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Culture War: Art, identity politics and cultural entryism, by Alexander Adams

22 May 2020

Art-world politics may well backfire, Nicholas Cranfield reads

YOU may never have heard of the author, who is a British writer, artist, and critic. I certainly had to look him up after I had read this trenchant and, at times, prescient collection of essays on the culture war and virtue-signalling of our day.

Whether you are a tea-drinking reader of the Torygraph or a gin-swilling aficionado of the Grauniad, these seven short essays are likely to infuriate, intrigue, and incommode you in equal part. We are treated to a disquisition on the dangerous rise of identity politics in the art world which never descends into a rant and which has the merit of being written by an insider.

While much of it discusses Left-leaning activism in culture, he also has judicious observations on the ultra-Right and religious extremists who have signalled some of the changes of the past generation. His particular beef is with the agenda set out by Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of the Tate since January 2017, which seeks to compensate for under-representation in the arts of certain demographics.

Elsewhere, he points out that, although no European country has adopted sharia law, museums and galleries no longer show ancient depictions of the Prophet Muhammad by Persian artists. Post-liberals in our own society want to restrict freedom of speech — this all too commonly on university campuses.

At the end of last year, the short-listed artists for the Turner Prize 2019 declared themselves a collective. At their request, the jurors awarded them all what I would understand as fourth equal, or last, as it was in an old-fashioned world.

George Bernard Shaw long ago noticed: “It’s not our disorder that’s the problem. It’s our order that’s the problem.” But that was not to signal a demand for language-policing or for gender quotas, however widely they are now an accepted part of political discourse.

As Adams shows, there are darker forces behind seemingly innocent attempts to “right the balance”. He argues that, in the end, more damage to the whole will follow, and he predicts that the recent official system for support for the arts will collapse.

We have only to count the Arts Ministers who have served in Conservative administrations since 2010 to catch his drift.

Canon Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath, in south London

Culture War: Art, identity politics and cultural entryism 
Alexander Adams 
Imprint Academic £14.95*
*from books.imprint.co.uk

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