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"All radical bark and no radical bite"

Sam Durant, End White Supremacy, (2009)

At Hyperallergic, Becca Rothfeld has a provocative short piece entitled “The Hypocrisy of the Artistic and Cultural Left.” After citing statistics about the “abysmal” race and gender diversity of the arts industry, she writes:

In the face of such bleak statistics, it’s time for us to ask why the industries with some of the loftiest ideals and the most vocal commitments to progressivism still far so far short of reasonable expectations … Theoretical convictions aren’t translating into action.

Why? One reason she gives is that “only the wealthy can afford to take unpaid internships and other low-paid jobs in the name of their ideals—and the wealthy are disproportionately white and male.” But she also suggests that all the radical posturing in the arts conceals a deep-seated conservatism:

I think that something more pernicious is at play: in the effete worlds of literature and the arts, revolutionary rhetoric masks and even perpetuates underlying aversion to change. The more lip service the privileged pay to the need for inclusivity, the less they feel compelled to act. The more Marxist the art critic, the more coverage of the art market. I’ve witnessed this dynamic manifest itself in countless reading groups and discussions, where professed male feminists are always the loudest mansplainers. Like so many of us in the arts or the academy, they’re all radical bark and no radical bite.

Is Rothfeld’s assessment accurate? Is the progressivism of the art world only skin deep?

“The more Marxist the art critic, the more coverage of the art market.” Well, yes, and no. Personally, I am fascinated by the dynamics of the art market because we can’t learn how to fix the economic issues of the current system if we don’t understand those issues.

There is a difference between celebratory writing and analytical writing, or reportage, of the market—however, the author of this piece doesn’t note these distinctions.

Maybe I’ll go put my head in a hole and never talk about the market again.

1 Like

I think it’s completely necessary to point out the actual social stratification of these spaces and activities — but I don’t think it’s just because of the requirement for unpaid labor or “effete” conservatism. Most activity in the arts is individualized, making it harder to recognize larger social patterns, and the political orientation is general enough (i.e. “progressivism”) that there’s little demand to compare ideals to what’s actually happening.