January 29, 2020

ROGER KIMBALL: Civilization Is History at Yale: Great art is too ‘white, straight, European and male,’ so it’ll have to give way to the latest agitprop.

Yale announced last week that it will stop teaching its famous survey course, “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present.” Taught for decades by Vincent Scully, one of Yale’s most celebrated professors, the course was a riveting introduction to pulse of humanism.

It is being cashiered for all the usual reasons. Its focus is too white, too European, too male, too “problematic,” as Tim Barringer, chairman of the art history department, puts it. Mr. Barringer will substitute a course that challenges such Eurocentrism and promises to be very up-to-date. Mr. Barrginer says he’ll introduce a “global” perspective. Naturally, he writes, the course will consider art in relation to “questions of gender, class and ‘race.’ ” (Why the scare quotes around “race”? Is today one of those days when race is only a social construct?) It will also ponder art’s “involvement with Western capitalism.”

Globalism, gender, class, race, capitalism. Has Mr. Barringer neglected any trendy concern? How about the Greta Thunberg gambit? On it! Art’s “relationship with climate change will be a ‘key theme,’ ” the Yale Daily News reports.

The Daily News adds that the removal of “Introduction to Art History” is “the latest response to student uneasiness over an idealized Western ‘canon’—a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.”

It is also yet another sign that Yale has succumbed to a life-draining decadence. A decadent institution isn’t necessarily impoverished or licentious. Rather, it is desiccated because it has lost the life-giving pith of its purpose. To a casual observer, a decadent institution may look healthy. The buildings may be expensive, well-kept and plentiful. Tidy, well-heeled people may bustle about. But the animating élan has evaporated. A decadent institution is one that has repudiated itself. . . .

Yale’s habit of self-repudiation targets much more than impermissible attitudes toward slavery. In 2017, Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces first covered and then removed a stone decoration from an entrance to Sterling Memorial Library that depicted an American Indian and a Puritan. The Puritan was holding a musket—a gun! Susan Gibbons, one of Yale’s librarian-censors, sniffed that its “presence at a major entrance to Sterling was not appropriate.” Why not? She didn’t think it necessary to say.

The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming and the Committee on Art in Public Spaces: Yale University has been impressed by Robespierre’s Committee on Public Safety, which had a similarly censorious and even more kinetic approach to heterodox opinions.

Also last week, Yale tapped Angela Davis as its Martin Luther King Day speaker. Ms. Davis, a two-time Communist Party USA nominee for vice president, is best known for fleeing justice after being charged with the 1970 kidnapping and murder of Judge Harry Haley. . . . The political philosopher James Burnham once observed that “suicide is probably more frequent than murder as the end phase of a civilization.” As Yale has been demonstrating for some years now, elite institutions are eager to take the lead.

Yale has been bad for years; under President Peter Salovey it’s been awful.

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