All Aboard the Witch Hunt Band Wagon!
The College Mob Springs into Action
The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 6
For years I have studied and commented on the crisis of relevance plaguing the visual arts. Malignant elitists are destroying the artistic experience, all the better to create a passive and befuddled populace. I’ve worked to expose the decadence and corruption of establishment art, but usually I’m analyzing distant events and actions. But now, I have a personal connection with an unfolding incident which perfectly illustrates the death throes of Postmodern culture. The destructive conflict playing out at one Virginia art school can be extrapolated out to changes that are taking place on a global scale.
This article from The College Fix lays out situation:
Virginia Commonwealth University officials suspended associate professor Javier Tapia last semester despite concluding that he did not racially discriminate against an unfamiliar black professor when he called security on her last fall. The decision prompted a lawsuit from Tapia and protests by students who want him fired.
Tapia, a Peruvian-born art professor who’s been at VCU since 1988, is heading to court in an attempt to force VCU to let him continue teaching while asking for $1 million in damages. A settlement conference is scheduled for June 11. Meanwhile, dozens of students have held campus protests to demand that Tapia be fired and that the school increase its diversity.
So a bunch of N-P-C students are demanding the firing of an Hispanic immigrant teacher in the name of “diversity.” The cognitive dissonance, it burns.
It’s shameful to see what’s become of my alma mater. I graduated from VCU, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Printmaking. I was there when Javier Tapia joined the staff. For one notable semester, he was my teacher. What I learned from him then, and what is happening to him now, is extremely educational, but not in the way you’d find in a syllabus.
It was a terrible experience when I studied painting with him in the early 1990s. I ended up basically teaching myself some powerful lessons. By opposing everything this misguided academician manifested, I ended up discovering my own way as an artist.
Javier had quickly built a reputation. Temperamental. Tough. Demanding. Aggressive even. His critiques were said to play out as fiery psychodramas, reducing hapless students to tears, counselling and changes of majors.
I signed up for this, on purpose. I was determined to learn artistic skills by traditional methods, trying to paint realistically from observation. This was not the trendy thing to do at VCU, which emphasized conceptual and abstract art. I was out of sync with most of the other students, who were producing slapdash experimental works. Despite my plodding development, I felt ready for a challenge. It didn’t go down like I expected it to, but then again, hardly anything ever does.
This was a studio class, meeting all day twice a week, all of us students painting together in a filthy classroom tucked away on the top floor of the gymnasium. The infamous group critiques only took place every few weeks. During typical sessions Javier would turn up late, after we had already started working. After depositing his satchel and coffee at the paint encrusted work table he used like a desk, he wandered around the room, selectively interacting with those who caught his interest.
I actually gained positive attention for the first class or two. I set up a still life I was working from: a collection of metal and wooden objects. Those first classes I was just doing what I considered the underpainting, laying in broad areas of color and vague suggestions of shapes, tinkering with the composition. I was working in greens and yellows for some reason, although nothing I was depicting was green or yellow. Knowing my own methods, I knew anything I laid down would ultimately be covered over as I refined the painting.
Javier was initially intrigued by the masses I was setting down, and visited with me several times on those days, curious about the direction I was going in. But as soon as I started to make decisions, drawing in the specific details and starting to nudge the picture towards realism, the interactions ceased. He preferred talking with the students whose works remained only broad areas of color and vague suggestions of shapes. Turns out he was a partisan for that aesthetic, and had no patience for other forms of expression.
Javier liked to have us all gather around his desk so he could lecture us. They weren’t actually so much lectures as they were harangues, delivered in tones of bitter disappointment. The topics were usually variations on how much better he had been than us, back when he too had been a mere student. We were expected to stand there while he monologued and just suck it up, waiting until he was done with us. Only then could we crawl back to our easels, beaten half senseless by his disapproval.
Finally the day came for our first group critique. It was just like I’d heard: hostile and belittling. The collective mind of the class took on the personae of the professor. We squared off like gladiators battling to the death, egged on by his imperious disdain. I actually got off pretty easy, only because when my turn came, Javier announced right up front he saw nothing in my still life. No one had much to say after that, and we rapidly moved on.
What Javier chose to linger over during that crit showed us what he was expecting from us all. His personal pet student was displaying a largish square canvas. During the initial weeks of the class this student had simply brushed the surface of this over and over with layers of thick brownish paint. Every now and then he’d draw in some geometric shapes, only to bury them under more impasto.
Apparently the pet wasn’t satisfied that this was enough texture, because he started to adhere ragged strips of torn canvas into the wet paint, plastering over them with more smears and gobs. The final result was an unsightly, scabrous beige void. This, according to Javier, was true painting. We probably spent three quarters of an hour verbally dissecting this masterpiece.
The ones who got it worst in this critique were those who were trying to work abstractly, but who fell short of Javier’s elusive standards. Why their work was worse than the clotted lump he praised I couldn’t tell you, but the instructor seemed to take their lesser efforts as a personal affront. He sicced the class on these students like a vicious pack; they in turn were gleeful at their chance to pass on the abuse they had been experiencing. It was an ugly display.
I’m familiar with the boot camp idea of tearing someone down in order to build them up into something new and better. Maybe this was the method Javier was going for, believing he was some kind of drill instructor of art.
However, the key component of this concept is the second part. Done effectively, the broken and rebuilt recruit should be in every way superior to the weak and naive shape they began in. Tough love is the secret fuel of drill instructor rage. The cruelty is actually compassion. The targeted viciousness awakens in others the toughness and strength that will be needed to survive dire circumstances.
But with Javier’s obligatory destination, his philosophy that paintings consist of incoherent mud and marks, to be served up with a lot of posturing, the end result was no improvement. It was ultimately a merely materialistic viewpoint he served, camouflaged with a lot of cranky analysis that lent a veneer of intellectualism. He was actually espousing a major strain of thinking in Modern art, advocating for a set of beliefs that had been in vogue since the early 20th century. In this school of painting, what was important was paint as a substance applied to a surface, and how blatantly it could be made to act like paint being applied to a surface.
All Javier’s ill-tempered observations could be distilled to euphemisms for, and variations upon, “paint behaves like paint, but you aren’t making it fit my intellectual theories of paint-like behavior enough.” The professor’s emotional investment in this pedantic set of concerns was puzzling. He may have been intense, but what he was emphasizing was irremediably wrong.
What matters is not what paint is, but what it is used for.
After that first critique, the class meandered on, painting time interspersed with tongue lashings and bouts of mob savagery. Now about two thirds of the students were just wiping streaks and blobs onto their canvases, pandering for approval. They still got sliced and diced during the group discussions, all except for his canvas scrap golden boy, who could do no wrong.
I remained unpersuaded, and defiantly began another still life.
Javier made it clear I was a lost cause, and that kept the abuse directed at me brief. I just wasn’t worth talking about. The only comment he’d make to me during his classroom ambles was I needed better brushes. He said this several times. I understood he felt the problem was not actually my brushes, but what I was doing with them.
I’m glad I had my habitual punk nonconformity and suspicion of authority supporting me, otherwise I too might have ended up smearing paint around. But even though I was rejecting Javier’s priorities, it was still frustrating to be ignored. I was still so young, and so uncertain in many ways. I was basically left to teach myself, since he couldn’t be bothered or was not capable of guiding me on my own path as an artist. He just wanted everyone to do it his way. And for me, his way was a dull waste of time. But still, to labor under the hostility of someone so advanced in my chosen field caused great unease.
And then, I actually saw one of Javier’s paintings.
This was still pre-internet, or at least pre-my access to it. How different the world was, back when we did not instant access to information about everything and everyone! I had to wait until a faculty art exhibit to see Javier’s work. Strangely, he never shared it with us in class.
I turned out for the opening, a buzzing, energetic Friday night affair. I enjoyed the free pretzels sticks and cheese provided for the reception, but really was there for the art, to see the works of teachers current and past; I didn’t make a special point of looking for Javier’s piece. I was very surprised when I finally read his name on the title card under a large work on canvas.
His painting was inferior. Undistinguished, indistinguishable from the work of thousands of other contemporary painters-student painters included. A mass of orange with a few tentative streaks near the bottom. I can’t find an image of it, but it was of a comparable quality to this beauty I found on the web:
A Genuine Tapia
Everything became clear. All the professor’s bombast and attitude was overcompensation for some very justifiable insecurity. His bluster was an attempt to conceal some extreme weakness. However, in painting, there is nowhere to hide.
Despite all Javier’s credentials, all that training, all those words, the preemptive strike of haughtiness he launched on us poor pupils, the domineering and disruptive dynamic he stirred up in his class, despite all that, he failed where it mattered most. When it came time to perform, and put brush to canvas, all the academician could manage was a sloppy blankness.
After witnessing the professor’s clichéd artifice on display for all to see, for the rest of the semester, whenever Javier went on his class room tirades, I listened with a smirk. Changes were happening in my art that amplified the hollow ring of his chest thumping, and rendered him even more irrelevant in my eyes. My patient discipline was starting to pay off on the canvas; I was discovering the visionary element that continues in my painting to this day, and I had achieved the technical skills to bring it out.
The coda of this special time was my final one-on-one critique with Javier at the end of the school year. Without his browbeat flunkies, he was subdued, sheepish even. I can imagine how difficult it was for him to have to talk directly with me. He had witnessed how I had completely disregarded his philosophy, but looking at my semester’s worth of paintings, the advances I made were unmistakable.
The professor muttered something about how my work had gone off in directions he had never expected it could. I think I responded with a blank stare that he was not willing to return. That was close to rapport as we ever came, and I took it for what it was worth. After all his hostility, I earned a B in the class. I considered this a major victory. I had a new direction to explore, new ideas to try out.
What I saw in this classroom back when I was young could been seen to represent the old school of the Leftism with dominates our institutions. The feeling of entitled power that comes along with a well-connected position of authority, defended with sophistry and attitude. But there is a new dynamic challenging the presumptions of the old guard, coming from the even further Left. A rabid, destructive element seeking to purge and plunder.
I didn’t approve of his ideas or methods. But what is happening now is just wrong. It is appalling how VCU has treated Javier Tapia during this controversy. Calling security on someone he thought was an out of place student would be a typically dick move from him, but it was just a simple misunderstanding. But grievance mongers got to monger, and now the Maoist mob wants blood, vengeance, and humiliation. The school found no racist intent, but that’s not good enough for the cultural arsonists. These chilling words from a student hack activist show the irrational totalitarian fantasies being nurtured in our institutes of higher learning:
“We 100% disagree with that conclusion. What many people fail to understand is that it is obviously technically impossible to prove someone did something because of the color of someone’s skin. It’s about embedded behaviors and implicit as opposed to explicit. It’s about the structures of this country and what principles this country and its institutions are built on.”
Of course the useless administrators have gone into the fetal position, and I don’t hold out much hope Javier’s career will survive this disgraceful injustice. I fundamentally disagree with him, but the right way to manifest opposition is by positive action of my own, not by driving for personal destruction.
As I describe in my book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization:
“Postmodernists will commit acts of senselessness and violence when top-down social pressure is applied. The Postmodernists have stolen the forms of religion to serve their aims. Original sin is now race, or carbon footprints. Indulgences can be purchased by reciting the catechisms of social justice. To prove loyalty to the cause, the SJWs eagerly throw blasphemers into the fire. Since they don’t know history, Postmodernists don’t see the predictable Marxist pattern that today’s obedient flock will be tomorrow’s barbecue.
The spiritual life of Postmodernism has been misdirected from transcendental and enduring values to ponderous politics. Nothing is sacred. There is no sense of continuity; only the needs of the moment matter. Where there should be a human spirit engaged with the eternal choice between good and evil, Postmodernists substitute slavish devotion to those who reduce morality to dominance.”
If there is actual justice-as opposed to the tyranny of phony collectivist social justice-Javier Tapia will be back teaching at VCU soon.
Who knows, maybe he will even learn how to paint.
Earlier entries in the “Death of University Art Programs” series