry!
What is most important, the art itself and its quality or who was the creator? Or maybe I should say, "Which group does the creator fit into?
Is art made by someone that can be classified as belongen to some kind of minority inherently better than another person's art? Music, photography or whatever.
I am a "follower" (follower is a word that is too strong. Interested viewer might better) of Jordan B Peterson and others that are grouped (group again!) in what is alled the IDW, the intellectual dark web. I think it is scary. The strongest reactions against racism are in themselves racist. Take Evergreen College and the case of Bret Weinstein.
Another area of a similar discussion is the one about reparations (is that the spelling). That because black people of yesteryear were brought here as slaves their decendants today must be given money. Larry Elder has many interesting points to say about that.
The only sane conclusion must be that we are first and foremost individuals.
As an individual I have certain unalienable rights that cannot be taken away.
No matter what group I can be placed in. Which are many by the way.

I have long decided to identify as a "greybeard bald old fart" mainly because that's what I see in the mirror.

Stolen from Greg, in a comment at John Scalzi's blog Whatever:

I think when people complain about “political correctness”, they are mostly complaining of being shown some shitty thing they or their idols have done that they have, until that point, not had to think about or be concerned with.

I've been reading You Are Not So Smart, and there's a lot in that book about how our primate brains are wired and how so much of our psychological energy goes towards determining our status within the group we belong to. I wonder if that might be what's driving the strong emotional reactions people have to the use of inclusive language.

The motivation seems pretty benign to me. To pick up on an c.d.embrey's example, calling a sound technician a "soundman" carries an implicit assertion that women cannot be sound technicians, so "soundperson" is substituted, with the aim being to reassure women that the profession is not off-limits to them. The stereotypical reaction of the PC-skeptical might range from annoyance to vehement objection over the term. But that's rooted, at least in part, in the term's assertion that this is no longer exclusively a man's job, ergo a potential loss in status for men.

The irony of it all is Sunny's reaction to the term, exactly the person that inclusive language promoters hope to help. She put in the hard work to be recognized as equal to men in that field, so the loss of status from being relabeled a soundperson rather than the woman who's good enough to be a soundman is even more acute for her.

In situations like this my first instinct is to defend the artist, even if I don't like their work. I dislike most contemporary "Art" photography since it often confuses subject matter with content (again borrowing from Harbutt). Such work is an illustration of an existing, widely-circulated idea, yet another Madonna and Child.

But shows like the Whitney are not really about the artists. This is about the curators and the wealthy who prop up such institutions for their own motives. This Biennial seems like a fig leaf hoping to cover the recent controversy over the class bias hiding beyond the white museum walls - as activists have called attention to the activities of museum board members (e.g. Larry Fink from Blackrock investing in private prisons). Essentially, like all limousine liberalism, the show is a virtue signal to mask deeper inconsistencies and contradictions. The artists are merely seizing the opportunity to advance their careers, and why shouldn't they? I think the gap between what the mostly white gate-keepers imagine they are doing with such a show and what the artists want to say will only widen over time. The center cannot hold. In this case, I think that's a good thing.

Pretty sure you turned off a lot of readers.

My only gripe with those fond of identity politics is that they do not do it right. They should have come with a visual sign to define identity. Who knons what, a system of stars: Yelow, pink, blue, to be sewn into the works and the artists´ clothes?

" ... various figures from the neoconservative movement."

I don't think you meant neoconservative. A neoconservative is a term applied to people who were originally leftists, sometimes even radical leftists, who were then mugged by reality. Their major interest is in foreign policy, and you probably would not have heard them included as part of a dispute over Maplethorpe in the 1980s. Jesse Helms, of course, was always a conservative.

"I was one of those people who are under the impression the Corcoran had been "rebranded" in honor of Col. Flagg, as a sop to the conservos."

Ernest Flagg was one of the foremost American architects of the turn of the 20th century. He designed in the Beaux-Arts/French 2nd Empire Style, and sometimes Art Nouveau, as in the Little Singer Building on Broadway in SOHO (Manhattan.) Most of the older buildings at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, including the famous Chapel, were designed by Flagg.

Gordon Lewis, I very much appreciate your comment, and I very much miss your Shutterfinger blog! All the best.

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