But Is It Art Criticism?

But Is It Art Criticism?

But Is It Art Criticism?

Better ideas.
June 29 1997 3:30 AM

But Is It Art Criticism?

The Stalinist aesthetics of the Weekly Standard.

(Continued from Page 1)

But their understandable feelings of loneliness quickly turn hysterical. Listen to David Gelernter, the Standard's most interesting and wrong-headed critic:


But we must be conservatives, because today's liberal Establishment is no mere defender of freewheeling 'anything goes' art versus conservative realism. ... Increasingly, the conservative intelligentsia is the intelligentsia. It is the place where love of art and learning and rational argument and country survives. It is the ark we climb aboard until the weather clears. ... Today's art establishment is fundamentally no good and needs to be replaced.

Throw down your Jasper Johns and unite!

To Gelernter, conservatism is no mere reactionary stance. It is the ideology of a vanguard out to overthrow the godless, unpatriotic establishment. Gelernter advocates that conservatives establish their own conservative institutions, including a "conservative museum" promoting "conservative art"--whatever that is. Criticism is a subset of this strategy. What does it matter that a left-wing poet is a good poet if the future of civilization is at stake? You bash your political enemies and praise your political friends, because culture war is hell and there are no aesthetes in a foxhole.

The Nation, the Standard's left-wing counterpart, is sometimes guilty of the same sins, praising--unconvincingly--obscure left-wing Nicaraguan novelists. However, on the whole, the left is less guilty than the right. Most journals with roots in liberalism--the New York Review of Books, the New Republic--set up implicit ground rules for criticism. No ideological bashing for the sake of ideological bashing. Publish conservative and liberal writers, regardless. They actually acted on Lionel Trilling's and Alfred Kazin's critiques of Marxist criticism. In its political coverage the Standard is not reluctant to criticize conservatives (though usually it is for not being conservative enough). (For a related article on conservative political correctness, see this week's Strange Bedfellow column by Jacob Weisberg.) In its cultural coverage, though, the magazine preaches aesthetic independence but often practices conservative political correctness of a remarkably crude sort.

Franklin Foer is a Slate contributing editor. He is writing a book about the dark side of Silicon Valley.