The PC police running amok

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BoogieMonster (July 30, 2018, 11:44:17 AM):
"History is wrong, we must rewrite it" - Morons.

How are we to learn lessons if we erase them?
brianvds (July 30, 2018, 13:13:16 PM):

I have not read Edward Said's book and have no way of getting hold of it, so I am not too clear about what exactly his problem with orientalist art was in the first place. I do know that the artists were accused of treating people as mere exotic exhibits - Irma Stern was accused of pretty much the same thing a century later. And there is no doubt some truth to it too.

Just for fun, let's take a look at some orientalist paintings by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824 - 1904), and try to analyze them from the point of view of political correctness.

Now before I start, let's be clear: there is no doubt that western Europeans at the time had racist, sexist and patronizing views. I don't think anyone either denies or approves of that. But here's a question: are these views inherent to the pictures? Can you actually see them in the pictures? Is a picture offensive simply because the person who painted it held unacceptable views, or must these views be clearly visible in the picture? And how do we decide whether such views are expressed in a picture?

When we look at the pictures, I would think these are some relevant questions:

1. Is there anything in the picture that can possibly be construed as offensive or insensitive?

2. Does the picture reflect reality? If not, is it wildly inaccurate, or just off in some details?

3. If we are going to see racism everywhere, we must be willing to also see its opposite, so is there anything in the picture that one can actually approve of, from the politically correct point of view?

4. Given that the picture is unacceptable, is it in fact worse than what happened in other cultures, i.e. is it a case of white men being uniquely evil, or just one more evil among many?

Harem scene:

Possibly offensive: lewd portrayal of women; women as sex slaves.
But is it really false? Did some Muslim rulers, or did they not, keep large harems of captive women? Did the harems look like this? Perhaps not entirely, but I don' think one can accuse Gerome here of outright lying, though one could perhaps argue that he is exploiting other people's sex slaves for the titillation of his audience, under the guise of art.
Anything good? Well, he doesn't seem to be a racist here. The women are arguably Caucasian, and seem to be getting along perfectly well with black personnel.
Uniquely evil? What's worse, painting a harem or keeping one?

Harem women feeding pigeons in a courtyard:

Another harem scene, so some of the above will apply.
Now, were women required to wear such restrictive clothing or not? And in fact, are still required to do so in many Muslim countries? And can we accuse Gerome of specializing in soft porn, when he also paints this sort of thing?
For the rest, the picture strikes me as rather beautiful.
What's worse: painting veiled ladies, or forcing them to wear the veils in the first place?

The prayer:

Here's one where it is really difficult to see what could possibly be offensive. Apart, of course, from the usual accusation that the people and their buildings are treated as exotically strange exhibits. But can one actually see this in the picture? One might as well argue that the men here are portrayed with a marvelous sense of dignity and piety, and the architecture is spectacular, perhaps better than anything that existed in the Middle East at the time. Is this a negative or unpleasant portrayal of the culture?

The snake charmer:

Oops, major breach of political correctness here! A nude child, very exotic-looking scene, and the possible unsavory implication that the men in the background may be interested in more than just the performance.

I do not know whether Gerome actually witnessed such scenes during his travels in Egypt. But: was pederasty, or was it not, widespread in the Middle East at the time? And even now, in some areas? What's worse, painting this scene or having slave boys dance for you?

General remarks:

I do not know how accurate the orientalist artists' portrayal was of the Middle East, either in their own time or historically. I venture to guess they were not so wildly off, in most of what they painted. How can truth be politically incorrect? And who is worse here, the painters or the actual perps?

With many of these pictures, I do not really get any sense of patronization; on the contrary, the subject matter is often portrayed as imbued with great dignity and strength. Gerome probably shared the patronizing attitudes of his time, but I get a distinct impression he was more liberal and progressive than most, and likely quite admired his subjects in at least some ways.

Given that Europeans were racist and patronizing, were they actually any worse than the Muslims in these pictures? People who had no problem at all with enslaving "inferior" people, and treated women as property? People who were convinced westerners were infidels on their way to hell? Why is it only Gerome who is in the wrong here, but not the slave keepers and religious zealots? And had Muslim artists visited the west, how would they have portrayed it?

Another problem: what if neither Gerome, nor any other European artist, had ever bothered portraying the Middle East in any way, and had stuck with purely European themes? Would this have been satisfactory to the PC police? I can bet: in today's climate, they would have been accused of ignoring the Middle East, and living in their European ivory towers.

Ya can't win with these folks. Either you're guilty of exploitative cultural appropriation, or you are ignoring the cultures of other people. If you're white and male, you are guilty, period.

One last problem: quite apart from the political issue, this way of "interpreting" works of art is just frickin' daft. In the absence of clear analytical methodology, you can read literally anything at all into a picture, and then claim that it reflects the mind of the artist. There is no way to test most of these ideas.

Me, I'm a great admirer of Gerome's art, and that of his orientalist contemporaries. They may or may not be accurate, but boy, are they well painted.

Next up: Wagner didn't like Jews, therefore his music is bad.

brianvds (July 31, 2018, 06:43:45 AM):
The saga continues, with a bit of reason:

@hajrameeks interestingly, copies of Orientalist works by Gerome, Delacroix, Alma Tadema, Sargent et al are reproduced in painting workshops in the Gulf and hung prominently in in Arab homes. During my five years in Kuwait I saw many familiar Orientalist works ( especially Gerome) with all the colonial, exoticizing, racist issues Said details in his famous book, proudly displayed in Kuwait and Emirati homes as Arab history. The perspective from the outside is, apparently, different than from the inside. The external expatriate artist view of the Other has been refracted and internalized

And a note from the artist himself:

Thanks, @brynbarnard and @brianvanderspuy and @henrynotnice . @hajrameeks I don't know much about all this, except I thought the term "Orientalist" preceded Mr. Said by at least a century, and he used it mainly for literature, not painting. The label "Orientalism" is the one art historians have used for decades (without judgment) to refer to that category of Academic art. Do you have a better term for it? This particular painting is over 35 years old, and it was driven purely by admiration for Islamic culture and architecture.

And the original plaintiff seems somewhat mollified:

@jamesgurneyart thanks so much for your response James. As a western educated Islamic historian with family background in Islamic lands, I am flattered by your art and respect for that aesthetic. I think your own term, Imaginative Realism is the appropriate term if you have fantasy elements, otherwise it’s just formally Realism like any other art scene portraying “real people with truth and accuracy”. So much appreciate your gracious response.

And thus, another storm in a teacup passes.
BoogieMonster (July 31, 2018, 10:14:15 AM):
That is one way to describe a person throwing a hissy fit and losing.

Brian, I don't think you'll find disagreement with a lot of your statements here. I think hence the relative silence.
brianvds (August 01, 2018, 07:13:42 AM):
That is one way to describe a person throwing a hissy fit and losing.

Brian, I don't think you'll find disagreement with a lot of your statements here. I think hence the relative silence.

Either I'm irrelevant, or a fellow genius. I'll pick the latter. :-)


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