The Politics of Art

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A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece by art critic Christopher Knight on a local gallery exhibition called "The Anti-War Show: The Price of Intervention From Korea to Iraq." In the first couple sentences of the piece, Knight called war with Iraq "imbecilic" and wrote that President Bush has made no "coherent argument" for an invasion.

I read it at the time, and it gave me pause. I didn't think so much "this doesn't belong here" as I thought, "clumsy way to begin a piece." Plus, it seemed childish–and NO, I'm not saying being anti-war is childish, nor am I saying being vocal about it is childish. I'm only saying that casually dismissing war plans against Iraq as imbecilic in the first two lines of a piece is childish.

Anyway, today I read in the LA Weekly that the L.A. Times, after getting complaints, issued an (imho) hasty and reactive retraction: "It was, in our view, a gratuitous political statement and, as such, a distraction from the legitimate substance of the review. It should not have been published." Phew!

The Weekly's John Power responds (you have to scroll down), offering a thought-provoking critique of what's wrong with mainstream arts coverage.

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  1. Soooooo,
    It’s Bush’s war,
    Bush’s attack on abortion rights,
    Bush’s oil millions,
    Bush’s bush on the White House lawn,

    DANG! This guy is narcissistic! Who is asleep at the post at the polls now-a-days?

  2. I read the piece that Sara wrote about, and I was one who wrote to the LA Times Reader Response person to complain. I fully feel that the writer, Christopher Knight has a right to have an opinion. And certainly, being that it was an art show review, a dose of opinion makes sense. But, the fist line of the article had nothing to do with his opinion about the show, rather, it was his opinion of Bush and his policies. That would have been fine in the context of an OpEd piece, but that isn’t where the article was.
    Imagine war with Iraq does happen, and that Mr. X is reporting on the bombing campaign or some such. If the article started out “Now that Bush has started his stupid war to oppress Muslims, bombs are falling,” I think most sensible people would say that shouldn’t be. It’s a matter of context. Opinion is fine, if it is found in a context which one would expect to find it. Seems to me that journalistic standards don’t mean much anymore.

  3. It’s because he’s so “bold”.

  4. I don’t know that Power states anything about what’s wrong with arts coverage. The nostrums about objectivity in writing about the arts – or anything else – pop up quite a bit these days. There’s a decent, if hackneyed, point in there, but the leap he takes to make the retraction a supression of free speach is…questionable.
    As for his rhetorical question, “Would the Times’ editors now refuse to publish a review that begins with a flag-waving tribute to our brave soldiers and our heroic policy in Afghanistan?” I think the answer is yes. In a piece about an anti-war art show, if a critic began with a defense of all things American and militaristic and carried on about the damned pinkos making their so-called art, then yes, the Times wouldn’t run it either.
    There are legitimate reasons to relax the daily’s obsession with total objectivity, but there are many reasons why the LA Times isn’t terribly happy with out and out polemic in reviews. To me this isn’t a case that illuminates arts coverage in general.

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