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Ed Driscoll

Boxing the Bourgeois

March 2nd, 2011 - 7:03 am

Which brings us back to Roger Kimball’s new post:

The Pratt Institute in New York affords a splendid example of this species of political correctness in action. According to their web site, the Pratt Institute’s aim in life is “to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society.” If you are wondering where that talk about “responsible contributors to society” comes from — Pratt is, after all, an art school, not an academy training social workers — that just shows you are not really attuned to the requirements of The Narrative. This is something that a student called Steve DeQuattro learned to his dismay. James Panero, my colleague at The New Criterion, has the whole sorry story in “Conservative artist boxed out at Pratt,” posted yesterday at The New Criterion’s weblog.

DeQuattro is a political artist. Nothing new about that. When was the last time you ran into a bona fide New York artworld artist who was not political?  The trouble is, DeQuattro has the wrong politics. Castigating George W. Bush (old, but still paying handsome dividends), skirling about “the environment,”  complaining about patriarchy, greedy corporations, Republicans, etc. — all of that is just the air that artists breath these days. Steve DeQuattro had the temerity to challenge the challengers.

“As part of his recent work,” James writes,

Mr. DeQuattro has designed a cereal-box-like sculpture that he calls, ironically, “Sustainable Liberalism in a Box.” . . .  He has developed a piece that takes the ubiquitous Apple iPod ad campaign to address abortion. He has designed a sobering five-foot-wide mural that tracks the Democratic Party’s record on race, from Jefferson’s slave-holding days up through the racially charged speeches of Senator Robert Byrd and Vice President Joe Biden.

Here’s what Liberalism in a Box looks like:

Naturally of course, DeQuattro has completely alienated his free-thinking, non-judgmental, completely open-minded peers — and thus at last, a century after Duchamp first proposed the concept, an artist has finally shocked the bourgeois. It’s unlikely, as of right now, that DeQuattro’s work will be exhibited alongside his fellow seniors at the Pratt Institute this semester.

Or to sum up the light that DeQuattro shined upon his peers, as Ann Althouse wrote on Monday, “people don’t rant against ‘conformity’ anymore — not like they did in the 50s and 60s:”

It’s funny, I was just saying to Meade that people don’t rant against “conformity” anymore — not like they did in the 50s and 60s. What got me going wasn’t Charlie Sheen. It was my Bloggingheads with Timothy Noah, which, for various reasons, made me think about the way liberals, including liberal media folk, talk to each other and feel emotional rewards for saying what they all say back and forth to each other. They become so immersed in this feeling of belonging that they don’t even hear the things that are not the things that they’ve been saying back and forth to each other. And my question is: Why does that feel so good? Why doesn’t that immersion feel like drowning? Why don’t you want to surface into the air and be free — to think about everything, from any perspective, and to find out for yourself what is true and what is good? You are a human individual: Don’t you want that?

As Frank Burns once said on TV’s M*A*S*H, individuality is fine as long as we do it all together. I wonder if Larry Gelbart ever dreamed when he wrote that line forty years ago that what passes as “liberalism” these days would tacitly adopt it as their mantra.

Of course, back then in the early 1970s, it was parents concerned about the crazy ideas their kids were learning. These days, it’s their children that are terrified of the radical dogmas that mom and dad are picking up on, a further sign, as Roger L. Simon writes, that self-professed liberals and progressives have become reactionaries.

But then, you can only be avant-garde for so long before you become garde, to coin a phrase.

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