One complaint I have about the current “Woke” debates is that they don’t consider how diverse the intellectual playing field is. You can learn a good deal from studying the interstices of dialogue that don’t fit into the common boxes of either pro-Woke or anti-Woke.
Along the way, I am happy to recommend The Art Newspaper (NB: non-subscribers can click through three articles a month) as an excellent periodical, both the paper and on-line editions. It is considered the “journal of record for the international art world.”
To put it bluntly, the art world is torn. In terms of demographics, the art world should lean fairly hard left, at least in the Anglo countries. It is highly educated, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and “aware” of the world. And many of the individuals operating in the art world do lean fairly strongly to the left. Yet the art world itself is based on principles fairly different from Woke and often directly opposed to Woke.
First and foremost, the art world is based on ownership of property. Most (by no means all) of those properties were created by dead white males, or perhaps by living white males.
Art markets typically are ruled by Power Laws and massive inequality, with most works going to zero value and a small percentage of the creators hitting it big. No one in those worlds really thinks that is going to change, or should change. Indeed, you earn status by showing how discriminating your eye is, which means by dumping on the works that aren’t going anywhere.
Textiles, which are arguably the “most female” genre in terms of their creators, are worth systematically much less in the marketplace. Sometimes people complain about this, but they are not willing to bid up the prices commensurately. (I am pleased to consider myself an exception in this regard — I see and indeed “exploit” massive aesthetic arbitrage opportunities here. The same is true for some kinds of pottery as well. Buying artworks from talented yet undervalued women creators is one of the best ways to be Woke.)
Art works do not come attached with triggers, and many of them reflect “the gaze” of dead white males, or they are soaked with violence, not usually along politically correct lines. Women (and men) are eroticized without apology. And they are eroticized because of the market. “Reactionary” religions are central to many genres.
The subscribers to The Art Newspaper often are art owners, art collectors, and institutional participants in the art world, such as curators and people who work at auction houses. They might fret over the theft of art works from poorer and typically non-white parts of the world, but actual full-scale restitution is not in fact their #1 programmatic goal. Surprise!
So if you read The Art Newspaper, you will step into an elite world quite unlike say the world of the American Ivies. The performative incentives here are entirely different.
In the 1990s, The Art Newspaper hardly ever ran articles with Woke themes. Today it does a lot, yet the actual content and analysis just isn’t that Woke. You can think of it as a respite from the Woke, though it will never criticize the Woke directly. It tries to incorporate Woke rhetoric into an essentially non-Woke and anti-Woke set of customs and incentives and property rights.
If you look at the top five “most read” articles from this last week in early July, you will find at #2:
Maybe you’re getting scared now, but the funny thing is the article actually addresses and answers the question. Basically those are the individuals who have essential contacts in the outside art world and knowledge of how that world works. At the end of the piece the article does call for more Chinese leadership talent (as we all would agree), but along the way no one is brow-beaten and there is remarkably little moralizing. Keep in mind The Art Newspaper is being written exactly for these white men, or those who aspire to become them.
One lesson is that when no one is watching, and when actual property is at stake, the contemporary world is still remarkably sensible.
Just how politically correct do you think this article is?
“…new book on 18th-century French art reveals discrete gradations of erotic images.”
Here is the opening passage:
Most who take an interest in 18th-century French art will know of the Goncourt brothers’ description of “the meanderings, the undulations, the pliancies of a woman’s body” in relation to Watteau, or their ecstatic response to Fragonard’s La Chemise enlevée (around 1770) depicting “a woman… on whose mouth hovers a languid smile, [trying], somewhat faintly, to retain the nightgown that has already been ravished from her body…”
I am not sure Andrea Dworkin would approve. Still, the topic is sufficiently obscure that no one is going to get cancelled for “their ecstatic response to Fragonard.”
Every now and then, The Art Newspaper gets downright sad:
The auction house’s £17.2m [Old Masters] offering in London tonight was only 57% sold, overshadowed by the football match
Are they going to stop calling them “Old Masters”? I don’t think so, not even if the term “Master bedroom” goes away.
The most widely read article of the week was “Archaeologists find ruins of vast Medieval Nubian cathedral in Sudan.” Again, no need to get nervous. They used remote sensing techniques to find the ruins. Good article, good photo, homage to its aesthetic virtues, zero moralizing, zero politics. Not a peep about cultural appropriation or CRT.
Lots of articles cover tax law too! You could say they are a kind of supply-sider, albeit without the revenue maximization idea.
And the editor is a woman, Alison Cole. She even wrote a book Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power — do you think she can be totally against those things? 22 Amazon ratings, five star average.
If you love the arts, or simply would like to step into a different intellectual world, I am happy to (strongly) recommend The Art Newspaper. It is also full of practitioner-driven economic reasoning, and fairly objective looks at geopolitics, on top of keeping you current about art worlds. The non-Woke lives.
OK, so what about The Woke and Non-Woke in other areas? Classical music? Stand-up comedy anyone? What else?