Voices

Art lessens

Yale fracas reveals devolution of artistic purpose

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

Here is what Aliza Shvarts did for her final art project at Yale: Every month, for nine months, she would artificially inseminate herself, then induce an abortion. She would then take the blood and smear it on plastic sheets, all of which she would wrap around a four-foot plastic cube. In the final installation, she would hang up the cube and project upon it videos of her doing these things to herself and to her unborn children. That would be her work of art.

Yale officials insisted that Shvarts did not really do what she says she did. It was actually "performance art" designed to create the very outrage it provoked. Others insisted that the work was a hoax, pointing to the impossibility of getting pregnant so many times. Nevertheless, Shvarts stuck by her claim (see "Sex and lies," May 17/24).

Either way, though, an artist is offering up abortion as an art form. She kills her own children-in reality or possibility-to make an artistic statement. Even the Canaanites who sacrificed their children to Moloch did not go that far.

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The conservative art critic Roger Kimball noted that Shvarts underscored that she was using an "herbal" abortifacient. To many in our cultural elite, abortion poses no moral problem, but not using "organic" products does!

What, though, was Shvarts' artistic intention? She wrote a column for the Yale Daily News explaining that one of her "conceptual goals" is to assert that "normative understandings of biological function" are a "mythology imposed on form."

"It is this mythology that creates the sexist, racist, ableist, nationalist and homophobic perspective, distinguishing what body parts are 'meant' to do from their physical capability. The myth that a certain set of functions are 'natural' (while all the other potential functions are 'unnatural') undermines that sense of capability, confining lifestyle choices to the bounds of normatively defined narratives. Just as it is a myth that women are 'meant' to be feminine and men masculine . . . it is a myth that ovaries and a uterus are 'meant' to birth a child."

This is the way Shvarts was taught to write and to think at Yale. What it means is that morality (norms), reality (nature), and purpose (meaning) are nothing more than myths, which, in turn, are the source of oppression. Because reality has no meaning at all, Shvarts thinks she can use her body any way she wants. She uses her "art" to flaunt her nihilistic worldview.

Traditionally, art was an affirmation of meaning. Art imitated, in sometimes complex ways, the forms of nature. Beauty was connected with both truth and goodness. For Shvarts, Yale's art department, and a significant swathe of today's art world, art has nothing to do with aesthetics. Instead of creating something intrinsically pleasing, these artists try to shock and repulse people, while those in the know smile ironically.

Notice that Christians, conservatives, and ordinary Americans are not the ones who oppose art. The enemies of art today can be found among the artists.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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