The Abolition of the White Male Artist

Jane Kelly

My art magazine has a feature about Josephine Hopper. You might not have heard of her but may know her husband, Edward, famous for his lonely, dissociative style, best known for his 1942 painting, Nighthawks showing a late-night diner. He painted Jo about 3,000 times. Her painting career declined as his rose and she became his muse. Hopper said she had ‘a pleasant little talent.’ In 2004, Gaby Wood, writing for the Guardian agreed that it was a small talent. On the page her work looks wishy washy, but now it seems those views were wrong.  

‘Jo Hopper’s legacy is being rebuilt,’ said the article. A biography is coming and efforts made to wrest her name completely away from his. It probably won’t be long before she is talked about as the better artist; art historian Elizabeth Colleary says she was, ‘Much more of a modernist,’ than Edward, implying greater originality and experimentation, even though that isn’t obvious in the work.

Whether she was talented or not belongs to the old canon of judgement; the fact that she was female is more important. At the Tate Britain William Blake exhibition last year, I read that his work was inspired by his wife Catherine. It was even suggested that she’d had a big hand in his etching and illustrations. Then I was told by BBC Radio 4 that William Wordsworth couldn’t have written a word without help from his sister Dorothy. This was followed by similar information in catalogues about Lee Krasner who had the misfortune to hook up with Jackson Pollock, Dora Maar who was squashed by Picasso, and Camille Claudel, destroyed  by getting into bed with Rodin. Gwen John has of course long eclipsed her philandering brother Augustus, at least in the view of current curators.

In the art world men are now radically outpaced by women. It’s possible that they may soon disappear; in the Tate Britain, Aftermath exhibition in 2018, about painters after the First World War, curator Emma Chambers,got around the problem of too many male artists in the show by putting paintings by women into the catalogue replacing those on the walls.

Obvious truth need no longer apply. When four people won the Turner prize last year, after asking the judges to make the award collective rather than individual, writer Melanie Phillips wrote that she ‘experienced a distinct sense of déjà vu.’ In 1996 she wrote a best- selling book entitled, ‘All Must Have Prizes,’ taken from a ludicrous idea by Lewis Carroll. Her book analysed what she called, ‘The progressive destruction of our education system.’

She saw that this refusal to award points on merit anymore lies in cultural and moral relativism, which states that because not everyone has equality of opportunity, women against men, black v white, they must all be given identical outcomes. This has gradually undermined our institutions, particularly the visual Arts. You still have to be musically talented to enter a top- grade music college or ballet school, but you don’t have to be able to draw to enter art college. In the past talent had to be obvious and skills learned but as that view is selective, ‘elitist’ standards have simply been simply removed and reality distorted.

This has benefited all identity groups vying for funding,  particularly feminists who tend to be middle-class and educated. Critic Alexander Adams pointed out, in his review of the snappily titled, Women Can’t Paint: Gender, The Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art, by Helen Gorrill, ‘One core function of feminism is as justification for preferential treatment. Feminists cannot see any gender disparity unfavourable to women as anything other than overt discrimination. Where women do better, as in arts administration, the advantages are dismissed as hardly compensating for historical injustice.’

Women now rule in arts management. Jenny Waldman, is Director of the Art Fund, a charity which acquires art for the nation. Rather than a background in art history she was, Creative Producer of the 2012 finale of the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ for the Olympics and instigator of London’s first outdoor ice-rink. Our four Tate Galleries are ruled by Maria Balshaw. In 2017 she told the Guardian there’d been ‘An overdominance of white European work at the Tate.’ She didn’t study Art History either, but English Literature and Cultural Studies at Liverpool and later an MA in ‘Critical Theory,’ followed by a DPhil in African American Visual and Literary Culture. As Director of  The Whiteworth, Manchester, she championed African art and female artists. In 2011 she became Director of Manchester City Galleries pushing the same agenda.

In 2018, just after she left to take over the Tate, Manchester Art Gallery removed its most popular paintings, John Waterhouse’s 1896 work, Hylas and the Nymphs, even postcards of it from the shop. Clare Gannaway the curator explained that the painting was about, ‘male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.’

We are following the US and Canada in this philosophy of course. Galleries there are constantly undergoing a ‘feminist rehangs’ to concentrate on women and race.

Women now predominate in positions of power in all aspects of creative life. Jude Kelly is artistic director of London’s Southbank Centre. The English National Ballet is headed by a woman, as are London’s Royal Court Theatre and the ENO. The Globe is run by a woman who recently told the BBC, ‘Shakespeare is about congregation,’ ‘his words are not important, only the feeling and emotion the play gives you.’ The RSC is run by a woman, while that thriving entity, British film is headed by two ladies called Amanda at Bafta and the BFI. Emily Eavis co-organises the annual Glastonbury Festival. Even the Art History A level has been redesigned to take a feminist, internationalist view. Art teacher Sarah Phillips was given the job of changing it, asserting: ‘Students won’t just study the work of dead white men. They’ll have the opportunity to study Islamic architecture and work by people of all colours and creeds.’

The whole art establishment now seems to agree with James Rondeau, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, quoted in The Jackdaw Magazine, that, ‘Art museums (American for art galleries) must be understood less as temples to culture and more as porous social platforms across a wide spectrum of interactions. We are focussing on ensuring that visitors recognise themselves in our collections, exhibitions and programmes, but we must go beyond that and reimagine how our spaces themselves can telegraph: ‘This is your experience.’

Artists can only gain acceptability as part of a group, preferably representing a ‘protected minority.’ If women can’t paint as well as men, painting must change. If white women win too many prizes, as we have seen in the case of literary awards, prizes must also go to black women, even if that means giving out several first prizes. If women are not interested in certain subjects, or might lack general knowledge compared to men, then the knowledge must be changed.

In 2018 the BBC’s University Challenge agreed to have more ‘gender neutral’ questions. This year’s final remained disgustingly male. The Guardian immediately derided the panellists as, ‘Renaissance men,’ Renaissance being a discredited term among the Woke, suggesting a Euro-centric view of history and culture. (You can use the term, ‘Menaissance,’ for male gender enlightenment) but remember, nothing happened in Europe in the early 15th century that didn’t also happen in Africa with equal influence.

Whether that is true or not is just not relevant anymore.   

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27 Comments on The Abolition of the White Male Artist

  1. Guessedworker – There’s something wrong, or uncomfortable, about the shared natural interest argument, and the good cannot be what restrains life – but I can’t say what.

    The trolley problem (to get back to it) seems to me to be a problem because it is wholly artificial. Were such an event to occur, not a single person would stand debating what to do. Most of us would be frozen in horror, but a tiny minority would act, in however futile or self-destructive a way, to try to stop it. We saw this when those three Americans jumped the terrorist on the 15.17 train to Paris five years ago and when severely wounded Johnson Beharry VC drove deliberately into an Iraqi ambush to rescue his friend. We know that parallel events happened in Poland in WW2: many cooperated with the invaders; a minority (a large number though) sheltered Jews without a second thought.

    I don’t like the idea of genetics or blood having a role but I’m attracted to the Schopenhauerian notion of Will or character, probably formed irrevocably in infancy and unchangeable thereafter. teaching and moral education are futile – as experience seems to show. Pogroms and the Rwandan massacres were carried out by Christians – sometimes priests.

    • The desire among Europeans to avoid the primacy of blood is learned …actually inculcated … educated in. It comes with the very Judaic insistence on the Christian soul seeking salvation by grace of the the G-d of Abraham to relate not to kin, as do Abraham’s children, but to G-d. Our entire thought-world has been informed by this thought, as it has flowed to us, slowly secularising, from Christianity, Catholic humanism, Renaissance neo-Platonism, and liberalism in all its paths to the present.

      Yet in Hávamál there is a passage in which din describes his sacrifice to himself thus:

      I know that I hung on a windy tree
      nine long nights,
      wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
      myself to myself,
      on that tree of which no man knows
      from where its roots run.

      My contention is that without the imposition upon us of Abrahamic faith the historiographical train would have flowed evenly and beautifully reflective of the European racial existence in all its sublimity, and without those conflicts with our nature from the artifice and dictates of Christianity; and you, today, talking to me just as you are, would suffer no discomforts or constructed ambiguities but would know that of which I speak as surely as you kn

      Our tragedy is that, as intellectuals, it falls upon us as a class to love our people and light their way, but in our confusion and estrangement we find petty objections wherever we can to this essential and most human task., and thick ourselves morally the better for it.

      Schopenhauer would have been a great philosopher of Darwinism had he been born a couple of generations later.

  2. Jane Kelly, have you read T S Eliot’s “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture”? If not, you ought to. You’ll like it.

    Thirty-five years ago, when I was an Angry Young Intellectual, I surprised those of my friends who were also Angry Young Intellectuals by saying that nobody alive today (i.e. in 1985) had ever produced an important work of art, literature or music, or was capable of producing one.

    They couldn’t provide a name to refute me then, and I’ll be astounded if any can provide a name to refute me now. It isn’t only the protected “minorities” (black, female, “gay”, or whatever) who can’t do anything creative, it’s all of us. A century of unresisted socialism has destroyed absolutely all the arts for absolutely everybody.

    • My first thought was Stanley Spencer, but he was carried off in 1959.
      Unless this thrilling treasure hunt is confined to the UK, there’s Salvador Dali – for his Christ of St John of the Cross alone (which is in the Kelvingrove museum). His other work is an open question.

      Music. Miles Davis? Joby Talbot? Carter Burwell? Lennie Bernstein?

      Literature. Hard to know where to start.

    • Add Rachel Portman and of course John Adams to the composers. (Has anybody ever heard any of the pieces Scruton wrote I wonder.)

      What about film? Brief Encounter, African Queen and Casablanca leap to mind among many – if the dates fit.

    • It’s the same story in the western philosophical canon. What philosopher of native European origin has made a first-rank contribution since 1985? The last historiographically seminal contribution was Heidegger’s, and he died in May 1976.

      I do not, by the way think that socialism is solely responsible for this impoverishing circumstance. Rather, the liberal Weltanschauung has lost its creative thrust and, like Christianity, thereby exhausted its potential to change history. We are in a waiting philosophical waiting room. There is, however, no doctor in the adjoining room.

      • Now that is interesting. (It’s completely wrong to say music, art and literature are moribund as I’ve pointed out below, but philosophy?) What would a first rank contribution be I wonder as we’ve moved away from grand systems towards expository or analytical work. (Would you agree with that?)

        What about Rawls (and some would include the ghastly Rand) as agenda setters? Quite a bit of work done in ethics too: the fashion for Aristotelian character education has produced work some people value (Kristjansson), but I think is completely wrong-headed, though that is by the way.

        • Thanks for the reply, Michael. To be a first-rank contribution really means to be historically consequential; and to be that perhaps requires the coming together of creative genius and a moment in time of a certain pregnancy. On its own genius is not enough. But some one has to sound the bell, so to speak, so that others of great intellectual worth can be alerted to the historical moment and lend their acumen. This is how schools develop, and it is from schools that movements develop, and from movements political change.

          I don’t believe for one moment that the potential for Europe to produce the requisite genius is exhausted. Further, I think the moment is pregnant – the June 23rd 2016 vote demonstrated that. It is connecting the two that is problematic, and is so in no small measure because of the absolutely dire state of humanities teaching and because of the semi-violent control which Gramsci’s little captives (not unlike Brokenshire) have successfully imposed upon those who might think the requisite unfashionable and anti-progressive thoughts.

          A goodly part of the reason we are in this mess is because Heidegger’s project was still-born, first by the disaster of 1939-45 and second by it being diverted into post-structuralism. The latter enabled the lie to be born that the ills of modernity were finally being, or would finally be, replaced by an age of human enlightenment. Yet what we have is another classically modernist phase of radical egalitarianism. I would say that an historically consequential contribution would correct that for starters.

          • I don’t doubt your political nous, and it coincides with my views. However, I’m not convinced by your opinions on art and literature.
            I didn’t rate Bertrand Russell highly. Derivative and not interesting to read. My opinion, of course. What about Roger Scruton? I loved his writings and his Scottish TV programme Why Beauty Matters. Was he not ‘Of the moment’ when he was needed? He won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
            Music. I loved Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Ravel and Holst. All dead, it’s true. Then came the Beatles – still influencing music 50 years after the breakup. They were followed by highly original bands Gentle Giant, Yes and Genesis. Not orchestral it’s true, but that is redundant now that we have electricity. One violin with a piezo transducer replaces 20 violinists who were there purely for volume.
            If you want to hear quality music by a current band then look for Big Big Train. They use the Band of the Coldstream Guards. Their concerts sell out a year before they happen.
            I hope I don’t come across as rude. It’s not easy to have your finger on the pulse with music these days since the radio ignores quality in favour of crepe. Radio 3 has become so snobbish and up it’s own bottom that I’ve had to give it up, and there goes the last contact I had with BBC.

            Nostalgia is not what it used to be

      • And let’s think about Philippa Foot’s trolley problem. it’s impact on ethics debate cannot be underestimated even if her intention may have been merely to introduce a teaching tool. It has left ethical uncertainty in its wake and remains unsolvable apart from a letter in PhilosophyNow last year from Schopenhauer (!).

        • Frank Salter’s 2002 article in the Springer journal Population and Environment and his subsequent full-length ethics book titled On Genetic Interest, published in 2007, resolves the trolley problem by introducing rational cost calculation based on genetic relatedness. Only where the costs of available options are equal does another basis for decision have to be uncovered.

          • That’s new to me. If it is a nepotism argument then that would push it towards utilitarianism surely, which won’t do at all.
            If it relies on genetic relatedness/selfishness, then it’s refuted by Muslims every day: the Kabul maternity ward attack was only one of numberless blue-on-blue Islamic attacks going on all the time.

            The conclusion I drew from the trolley is that moral questions are always choices made in varying degrees of uncertainty. There’s no rule book, and if there were and we slavishly followed it, it would reduce us to amoral machines (we would no longer be ethical animals). That’s the genius of Moses’ commandments. They leave us with questions, not answers.

          • I cannot see a reply button to your comment below, Michael; so I am replying to my own comment.

            The utility objection is actually a failure to confront the issue of scale.

            Since the first ribo-nucleic spark happened to sustain long enough to divide, the whole function of the organic has been the transmission of genetic information for fitness; in essence continuity over discontinuity and integration over disintegration in a mechanical universe in which organic life itself is the outlier, subject to blind and unrelenting forces of discontinuity, disintegration, and existential homogeny. To reify an objection to existence, basically, on the grounds that it is “utilitarian” to prefer for existence is to throw your lot in with the blind, unrelenting forces because that is in some way objective and not utilitarian. The ethics of such a priority are entirely unethical, given that ethics derive from the natural bias for evolutionarily adaptive choice making.

            Perhaps what we are seeing here is the clash of, on the one hand, a vestigial religious worldview, in which ethics descend from above in golden raiment for the adumbrations of the academic priesthood, unsullied as it is by the so so selfish wants of the herd, and, on the other hand, the somewhat more objective view that, actually, they ascend from below, from common blood, from instinct, from shared natural interest. Me? I’m with that Huxley fellow in the Oxford Debate. Good cannot be what restrains and destroys life, as every objective moralist knows really, when he stops playing games.

  3. If Conservative governments were even remotely interested in defenestrating the revolutionary left in all its places of cultural power and influence, ministers could remove government subsidies from all the institutions which have been marxised thereby. They could do this tomorrow. Among other good things it would flush out the malign elements in their own departments and in the Conservative’s own ranks. What, then, is stopping them? The shrieking of the BBC and the Graun? Then sell off the former and end public sector employment advertising in the latter. This is war.

    Of course, much as with the seven-decade-long process of obliterating the native British people by endless mass immigration, we know that Conservatives don’t want to change anything. They don’t resist the marxisation process but, on the contrary, mouth its pieties and aid its advance. They are what Gramsci never actually called “captive intellects”. They are creatures of their own political limits and they fear freedom.

  4. Perhaps the only chance white males might have in being accepted by the art commissars is for them to be cross-dressers like the bizarre and talentless Grayson Perry.

  5. I wonder whether this attitude is applicable to the Atelier colleges that Roger Scruton has referred to?

    I would expect that their attitude is to teach and judge the skills and genuine creativity applied to a given work, as opposed to the sex, culture or creed of the artist.

    But how to restore the required skills in our state sponsored lefty “art colleges” is another question, unless enough people just don’t bother any more and they are faced with closure perhaps.

    I can’t imagine that Emin’s unmade bed will be preserved for posterity, but people are still learning the required skills, the interested student just has to look further afield (sometimes a long way).

    • I doubt many rise to the level of leftiness. I’ve known two cases where art students won national prizes (portrait comp and design of a national monument). In one case the staff dismissed the achievement as beneath their notice. In the other they said it justified their hands-off approach – leaving students to do as they pleased. In both cases art staff were seldom on campus. Leaving students to develop alone is a very agreeable occupation for the workshy.

  6. Why should you need to be able to draw in order to enrol in art college? Surely the idea of a college is to learn, and in any case such ability is 100% subjective, unlike music, where there is at least some objective standard of quality of performance.

    • Why should you need to be able to draw in order to enrol in art college?
      Because if you show no prior aptitude or interest then you’ll be wasting everyone’s time including your own.

  7. An article in today’s Telegraph reports that: June Sarpong the BBC’s Director of Creative Diversity (whose salary will according to the BBC’s website be “published shortly”) is seeking a cultural change at the BBC in which executives will be “bullish” in requesting information on gender identity, race, disability, and economic background from more than 300 organisations in its supply chain. She has set “inclusion goals”, and said the changes would help “create the kind of world that we all want to see” by “making sure everyone understands the value of inclusion and why it matters”.
    I have nothing else to add apart from saying that I hope Dominic Cummings eviscerates the BBC at the next opportunity.

  8. Thank you for a good article. All this does not bode well for a female artist with real talent. She would be heckled for getting noticed by simply being a woman. In times gone by a female author might use initials instead of Christian names, so to be judged by the work without prejudice. In the present day you’ll find men doing it and for the same reason.
    Why is it that the majority of the population, and probably all the commenters here, are in agreement that this situation is preposterous; yet we are being led where we don’t want to go by a minority comprising educated idiots and zealots?
    Could it be Common Purpose working towards the Communist goal of unravelling our society and values?

  9. Aw Gawd. It gets worse and worse. A revolution led by fanatics and followed by the feeble, the easily impressed and the cowardly. It’s the celebration of the mediocre. All of a piece with our ongoing Civilisational suicide.

    Historically, Sub Saharan art never rose to the level of the Lascaux caves. The Benin bronzes are likely to have been the work of artisans from across the Sahara, since they have no antecedents or successors.

    Sub Saharans never invented any musical instruments beyond the most basic percussion types. Their dance was primitive, They had no architecture since they built very few structures over one storey.

    In his magisterial tv series, Sir Kenneth Clark contemplated one of those black, ghastly, African masks. Was a Greek bust of Apollo superior? He Mused.

    ‘I think so,’ he said. It wasn’t just the technical superiority of the Apollo. It was also what the two represented. Whereas the Apollo was about life, light and reason, the African mask was about darkness, fear and superstition.

    A more recent commentator remarked that ‘He wouldn’t get away with that nowadays.’

    That’s right, more’s the pity. Interestingly that incident has been erased from the version of the Series now available, along with another where Clark states that there was nothing in Islamic art which could compare with the illustrations of the Book of Kells.

    No surprise there

    • Didn’t know that about the Clark series. I’ve got a photo of the Lascaux horses on the wall in a dark corner. You can see why some people thought they were a modern hoax. You have to wonder what else of those people we have lost, and how familiar it would be,

  10. Hmmm. Lee Krasner and Gwen John are considerable talents. Don’t know about the others but a recent exhibition of female artists at Leeds University’s Burton Gallery did bear out what the author says – not very good stuff on the whole. (LU’s gallery puts Leeds Council’s to shame by the way.) Mackintosh’s wife was a great artist too but, wouldn’t you know it, I can’t remember her name.

    It would be a shame if the Globe descended to the level of airheads (God knows what the Globe woman means) – as the RSC does all too often. Words don’t matter? She needs two minutes with Mistress Quickly to put her right. Or maybe Lear: ‘No words, no words, hush.’

  11. Another excellent article Jane, penned from the purgatory of our Dantesque lockdown.
    Many thanks for providing food for thought on the long march through the institutions by the insufferably, grotesquely subsidised Wokists.