Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Art Criticism and Gun Culture 2.0

My WFU colleague David Yamane is a sociologist working on America's gun culture.  He has a great blog on the topic, and a couple of his recent posts were--oddly enough--remarkably relevant to art criticism as it's currently (too often) practiced.  In these two posts (One and Two) Yamane was writing about Warrior Dreams by James William Gibson.

The very short version is that Gibson apparently sees not only firearms themselves, but various gun-related items (including ammunition and holsters) as sexually charged.  Guns are phallic, holsters are vaginal, etc.  Even the wound channel produced by a bullet strike is suggestive of a vagina to Gibson.

Now, this is all very silly.  And it's hard to know what to make of such silliness.  Yamane does as well as one probably could do, saying, among other things,

"Although I do not want to dismiss Gibson’s work entirely, in this case I think a picture of an expanded hollow point bullet or a drawing of a wound channel is like a Rorschach test.  In Rorschach tests, people’s perceptions of various inkblots are understood as projections of their own personality characteristics and emotional functioning. Gibson’s psycho-sexual analysis of defensive ammunition, therefore, probably tells us more about Gibson than about gun culture itself."

Yep, I reckon so.

The reason these posts jumped out at me is quite simple: you find so much of the same kind of thing in art criticism.  I write a good bit about this in my book.  While I don't want to put too much of the book on this blog--else, why bother publishing the book?--I think I can spare a snippet.

Here is part of what one critic had to say about [Winslow Homer's] The Gulf Stream: “The sharks in The Gulf Stream …, encircling the helpless boat with sinuous seductiveness, can be read as castrating temptresses, their mouths particularly resembling the vagina dentate, the toothed sexual organ that so forcefully expressed the male fear of female aggression.”   Here again, the silly fixation with importing Freudian worries about castration.  The two visible shark mouths don’t look especially vaginal.  (They do, however, have an uncanny similarity to a certain toothed orifice—a shark’s mouth.)  It’s hard to see why anyone would take this kind of thing seriously.  (The quotation is taken from Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters, Encounter 2004, 123.  Note, however, that Kimball is not the critic in question: Kimball is mocking the critic in question.)

And yet, this style of "criticism" continues to be published, and continues, apparently, to be taken somebody out there, somewhere.  In an earlier piece, I called this the "that's what she said" school of art criticism.  Still seems an appropriate label to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment