ARTICLE: College, the Arts, and the Treason of Intellectuals


Richard Bledsoe “Fortunato” oil on canvas 20″ x 16″

DESTROYERS OF THEIR OWN RELEVANCE AND CREDIBILITY: With Friends Like These, the Humanities Don’t Need Enemies The Humanities is a broad term for cultural matters, as opposed to the sciences. This article by David Clemens details the challenges universities are experiencing from declining enrollments in these classic fields of college education. Though it speaks in detail about English and other majors, the arts also are discussed, and some shocking observations are made. Here are a few key quotes, although the whole piece is worth reading:

“Many valid reasons have been given for the national decline: impractical majors, classrooms ossified by multiculturalism and identity politics, and the proliferation of arcane theorizing that has replaced the reading of great literature. It seems that the liberal arts academy has lost touch with the past as well as the present. Sometimes it seems as if the liberal arts academy has lost touch with reality. I get that sense most strongly when I attend meetings of the Modern Language Association. A look at the Modern Language Association (MLA) yearly convention reveals an organization, and a profession, in deep denial… Students and their tuition-paying parents find such specialist jargon pompous and strangely unconnected from real life. The MLA understands this negative public perception but seems powerless to change. In the last two years, I attended two hour-long, agonized discussions asking why the “general public” doesn’t understand and appreciate how vital literary scholars’ work is. Maybe the reason is that such work is, in University of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson’s words, ‘unreadable.’ The Harvard report even admits that today, the humanities ‘serve only the critical function of unmasking the operations of power in language largely impenetrable to a wider public. Or even where they are intelligible, they fail to communicate their value to a wider public. They serve no constructive public function.’ Fewer and fewer students want to spend four years of time and treasure ‘unmasking power.'”

But the real fun of the article is when some insiders admit the education establishment’s emphasis on scorched earth indoctrination techniques have basically destroyed universities as a venue where the arts can thrive:

“David concluded that the liberal arts will likely have to retreat into scattered educational ‘monasteries’ for preservation. He even suggested that maybe we should stop teaching Shakespeare for 20 years so that he will be rediscovered and appreciated again. For now, the hegemony of theory and ideology has built a house that no one wants to live in and that seems beyond repair. The MLA is so mesmerized by leftist politics and jargon-filled theory that it can’t face why students are turning away and departments are shrinking (even when the MLA itself is also shrinking). A few years ago, Rosanna Warren, then Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers president, reflected on the exodus from the liberal arts. ‘Art will go on; it just won’t go on in school, if the schools continue to support this trahison des clercs. Personally, I am more interested in art than in school, so if art migrates to coffeehouses and basement apartments and libraries, so be it: it won’t be the first time.’ Such are the somber views of two of the humanities most ardent defenders.”

I had to plug trahison des clercs into a French to English translator. “Treason of the Intellectuals.” Wow. Turns out this was the title of a 1927 book by Julien Benda. Looking into this work I came across another article, by the the great Roger Kimball: The Treason of the Intellectuals & “The Undoing of Thought”. It includes this key quote, a perfect summation of the corrupted establishment art world at work:

“What Finkielkraut calls “the undoing of thought” flows from the widespread disintegration of a faith. At the center of that faith is the assumption that the life of thought is ‘the higher life’ and that culture—what the Germans call Bildung—is its end or goal. The process of disintegration has lately become an explicit attack on culture. This is not simply to say that there are many anti-intellectual elements in society: that has always been the case. ‘Non-thought,’ in Finkielkraut’s phrase, has always co-existed with the life of the mind. The innovation of contemporary culture is to have obliterated the distinction between the two. ‘It is,’ he writes, “the first time in European history that non-thought has donned the same label and enjoyed the same status as thought itself, and the first time that those who, in the name of “high culture,” dare to call this non-thought by its name, are dismissed as racists and reactionaries.’ The attack is perpetrated not from outside, by uncomprehending barbarians, but chiefly from inside, by a new class of barbarians, the self-made barbarians of the intelligentsia. This is the undoing of thought. This is the new ‘treason of the intellectuals.’”

Universities are a huge part of the problem society is facing. They have degenerated into accomplices of destructive trends that threaten the foundations of Western Civilization. They are so focused on abetting the collapse of culture that their teachings have no practical, positive application outside of academia. The treason of the intellectuals is to warp the objective, uplifting experience of rigorous education into a debased tool for political propaganda.

So I’m an art school grad. Maybe it’s changed since my day, but what I found when I suddenly and unexpectedly racked up enough credits to graduate, I had not been prepared for the real world. I was working as basically a handyman for the school bookstore, with a big loan to pay back, and no professional prospects. I ended up making my own opportunities, got involved with the local arts community, and I’ve been making art ever since. I’d be curious how many of those I graduated with kept at it. I question the need for a college degree for art, especially since much of university art system seems to emphasize learning to speak a bunch of rhetoric, instead of practicing sound craftsmanship and exploring insightful personal vision. I supposed this is in sync with the current establishment art world, a realm of sophistry, where the participants think spewing enough words and having the correct intentions can justify anything. When did art get enmeshed with grad school programs anyway? It must be a fairly recent phenomenon, and judging by the results, not a particularly fruitful one. The future will lie in more traditional approaches: apprenticeships, mentorships, shared experiences, and artistic community. An artist doesn’t need a degree, an artist just needs to make art.


10 thoughts on “ARTICLE: College, the Arts, and the Treason of Intellectuals

  1. Reblogged this on K2 GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS LLC and commented:
    “Universities are a huge part of the problem society is facing. They have degenerated into accomplices of destructive trends that threaten the foundations of Western Civilization. They are so focused on abetting the collapse of culture that their teachings have no practical, positive application outside of academia. The treason of the intellectuals is to warp the objective, uplifting experience of rigorous education into a debased tool for political propaganda.” Excerpt

  2. This “treason of the intellectuals” is simply a precursor of the “treason of the politicians”, which is being played out in the White House (and on the streets of Cleveland.) This is the sort of thing I like to point out when people start saying that the arts don’t matter. It isn’t even that the Left took over the arts, it is that the traditionalists ceded the field in favor of protecting time and treasure. They felt they had good reason… but money tarnishes and is spent. Time goes by regardless. The culture is a living thing, and will outlive the individuals. Ignore it to your peril.

  3. Glad I went to college when I did, in the 80s. Tuition was still low enough that there were ways to afford it without going into crippling debt. The overall experience was good, and very much worth doing for numerous reasons, not just re: art.

    I recall the majority of my teachers/classes were of quality. It wouldn’t be like real life if they all had been excellent, and just as in real life after college, I encountered a handful who contributed nothing and were IMO giant, narcissistic, and possibly crazy gas bags. Not a bad idea to learn to deal with people like that early, in an environment where you must deal with them, and can’t just avoid them as one might have been able to as a kid. Besides ridiculously unaffordable tuition, I’m wondering, (from what I’m reading), if more gas bags are taking the spots vacated by the instructors of my college days. Yikes, I hope not.

    Still, overall, I feel that getting a college education puts a person, and a country, on firmer ground, regardless of degree field. As for purely practical matters in art programs, they are not complete, IMO, without art business.

  4. William Blake said it best: “Empire follows art and not vice versa.” There days read Empire in the sense of a way of life and shared values. The arts got co-opted and corrupted, look where we are now. But we are coming to take them back.

  5. I also went to art school in the 80s. There were older faculty that gave me whatever education I did get. But there was a newer generation even then that were all about the never ending grandstanding critique and loads of art blather. Now that stuff has rotted the brains and souls out of the arts establishment to the extent that we pretty much have to start from scratch to rebuild. The institutions are lost and will be for probably a generation at least, Best to bypass the fossils and create something new.

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