April 18, 2008

On Soul, Shvarts "Art" and Wrapping Crap in Plastic

The Abortion Project "Artist" bending over in studio. Plastic sacks of her dark fluid on the wall behind.

Jack Ryan: "Where are you taking me, Marty?"
Marty Cantor: "It's you who have taken us, Jack... "

-- Patriot Games

Yale said her project was a "hoax." She says they lied.

"Shvarts said her project would take the form of a large cube suspended from the ceiling of a room in the gallery of Holcombe T. Green Jr. Hall. Shvarts said she would wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting around the cube, with blood from her self-induced miscarriages lining the sheeting." -- Yale Daily News - Shvarts, Yale clash over project

"...would wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting..." Ah, how cutting edge. How avante-garde! How 21st century!

In the period of 1969-1971 I lived in a two-story green house in Berkeley, California, with a sculptor. I was, or so I claimed then, a poet.

The house had four small apartments. Ours was downstairs and in back. In the front apartment, a painter had reproduced Motherwell's Elegy for the Spanish Republic #110 at full size on his bedroom wall as a mural. Upstairs in the front, a couple would, from time to time, bring in a trunk and produce tens of thousands of LSD hits for sale throughout the bay area. Upstairs in back, an old gray man known as "Mr. Smith" would pursue his long affair with heroin. It was, by the standards of the time, a house fraught with art.

In a way I don't now recall, I'd come into possession of many end-rolls of clear industrial plastic. The rolls were some 7 feet tall and each had hundreds of feet of unused sheeting on it. During a long evening with the painter and my sculptor, we decided - in reference to the then obscure artist Christo -- we would wrap the entire two-story house in plastic. Which we did. I have, somewhere in my endless boxes, photographs of this "Happening" -- as it was then called.

Here's a photograph of the house that I took passing through Berkeley in 2005. As you can see, wrapping it in long plastic sheets 7 feet tall would not be a trivial exercise, but we managed it in an afternoon.


Today, I see that it was probably a mistake not to have harvested some menstrual blood from the sculptor to smear on my plastic-wrapped house. That would have been ever-so-much-more-artistic. The truth is that we did not think of it. The deeper truth is that we could not think of it.

Even a house deeply sunk in LSD, heroin, armed outlaws, bad poetry and the wholesale political-spiritual-aesthetic catastrophe of Beat-Hip lifestyles on the 1960s could not have come up with the faintest wisp of the thought: "I'll collect my menstrual blood, which might or might not contain a fetus, save it, then smear it on some plastic sheeting with some Vaseline to keep it moist, and wrap a cube in it, and proclaim it 'art.'"

Don't get me wrong. We liked the edge. We liked the drugs. We liked the pill. We liked the sex with everybody and everything. We liked "sticking it to the man." After all, he "couldn't bust our music." We liked thinking of ourselves as concept artists, as performance artists, as "beautiful losers." What we didn't think of was how we could get a major university to fund us and give us degrees for our "art."

But now, here we are, in a society that actually rewards the "expression" of a disturbed woman with both attention and fame. It will, I have no doubt, also soon reward her more deeply with grants and money from any one of a number of the more depraved foundations, such as DIA, that exist to aid us along the road of decline that leads forever down.

Somehow we've grown accustomed to that road. I walked along it for many years. In a very real sense I've done my part in extending and paving it until I decided, seeing at long last where it inexorably leads, to leave it for good.

The LSD dealer died years later in a shoot out. His girlfriend/wife lives in poverty now somewhere in the southwest. The mural painter moved to Japan and died early from AIDS. The old junkie, Mr. Smith, finally overdosed and lies in a pauper's grave. The sculptor whom I lived with and loved has had, the last I knew, several decades of increasing mental disorders. As for myself, I guess the best you could say is "I only am escaped alone to tell thee." Even now, though, I'm not so sure.

But I am sure of the road.

As it did for the outlaws and junkies of my old green house, the road that leads forever down has nothing but pleasures along the way, and there are never any real social consequences for taking it. We don't do "consequences" in this country any more. Instead we reward those that discover, as Shvarts has, new and ever more deeply depraved depths.

And don't think this little episode of glorifying multiple spontaneous abortions is the end. I often think "Surely, we've reached the bottom." And just as often I am reminded, as I am by the depraved Ms. Shvarts, that there really is no bottom; that an ever increasingly part of our "culture" (What a laugh!) has fallen more than half in love with easeful death, and will have it.

Commenting on the Shvarts episode today, Roger Kimball in Roger's Rules: Yale, abortion, and the limits of art remarks,

George Orwell gave classic expression to this point back in 1944 in "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali - a review of Dali's autobiography. "The artist," Orwell wrote,

is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word "Art," and everything is O.K. Rotting corpses with snails crawling over them are O.K.; kicking little girls in the head is O.K.; even a film like L'Age d'Or [which shows among other things graphic shots of a woman defecating] is O.K.

A juror in the obscenity trial over Robert Mapplethorpe's notorious photographs the S&M homosexual underworld memorably summed up the paralyzed attitude Orwell described. Acknowledging that he did not like Mapplethorpe's rebarbative photographs, he nonetheless concluded that "if people say it's art, then I have to go along with it."

This is the triumph of the lie -- the lie of the mind to the soul that we so deeply prefer above all other lies.

People have actually come to believe that labeling something "art" gives it a Get-Out-Of-Condemnation-Free card; that there really is some sort of immutable and unwritten social rule that if I say something is "art," then everyone who says what I am about is depraved, sick, and evil must simply back off. It matters little that time will consign the 'art' of Shvarts to the sewer of works that vanish. What matters is that in her little time here she has already managed to degrade the souls of others just a little more, just a little deeper.

In a healthy world, someone who puts on a performance like Shvarts would get a beating from her peers and then be shunned into obscurity. I'm predicting that our current 'art' establishment -- like the weak administrators at Yale -- will give her a pass and a grant. I'm predicting, and I won't be wrong, that her "show" will be attended by throngs and a major gallery in New York will sign her. Few of the people involved will have children. Childless and soulless are the hallmarks of that tribe. Such is the nature of the parasites we've allowed to infest us.

I haven't done any "performance" art in decades, but if I get back into it with some industrial plastic sheeting, I wonder if I could wrap and tape Aliza Shvarts in it, video tape her slow asphyxiation, call her corpse "art," and look for the edgy academic and art establishment to give me a "Get-Out-Of-Lethal-Injection-Free Card" and a grant for more "performances." That's really the next step, and only a small step at that. Isn't it?

I hope so. I've got a little list.

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Posted by Vanderleun at April 18, 2008 8:49 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The rest of that Patriot Games quote is "It's you who have taken us, Jack...into battle."

Posted by: see-dubya at April 18, 2008 10:27 AM

Yes, I know. I know.

Posted by: vanderleun at April 18, 2008 10:32 AM

"call her corpse "art," ... That's really the next step, Isn't it?"

Don't you already know about displaying plasticized corpses as "art?" Even made it into Casino Royale.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at April 18, 2008 10:50 AM

i think this is the only sane response i've found to "they call it shvart".

Posted by: at April 18, 2008 11:06 AM

"Certain things, if not seen as lovely or detestable, are not being correctly seen at all."

-- C. S. Lewis

Posted by: Donald Sensing at April 18, 2008 11:31 AM

Didn't Norman Mailer work to get a convict freed because of his art? Didn't that convict then murder another man? didn't Mailer basically shrug that off as the result of art?

Posted by: Mikey NTH at April 18, 2008 11:51 AM

Years ago I helped build some of the sets for an exhibit at a local art museum - one of the guys supervising used to be a "performance artist" - he freely admitted that a lot of what they had done was to see how far they could go and when the audience would get up and leave.

"Juvenile" is the word that comes to mind as I think of that today.

Posted by: andrewdb at April 18, 2008 12:53 PM

All art is not equal, dictates of moral relativism notwithstanding. Make no mistake, Yale's reflexive response in defense of Shvarts, couched in terms of 'artistic expression' was a knee jerk reaction to the gods they hold so dear.

The various forms of moral relatavism, as an expression of art, faith or politics are absurd and deceitful ideologies at best.

When it is all said and done, moral absolutes and not moral relativism are the foundation of every single progressive society. Conversely, moral relativism is the foundation of every repressive society. It is those societies that seek a blessing for their dysfunctional and oppressive behaviors and actions that marginalize some (or worse) and elevate others (or worse).

For example, it is never alright to beat spouses. It is never alright to beat children and racism, bigotry and hate are never alright. It is never alright to oppress gays and religious minorities. There are thousand and one other absolutes I can cite.

It is never alright to embrace those people or ideologies. Of course, those things can be overlooked if one is an anti American, a Jew and Christian hating bigot, or in the name of 'artistic expression.'

As has often been noted, artistic expression is sacred, until and unless you offend 'the other.' At that point, offending the other becomes an evil absolute (all are sacred cows, save for America, Israel, Jews and Christians- no moral relativism allowed there- they are absolute evil, always).

The likes of Alicia Shvarts should come as no surprise to anyone. She is the fruit of the tree planted by 'religious' people like Jimmy Carter.

The morally relative deity of Carter has a no problem embracing anyone for whom racism, bigotry and hate or any other expression that the rest of us find morally abhorrent.

Our faith is simple and very different than that of Jimmy Carter: We answer to God, a God for whom hate, bigotry and racism are abhorrent- in absolute terms. In Carter's world, God answers to him and whatever beliefs he espouses at the moment- and thus his moral relativism allows for the celebration of racists, bigots and haters, with no consequence.

His is a faith that cannot and will not discern the sacred from the profane.

You know, just the fertilizer need by the likes of Alicia Shvarts.

Posted by: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at April 18, 2008 1:13 PM

Whether or not this was real or a hoax, the woman behind it is one sick individual.

Posted by: feeblemind at April 18, 2008 1:37 PM

A long time ago, when I had friends in various art schools, someone coined the term, "arthole" to describe art students, who as pretentious and full of themselves as they were, weren't half as lame as Shvarts and Lindman.

Posted by: Harry at April 18, 2008 2:45 PM

The so-called artist Shvarts will have several decades of increasing mental disorders.

Posted by: Fat Man at April 18, 2008 4:22 PM

I am still 50/50 on the Hoax/No Really debate. I still think the little twit is an @$$#01&.

Posted by: Fat Man at April 18, 2008 4:27 PM

"We don't do consequences.." Love that thought...there must be an essay somewhere in that.

Posted by: rexrs at April 18, 2008 10:05 PM

A lot has been written here about the nature of art. The philosopher R.G. Collingwood in his book Speculum Mentis wrote that art is what the primitive mind does in its first step towards coming to grips with reality. I would say that the primitive mind is doubtless at a new nadir in her production. Properly understood art is, I think, a "Stage on Life's Way", the first stage in broader endeavors of man as he develops progressively sophisticated categories of activities to reach an accommodation with the world. Religion is a close second, then science, history, philosophy. Understanding art is impossible without the benefit of having gone way beyond art itself. Collingwood says that in art consciousness is always directed outwards while in philosophy it is returning on itself. That is a profound observation I think.

Having said that I note that perhaps this continuing discussion evidences that in spite of everything evil serves the purposes of good. No doubt some confused soul will see this and waken from their sleep walking "discovery" of nihilism.

Some souls are irredeemable and I suspect hers is one but for some less damaged ones I offer this simple observation in addition to what Gerard has written. The Real is either something or nothing. If nothing, then WHATEVER is intended comes to be. That is, if you believe in nothing you will get that in all manner of perversity. If you believe in something, in a personal God, say, then personal existence is conflated with the primal spirit of the cosmos and it emerges into consciousness that we are instruments of God, or, if you like, of ultimate reality. This is a source of true meaning and purpose, the only valid end within, the supreme entelechy of sentient life. And so, to wrap this up, "...there really is no bottom" becomes there really is no top. Of a certainty extreme evil means there is also extreme good. The same works for extreme ugliness. Somewhere, perhaps uncelebrated, there are beautiful and divine and true and courageous doings by our fellows. They are sullied by sharing contiguous space with vile things, true, but we understand this.

Posted by: John Hinds at April 19, 2008 6:33 AM

With a name like Aliza Shvarts, she probably is of Russian-Jewish ancestry, at least in part. Does anyone know anything about her family? If they were emigres from the USSR, I wonder how they feel about her psychotic sneers.

Posted by: Bleepless at April 19, 2008 10:05 AM

rexrs: ""We don't do consequences.." Love that thought...there must be an essay somewhere in that."

Indeed there is. I've got lots of notes and may write it very soon now.

As to Russian-jewish ancentry, I believe I've seen a reference to Shvarts' father being a recent emigre. I also think he's no longer around. (Don't know about alive or dead, but Shvarts does refer in one shot essay on her first menstruation to "my mother's then-boyfriend...")

Posted by: vanderleun at April 19, 2008 11:32 AM

Donald Sensing

I had a whole diatribe written about the next step in The Shvarts' world of "art", but I grossed myself out and felt that I ought not give these "progressives" any ideas. Let's stop giving them any benefit of a doubt about how inhuman they can be. Adolf and Joey would have loved her audacity. Gnaw on that.

Sad state of affairs.

Posted by: JD at April 19, 2008 4:07 PM

I shamelessly lifted your remarks from Kimball and his quotes from Orwell regarding art - without attributing them to your blog. Forgive?

I'd left a comment on the Yale undergraduate art blog which hadn't seen activity since last fall.

I believe I posted my original comment regarding the evil nature of Sharvts' project, in the post titled "Update".

They used my original comment to start their own editorializing and I, again, felt compelled to respond.

Having read your very powerful essay, I remembered the quotes and felt they would admirably bolster my argument.

I probably won't return to read their responses. I'm old. I'm tired and the air is soft and clean outside. I'm going birding.

Please feel free to wander over into that morass and name yourself as one of my sources and by all means - have a whack at 'em.


Catherine Wilson

Posted by: Cathy Wilson at April 20, 2008 4:36 AM

The citation of CS Lewis made me think of how prescient he was of what was coming not, as you might think, in his cultural critiques, but in his science fiction writings. The grotesqueries of the avant-garde today resemble nothing so much as the antics of N.I.C.E. in "That Hideous Strength."

Oh, for the resurrection of Merlin...

Posted by: Jeffersonian at April 21, 2008 7:56 AM

"I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

These verses from the Psalms are bookmarked in my Bible with a picture of my daughter's face... at sixteen weeks in gestation. She's now sixteen months old, and just as beautiful, even more.

I don't think for a minute that girl - she does not deserve to be called a "woman" - faked that "art" project. Her "art" is beyond disgusting: it's abominable. If "elite" society accepts her "art", then they are just as "in bed" with her as the boys who provided fifty percent of her "material".

Her "art", as an image of herself, shows that she gave up any concept of soul whatsoever. Man in the image of God is "Precious". Man in the twisted image of Man is a Beast.

Posted by: newton at April 22, 2008 7:38 PM
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