The Wright Perspective: The Seven Bad Ideas of Leftism

My Latest is up at Every Joe, written in my normal balanced, calm, dispassionate, Spocklike — er —

— oh, no, wait, here I am in full-throated full-bore bellowing Jeremiad mode, a frantic image in my camel hair coat, hair floating, eyes glittering with hellfire and heavenly lightingbolts, words like lamps of flame escaping the portcullis of my teeth, the locusts and wild honey from my last meal staining my erratic cloud of a beard:

The cult of darkness variously known as Leftists, Liberals, Progressives, Brights, Socialists, Pinkos, Late Moderns, Collectivists, Traitors, Blame-America-Firsters, Political Correction Zombies, Statists and Shriekbunnies – but which I call the Morlocks, because they have the courtesy and dignity of devolved cannibal troglodytes – is controlled by a Seven Bad Ideas around which their various emotions and interjections orbit.

The Seven Bad Ideas are:

  1. Solipsism — the paradox that asserts that truth is personal, hence optional: “It is not true that truth is true.”
  2. Relativism — the paradox that asserts that virtue is subjective, situational, relative: “It is wrong for you to judge right and wrong.”
  3. Subjectivism — the paradox that asserts that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As if putting a urinal in an Art Museum, and betraying the standard somehow proves the standard wrong, not the betrayal.
  4. Irrationalism — the paradox that asserts reason is untrustworthy. Each man’s reason is too biased by upbringing, class self interest, sex, race, and background such that no one, aside from members of a given race and sex and victim group, can be expected to understand or advise other members of the victim group. Of course, reaching this conclusion from that premise is itself an act of reasoning, requiring the reasoner to trust his reason, despite the background and race and sex of the reasoner.
  5. Pervertarianism — the paradox that asserts it to be licit to seek the gratifications of sexual union of the reproductive act without the union, without the reproduction, and, in the case of sodomites, without the act. The same insane paradox asserts that females should be feminists rather than feminine; and that sexual predation is more romantic than romance.
  6. Totalitarianism — the paradox that asserts that freedom is slavery, war is peace, ignorance is strength. The Constitution is a living, breathing document, ergo it must be smothered and killed.
  7. Nihilism — the paradox of that the meaning of life is that it has no innate meaning.

No proof is being offered here that Leftists believe these ideas or make these assertions. The reader can discover that for himself, merely by listening to them talk, reading their works, and reaching his own conclusion. If you cannot see it by reading what they say, you will not see it by my repeating what they say. Look for yourself.

Leftism dulls the mental acuity. That is its purpose.

The struggle of Leftism against civilization is pursued without quarter and without courtesy because what is at stake is an absolute.It is their version of a crusade, a holy war. The Unholy War of the Left is not a struggle over one policy, one economic system, one set of social rules. They are fighting as one universe against another universe.

On the one hand, the universe of Christ contains truth, virtue, beauty, reason, and a sound explanation for all these things, where they come from and what they are for.

In this universe, love and romance are not merely part of human nature; love is the ultimate law of nature overcoming all other laws, including time, death and entropy. In this universe, free will exists, and therefore life and liberty and the rights of man can have a place, as well as hope and charity.

On the other hand, the universe of Political Correctness is, not to be too dramatic about it, the universe of Antichrist.

There is no truth in that universe, only personal or cultural narratives. There is no virtue, only appetites and desires which you must indulge without prudence and without restraint. There is no beauty, only the warped and blurry nightmare of total ugliness leering at you from every corner of human life. There is no reason, only evil men with bad motives and your fellow cultists with enlightened motives. There is no romance, except between gays, because the relations between the sexes are mutual exploitation, best served by many dreary one-night stands. There is no free will; there is nothing but genetic conditioning; you are nothing but a meat robot. Your desire for life and happiness are merely chemicals in your brain, and they have no meaning. And after you die, and after the world dies, there is nothing but an infinity of darkness.


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  1. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Curse you, sir: for a long time I have been working intermittently on a document I had tentatively called “The -Isms of Progressivism”, meant to sum up all the ideological positions and practices I had observed over the years, only to find you beating me to it in a much pithier way. (By which I mean to say, of course, well done.)

    I wonder if, perhaps, all seven of these paradoxes can be boiled down to one overriding motive; you have written in previous columns that the motive is about destroying shame, which I think is true, but I wonder if perhaps even that can be subordinated to the motive I see — the desire to destroy the concept of duty. My own oft-repeated contention that people get into Morlockry through a desire to eliminate suffering may be explained here, too, for much of the suffering that Morlockry claims to eliminate comes in fact from the opportunity and deprivation costs of fulfilling duties — marital, veridical, virtuous, social, familial, &c. (Even the charitable duties that are one of the greatest recruiting points for Morlockry are, in practice, almost always fulfilled by absolving the believers of their personal responsibility in that area, in favour of totalitarian solutions whose dual role as vindictive punisher is all too often secretly embraced.)

    All the paradoxes in practice are deployed simply and solely to assert one position: “No person or principle has any just right to dictate to me what I must do.”
    – The solipsist can reject any observation of truth as inapplicable to him personally.
    – The relativist can reject any moral principle as inapplicable to himself.
    – The subjectivist can reject any criticism of what appeals to him as only the critic’s bias.
    – The irrationalist can reject any reason-based criticism of his position as reflecting only the critic’s self-interest.
    – The pervertarian can reject any recommendation that he restrain his sexual desires for concern of his health (physical and spiritual), his partner’s or society’s as prima facie wrong, if he deems those costs worth the risk.
    – The totalitarian can reject any contention that he owes obedience to anything other than the power of making disobedience intolerable, and thus sanctions his own use of that power if and when he acquires it.
    – The nihilist can reject any contention that such things as truth, morality, objectivity, reason and due justice even exist, and thus neutralize a priori any arguments against any of the other six paradoxes.

    In short, the position is ultimately that of Lucifer, who in the words of Milton said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…. Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.” The modern adherents may have one shred of the old virtue left in that I think many still envision their ultimate utopia as a “reign” of co-equals rather than a hierarchical tyranny — some may even believe this possible, but if they are not all willing to be equally co-obedient, I cannot say I foresee any success in that endeavour.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      For myself, I recommend you continue your work, since a fresh pair of eyes might bring fresh insights. The ultimate cause of all these philosophical paradoxes and psychopathic behaviors is neither an intellectual error nor a medical condition but sin. That is the whole matter: rebellion from God.

      The answer is so simple and yet so obvious, and yet, for obvious reasons, Leftists cannot accept that answer, nor can secular Rightwingers, nor anyone whose concern extends to politics and no deeper.

      • Comment by Tom Simon:

        This puts me in mind of a passage from ‘Writing Down the Dragon’, the essay from the collection of the same name, in which I touch on a cardinal difference between the Christian and Confucian world-views. Apologies if the length is excessive:

        Society, the state, the Church, and (as Jesus said) the Law and the Sabbath, are all made for man; more precisely, they are made to help put man in the right relation with God. God is the lodestone, man is the iron, and if each atom of iron is aligned correctly with the lodestone, the whole mass will be magnetized. That, approximately, is the Catholic ideal of society. It is for this reason that the Church is officially indifferent to political systems. A monarchy, an aristocracy, a democracy, or even a dictatorship may, from the Catholic point of view, be the system of government most appropriate for a particular people in particular conditions. The whole question is whether the structure of society allows men and women to be in the correct relationship with God.

        The nearest Confucian analogue to this idea, perhaps, is what is called ‘the Mandate of Heaven’. It is taken for granted that society will take a monarchical form, and an absolute monarchy at that; the idea of a law which is above kings and emperors never really took hold in Chinese jurisprudence. It is possible for an emperor to lose the Mandate of Heaven, if he is no longer able to keep harmony and order among his subjects; and then he may be legitimately overthrown. But this is not thought of as being done in the interest of the subjects; primarily it is done in the interest of the empire itself. The larger unit takes precedence over the smaller. The empire is not a means to keep the people in a right relationship with Heaven; the empire is itself in a right relationship with Heaven, or else the Mandate of Heaven is withdrawn. It is the job of the people to put themselves in a right relationship with the Imperial hierarchy.… It is, in a less naked and more philosophical form, the idea of totalitarianism: ‘All within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      Negation of certain duties does not exclude obedience to other duties, dictated by one “ism” or another or their beloved leaders. Will and duty, the moral realm, is not the most basic level of reality, truth comes before it. Any system of thought or belief stands or falls on its truth or lack of truth, on its correspondence or lack of correspondence to reality.

      The Unreality principle reverses the order of things by pretending truth is relative to the subject, to the will, when in the natural order, the will is subject to reason informed by truth, not the other way around. “Truth will set you free.” The contradictory assertion would be: untruth will make you slaves, of your own will or another’s.

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        Hmm. A good point, but I would have said that the two are on the same level myself, at least in practice; the whole point of “truth” as I understood it is that truth is that which we have a duty to acknowledge if we claim to be thinking rationally. Which is why you have to get rid of the idea of truth if you want to get rid of the idea of duty — or, conversely, why if you get rid of the idea of duty the idea of truth becomes effectively irrelevant; if we have no duty to the truth, then as you say, it doesn’t really matter what that truth is, only what we state it is.

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          “I would have said that the two are on the same level myself, at least in practice.”
          Exactly. In practice, there is no need to be a philosopher to discern right from wrong and act morally. Only some sound moral education is required to make someone conscious of truth and goodness. But there is a precedence of nature of the intellect over the will (or practical reason, as moral philosophy puts it). The reality of being comes first and corresponds to the principle of identity; second is the acknowledgement of reality by the intellect, that is, truth; the will and practical reason comes third, even if the first two are mostly unconscious. Christian education is in fact designed to make truth more apparent to the mind and heart.

          • Comment by CorkyAgain:

            I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that, in matters of aesthetics or morals, we are not all equally competent to make sound judgments. There is a need and a place for instruction, and thus also for subordination to those who have demonstrated mastery.

            Also, rather than beginning everything ab novo and trying to think through it all by ourselves, as the Enlightenment thinkers advised, it is well for us to heed the wisdom expressed in Tradition.

  2. Comment by The OFloinn:

    As if putting a urinal in an Art Museum, and betraying the standard somehow proves the standard wrong

    Ho ho! Such delicious po-mo humor! I laugh. Surely all m/e/n persons know that most urinals have the word “Standard” printed upon them!

  3. Comment by roylofquist:

    I disagree with your assertion that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a leftist perversion. It is a truism. The perversion lies in the coercion employed (point of a gun and all that) to enforce their judgement on others.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      With all due respect, if beauty were in the eye of the beholder then you could, by an act of will, make yourself get as much aesthetic pleasure from listening to a toilet flush as listening to a symphony. Since neither you, nor any human being, can do this thing, ergo beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.

      What is in the eye of the beholder is a certain degree of latitude over matters of taste, matters of upbringing, and the pleasures of a refined or educated taste. If I prefer brunettes to redheads, that is a matter of taste. If I prefer the hairstyles and make-up of the 1950s and 1940s to modern women’s fashion, that is a matter of upbringing. If Peter Paul Rubens draws women more zaftig than Twiggy, that is a matter of upbringing, a difference of generation, perhaps of culture. But if I am sexually attracted to my sister, that is perversion. If I turn toward an image of a woman’s corpse hacked open with her ribcage spread and her internal organs splattered out, and I say it is the same to me as an image of Venus emerging from the sea because I have special insight, I am lying.

      You are making a simple logical error: that fact that some latitude of judgment exists in these matters does not mean that all judgments are fair and equal. The fact that one elephant is larger or smaller than another does not mean elephants the size of ants exist, or the size of mountains, or any size one can imagine.

      There are matters where reasonable men can differ. But from that it does not follow that all difference of opinion are reasonable. Two men, looking at the Kennedy assassination, might conclude that Oswald was alone or had a compatriot. They could make an argument one way or the other. But a man who thinks the space alien Santa Clause from the North Pole of Mars killed Kennedy is a nutbag.

      So, here. Someone who looks at Picasso and sees art is a nutbag.

      • Comment by Pastor:

        Your general point that beauty is not entirely a matter of taste is beyond dispute. I wonder, however, how you go about applying what is obviously true to particular cases. Like Picasso. I confess that I find Guernica rather moving; not beautiful, perhaps, in the way that canto 30 of the Paradiso is beautiful, but perhaps in the way that Homer paints the death of Sarpedon – stark and sad and powerful, in its own way. This may just be haggling round the edges, but I’d like to hear your reasons for that choice in particular. Is it a matter of technique, or implicit ideology, or what?

        I also wanted, quite belatedly, to express my gratitude for your efforts at answering my questions some weeks back (“Writing with an Ax to Grind”). I’ve been too much occupied with my studies recently to do more than lurk, but I found it helpful. So thank you.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Your general point that beauty is not entirely a matter of taste is beyond dispute. I wonder, however, how you go about applying what is obviously true to particular cases.

          Forgive me for having a narrow frame of reference, but, if I may, what is written in the law is beyond dispute. The statues are written in black and white in the books of the law for anyone to read. But the outcome of a particular case depends on the facts of the case and the particulars of the attorneys and the jury, and the rulings of the judge.

          I know many people who think a cunning lawyer can bend the facts and the law to his advantage, or deceive the jury to the outcome he prefers — but I no of no one who calls this an example of justice. Everyone (everyone not suffering from a deadly case of terminal cynicism) is offended when this happens, as in the OJ Simpson case, and calls it a miscarriage.

          However, then the exact same thing happens in the art world, and preposterous phoneys acquire both fame and money for producing rubbish indistinguishable from a monkey’s splattering the canvass at random (and tests have shown this so, or so I have heard) people are not offended, but say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

          When asked WHY beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they mouth meaningless or illogical phrases, such as saying that perfect agreement does not exist here, as it presumably does in objective disciplines like science. Which is why there are no scientific controversies, I suppose, and all dieticians agree without demur on one theory of nutrition. Uh-huh.

          The answer is that it depends on the specifics of the case and a careful discrimination of judgement. Reasonable people can disagree on whether the Rosenbergs were guilty, but no one thinks Judas was innocent. Likewise, it is legitimate to debate whether Da Vinci was better than Michaelangelo, but only a lunatic like Picasso. The first time I saw Picasso’s DON QUIXOTE hanging at a friends house, I thought it was something drawn by my friend’s five year old sister. When he told me it was a reproduction of a priceless painting, I laughed, having drawn better thinks myself with a ballpoint pen on a paper napkin at a diner.

          I mean LOOK AT THE DARNED THING! ( Note that he rays coming from the sun are crooked.

          Compare it to this (

          • Comment by Zaklog the Great:

            what is written in the law is beyond dispute.

            Unfortunately, I must add that this used to be true, but apparently since January 2009, what is written in the law is whatever Obama says it is on that particular day.

          • Comment by Raphael:

            I must confess to liking a number of Picasso pieces. His early work (e.g., his Blue Period) is, I hope, beyond dispute, but if not I can only say that some of these, e.g., The Old Guitarist, are to me quite lovely. I also like some of his cubist pieces and collages, and I think that Guernica is beautiful for its arrangement of visual elements.

            I find it helpful to keep in mind Etienne Gilson’s simple definition: “A picture is a solid surface which the artist covers with colored forms whose arrangement is pleasing to the eye through the unity of the form, the harmony of the parts and the perfection of the execution.” [Forms and Substances in the Arts]

            I see the rise of abstract art in the twentieth century as revolt against the idea of art as imitation or art as communication, and an attempt to return to art as beauty. This is what draws me to Wyeth and O’Keefe as well as Klee and Mondrian. It was preceded by the nineteenth century interest in medieval art (the Nazarenes, the Pre-Raphaelites), the decorative arts (Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, William Morris), and Japanese block prints (Van Gogh, Gauguin). In many ways I think the work of (say) Klee or Mondrian has more in common with the art of the Middle Ages than much that came in between. In the work of each of these artists I’ve mentioned, you see, a slow, cautious groping, an almost incremental move away from representational art and toward something that owes its beauty solely to its visual elements. In fact, it’s hard for me to respect an abstractionist who hasn’t been disciplined by Nature in this way.

            On the other side, I see conceptual art, Dadaism, etc., as being diametrically opposed to these ends.

            If anyone is interested, I’ve thought aloud a bit about this on my humble blog.


            • Comment by John C Wright:

              I would dismiss the idea of beauty divorced from natural representation as a chimera, if not a logical absurdity. It is like trying to find a bride without a woman.

              And what do you think of William-Adolphe Bouguereau?

              • Comment by Stephen J.:

                “I would dismiss the idea of beauty divorced from natural representation as a chimera, if not a logical absurdity.”

                Does “natural representation” have to mean something that already physically exists? The patterns, shapes, symmetries and colours of a Persian rug represent no real thing other than themselves, but I find many examples of them quite beautiful; perhaps what is being “naturally represented” there are the phenomena of colour and symmetry in themselves.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Does “natural representation” have to mean something that already physically exists?


                  The patterns, shapes, symmetries and colours of a Persian rug represent no real thing other than themselves, but I find many examples of them quite beautiful

                  Some wallpaper is pretty also,and curlicues in a Celtic cross. I would call that decoration rather than art.

              • Comment by Raphael:

                I don’t see it as a chimera, because it is possible for a non-representational arrangement of colors and shapes to be beautiful. As Gilson says: “To speak of non-representational, non-imitative or abstract painting is not to speak of an amorphous painting. No painting is more abstract than Mondrian’s, but this geometric painting is also the most formal of all. Like formal logic itself, it is form without content.”

                I think there’s a distinction to be made. A painting’s beauty *as* a painting is distinct from the beauty of what it represents. Otherwise a faithful photograph would be more beautiful than any painting. Take, say, Thomas Moran’s Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I’ve seen the painting, and I’ve hiked in the canyon, and found them both beautiful; but my enjoyment of one is different from my enjoyment of the other.

                Also, as Stephen J. points out, just because a painting doesn’t look like something doesn’t mean it’s not drawn from Nature. No tree could live without its roots in the earth; but we also needn’t expect the crown of the tree to resemble the roots in a strictly photographic (or pantographic) sense. The painter abstracts from Nature – this is what goes on in the trunk of the tree. As with mathematics, some abstractions are further removed than others.

                As for Bouguereau, to tell the truth, I was unaware of his work until last weekend, when, by coincidence, I saw a piece of his (The Elder Sister) at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. My son and I looked at it for a long time, and were very taken with it. My personal tastes run toward representational art, and this is reflected in my own meager daubings, but I also find some abstract art profoundly beautiful.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Also, as Stephen J. points out, just because a painting doesn’t look like something doesn’t mean it’s not drawn from Nature. No tree could live without its roots in the earth; but we also needn’t expect the crown of the tree to resemble the roots in a strictly photographic (or pantographic) sense. The painter abstracts from Nature – this is what goes on in the trunk of the tree. As with mathematics, some abstractions are further removed than others.

                  No one here is arguing against this point.

                  A group of repeated pleasing colors of simple geometric shapes may be nice as decoration, but it is not art. It evokes no emotion and refers to nothing. Art requires craft. Craft means skill.

                  • Comment by CorkyAgain:

                    You might want to look into what Christopher Alexander has written about the beauty of Persian rugs, in _The Nature of Order_ and elsewhere.

                    Because of its ban on representation of the human form, Islamic art provides many examples of “groups of pleasing colors and simple geometric shapes” which are far more than mere decorations. Much of it is sublimely beautiful, and is conducive to contemplation of the divine — in the same way that some Baroque concertos and elegant mathematical proofs are. All of these are examples of great skill and craftsmanship and deserve to be classified as art.

                  • Comment by Raphael:

                    I didn’t imagine that anyone was arguing against the point. You had said that the idea of beauty divorced from natural representation is chimerical. I was therefore pointing out that even very abstract paintings – even “geometric” paintings – are drawn from Nature, hence are, in some sense, representational. So perhaps we are in agreement there.

                    The paintings of Paul Klee, which are quite abstract, evoke in me very great pleasure, because they are beautiful. That is the only emotion relevant to the question. A painting that is beautiful *as* a painting evokes the emotion of pleasure which comes from seeing a beautiful thing made by hands.

                    I would say that decorative arts, such as wallpaper or tile, differ from painting in that they are never meant to be viewed as a whole. They don’t form a unity. A painting forms a unity. And when the viewer sees such a unity, and something “clicks” in his heart, and he says, yes, this *is*, then that is art.

                    Consider music, though the comparison is perhaps dangerous, since music is a liberal art whereas painting is a servile art. There are pieces of music that tell a story, or that aim to imitate something (a thunderstorm, a typewriter), but there are plenty of pieces that do neither. To call the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor a mere string of pretty noises because it refers to nothing else is to admit that music is to be enjoyed principally for something other than its audible qualities. To lump it in with modern attempts to mock the idea of beauty through cacophony is unjust.

                    Beauty is truth, and truth beauty, but the beauty of truth is not the truth of beauty. Truth and beauty are each transcendentals in their own right, and not reducible to one another. To say that art must imitate something or refer to something or communicate something is to let truth usurp the place of beauty.

                    You say that art requires skill. I say that many of the great abstractionists *had* great skill. It was honed through years – decades, sometimes – of tutelage under Nature. They mastered the technical virtuosity that allows the craftsman to imitate what he sees. You can see this in their early work. But their *artistic* skill lay foremost in the fitting arrangement of color and form. They each moved on to abstract various elements from Nature in varying degrees. In the end someone who has no taste for such things might call their works facile. The Nazis did, when they showed Klee’s work alongside that of the deranged. But truly, no child or lunatic could have produced Ad Parnassum.


                    The work of the great abstractionists of the twentieth century is a far cry from the products of modern art schools who never learned from Nature, and splatter canvas with paint, and call it art.

                    To sum up, sir, I must disagree with your assessment of certain modern masters, though I respect you as always. I wish only to make the case that even a person who is not a lunatic, a fool, or a knave might revere such works.

                    My own views, incidentally, owe a great deal to Etienne Gilson, whose works on the subject I’ve found very illuminating. I claim no originality.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      You sound very reasonable, but then I looked up the works of Paul Klee, and they were so abominably ugly and deranged that I admit the gulf between us can never be crossed. Artistically, it is the same as trying to reason out the sound of one hand clapping: you are looking at something meant to hinder the ability to admire art, to blind the eye and benumb the brain. It is garbage, pure and simple, and even simple drawings by comic book artists or commercial artists doing magazine covers show far more skill, sanity, proportion, color, composition, and execution.

                      It is as random as the image in a kaleidoscope. The images in a kaleidoscope of necessity are colorful and show a radial symmetry. But art, if it is truly art, cannot be produced at random. Anything produced at random is random.

                    • Comment by Raphael:

                      I can only say that I don’t think them abominably ugly, or deranged, or garbage, and I haven’t found that they hinder my ability to admire art, or blind my eye, or benumb my brain. They are not random. They were painted with an eye toward beauty. This is apparent in their composition and use of color, though you are, it seems, insensible to it. *I* enjoy them much as I enjoy certain symphonies. I was not trained to do so. No one told me I ought to be attracted to them. I saw Ad Parnassum in a book from Target when I was a boy, and sought out more by Klee of my own accord, because I thought it one of the most luminously beautiful things I’d ever seen.

                      Personally, I am not a huge fan of Picasso. But Klee and Mondrian are touchstones for me. I produce a bit of art and sell it to locals as a side business. Usually I paint saints, angels, flowers, insects, and adobe structures. Their beauty is debatable, of course, though people around here seem to like them. At any rate they are invariably representative. But two of my greatest inspirations are Klee and Mondrian.

                      If what I say sounds reasonable, then why not apply reason to argue against it? I have paid you the only compliment which I, as a Vulcan, know how to pay, which is to calmly and rationally argue with your position. In return you merely tell me that what I like is garbage, and that I am suffering from a form of insanity, and that this should be so obvious to everyone that no further comment is necessary.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      If you do not think these things are ugly, you have no ability to judge ugliness. I challenge you to find a picture that is ugly by your standards and point me to it. I doubt you can.

                      I have applied reason to argue against it, and you have flatly stated that you do not accept the conclusion. Why do you vainly tell me to ignore the evidence of my eyes, which I trust, and believe the conclusions of your judgment, which even the limited experience of this exchange proves is execrable.

                      Had you pointed me to some painting that was merely odd or incomprehensible to me, my reaction would be different. I could continue to give you the benefit of the doubt. Instead you have pointed me to the most absurd, ghastly, and disproportion bits of ugly lunacy imaginable, pieces that make me physically sick to look at, and call them good work.

                      I did not merely dismiss you argument with an insult, as you claim, but gave you my reasons, which concern proportion, perspective, representation, symmetry, and skill of craftsmanship.

                      I am an artist. I know what art is because I can do it. I also know when I am looking at something far better than I do because I lack the skill, and I can see the garbage you like and I know I could draw as well with my left foot after my foot was run over by a tractor and I was pumped so full of painkillers that the lower half of my brain was sloshing.

                      It is also obvious that no further comment is needed. Why do you think words can make me see beauty where there is nothing but filth?

          • Comment by Pastor:

            I don’t understand why you bring up Don Quixote. I never said that Picasso never painted anything silly, and I agree that Dore”s version is better.

            “Only a lunatic [would?] like Picasso.” See, this is where your theory seems to run into some limits. I am not a lunatic, yet in my relatively cultured estimation, Picasso has produced some solid work, Guernica being a case in point. So, do you have any response beyond disqualifying my opinion?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              I don’t understand why you bring up Don Quixote. I never said that Picasso never painted anything silly, and I agree that Dore”s version is better.

              I brought it up to show the difference between art exhibiting craftsmanship and a piece of fraud that looks like it was drawn by a child.

              Guernica looks like a deranged aberrant scrawl, literally like something drawn by a lunatic.

              Here is a bull drawn by Dore:
              Dore Escolade

              Here is a bull drawn by Picasso:
              guernica detail

              Here is a face drawn by a mental patient:

              Compare them. If you cannot see the difference, no words of mine can open your eyes. Look. Look at it. How bad does a drawing have to be before you will call it bad?

              • Comment by Pastor:

                You are ignoring the fact that Guernica has the mass slaughter of civilians as its theme – the ruptures in perspective evoke the disjointedness of total war. It’s not just a poor drawing of a bunch of cows. In figuring insanity and horror, Picasso adopted surrealist techniques, which in this instance served him well. Whereas classical depictions of tragedy tend to give us things to admire (I am thinking of Laocoon), Picasso renders his depiction more acute by stripping out its aesthetically pleasing elements. (There may be other things going on as well, of course – I don’t know that much about art. Apparently not, you reply. :)

                I don’t think Surrealism is good for very many things. But if you are looking for a portrayal of hopeless, meaningless sorrow, it works as well as anything I know. The real question is whether representing such things is inherently inartistic. I think we agree that art has beauty as its natural end, and also that beauty doesn’t just mean “easy on the eyes”. Is that correct?

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  So one needs to know the political statement meant by the picture in order to make it look good?

                  Childish clumsy ugliness, ugliness for the sake of ugly, is inherently inartistic.

                  More to the point, lack of craft is inartistic. If I photoshopped the eyes in the cow over to the man and put his eyes on the cow, or redrew the hand myself holding the pen in my mouth, no one who had not memorized the picture could tell the least difference.

                  There is no craft in that picture, no draftsmanship, no nothing. It looks like a child with brain damage drew it. Look at it. LOOK AT THE DAMNED THING.

                  • Comment by Pastor:

                    I don’t think the picture looks good. I think it dreadfully and disturbingly represents a dreadful and disturbing thing – the bombing of the town of Guernica. That information – the event being represented – is not equivalent to “knowing its political statement”.

                    It is an ugly picture by design, but neither clumsy nor childish. As his early paintings attest, Picasso obviously knew how to draw eyes. That the painting lacks realism is not an accident, as you imply, it is artifice.

                    Now whether it was made ugly “for the sake of ugly”, or, as I am inclined to think, as a protest against the ugliness it represents, that is a question of the artist’s motives.

                    We agree, then, that the work is ugly, and that “childish clumsy ugliness” is inartistic. But I deny that this work is either childish or clumsy, if by those two adjectives you mean “slapped together without any particular talent or reflection.” If you mean them differently, I’m all ears; otherwise, your description begs the question.

                    I don’t doubt that you could reproduce or alter various parts of it without my knowing the difference. I am less certain that you could arrange an entire canvas that produces the same effect as this one – that is where the art of this, if it is art, lies.

                    Your hedging around the concept of ugliness makes me curious. What kind of ugliness is properly artistic, in your view? Does it have to be admixed with beauty in some fashion, like the Crucifixion? Does it need to be difficult to copy? Is the main question teleological, or is it all of these together?

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I don’t doubt that you could reproduce or alter various parts of it without my knowing the difference.

                      And yet even a drawing made with a small modicum of skill, such as the cover of a comic book, if I switched the left and right eyes, or the foot for the hand, you would notice.

                      I cannot define beauty, but I can identify some of the things necessary for it in art. One artistic necessity is coherence of the parts. If you can swap the first and last line of your poem or novel with no difference whatever, then your poem is inartistic: it was slapped together without talent or reflection. (if you can make the first and last line of your novel the same, and have a different and cunning meaning nonetheless, then you are Gene Wolfe)

                      For a real artist, changing the smallest line, removing a comma, will alter and mar the poem or its meaning, or moving one line.

                      A man who knows how to draw eyes can nonetheless refuse to use that knowledge, and slap together a piece of utter garbage without talent or reflection.

                      The fact that you admit that I could change the Picasso image at random, without forethought or craft, without detracting or adding anything to it, means a fortiori that no forethought are craft is present in it.

                      I am not talking about how pretty or ugly the picture is. I am talking about whether it is sublime. The subject matter can be ugly without the picture itself showing a frenetic and ghastly lack of proportion, shading, composition, or any element of coherence.

                      Consider the following. It is a man being tortured to death. It is a subject as striking as a battle with a three-eyes cow screaming. But the picture itself is not one I could draw, even though I am a fair hand at drawing.
                      Torture of St George
                      Picasso’s drawing I could draw, and so could a diseased monkey injected with a mind altering drug.

                      Since I myself AM an artist (and was paid for my work, so I am a professional artist, technically) I have the right to say, yes, the work has to be something someone of my humble level of skill cannot forge in order to qualify as art.

          • Comment by Legatuss:

            One thing is obvious when looking at the two paintings, the second took a lot of detailed, painstaking work, both to do, and to learn to do, the first did not. As such, just from that, the second was created by a greater artist than the first, simply due to the effort to actually create art put into it.

            BTW, there was an entire book written about this, getting from stage one, childish drawings, to stage two, called “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain”, where you go through certain exercises to learn to actually draw only what you actually see accurately. The art would then be to learn to draw what you see only in your minds eye. It is said to take one half hour per day for about two months, you know, work. Result, you go from childish stick figures that merely represent something, a symbol substitute, to the actual image.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              the second took a lot of detailed, painstaking work, both to do, and to learn to do, the first did not

              Wait a moment. Are you saying that the Picasso bull requires skill to draw, and the Dore bull does not? Because the Dore was the first image presented, and the Picasso was the second. Did you perhaps get the order mixed up in your sentence, or did you actually mean that it takes no skill to paint like Dore?

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      The meaning ascribed to the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” by leftists-nihilists is thus: beauty is NOT objective and does not reside in the thing considered, but ONLY in the subjective perception. This is expounded at length (verbally or in writing) in nihilist artists or art critics’ presentations of ugly productions, a most obvious way of perverting the universal notion of beauty.

      The classical notion is that beauty is objective. Metaphysical beauty exists in every being in the same measure that the being considered has the perfections due to its nature. Aesthetic beauty is the natural or skillful (art) expression of forms or essences that pleases our mind. Moral beauty is the same thing as moral goodness: sin is ugly, virtue is beautiful; goodness pleases our heart, hence the necessity to pretend sinful acts are good in order to commit them without feeling the guilt.

      Following the classical notion then, beauty is ALSO in the eye of the beholder, that is, our mind has the power to perceive and appraise beauty as it exists in the thing beheld, as it has the power to perceive truth and acquire knowledge, and to perceive goodness and act good, in order to become good. Beauty is in fact the transcendental that motivates and triggers the love of truth and goodness. This is the meaning of Dostoevsky’s phrase “Beauty will save the world.”

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        “The meaning ascribed to the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” by leftists-nihilists is thus: beauty is NOT objective and does not reside in the thing considered, but ONLY in the subjective perception.”

        If the Mona Lisa is accidentally dropped from a plane and falls into a forest where no one can see it, is it (assuming it survives the fall) still beautiful?

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          Were all existing copies being destroyed as well, Mona Lisa would still be alive in the minds able to remember a painting as well as some can remember music. Her real beauty is not exactly in the paint on the canvas…

          • Comment by Raphael:

            Well, still, music is a liberal art, whereas painting is a servile art. Music doesn’t admit of being destroyed, just forgotten. No one would say that the Mass in B Minor doesn’t exist when it’s not being played. But we would say that the Mona Lisa no longer existed if it were burned.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              Well, still, music is a liberal art, whereas painting is a servile art.

              You keep saying that; and the only meaning in saying it, so far as I can make out, is that painting is not listed as one of the Seven Liberal Arts in the mediaeval curriculum. Why, pray tell, is that relevant to anything?

              • Comment by Raphael:

                The distinction between liberal and servile arts is an ancient one, and has nothing to do with the medieval curriculum. In their original meanings, a liberal art was an art pursued by a man of leisure, a servile art by a laborer. But a liberal art came to mean an art whose end is something that exists in the mind, a servile art an art whose end is something that exists in the physical world. This is the sense in which I spoke. It seems relevant to me because there is not a perfect analogy between music and painting. Music produces something which exists independently of any performance, and may be performed well or poorly; painting produces a physical object, whose beauty owes solely to the “performance.”

                • Comment by Tom Simon:

                  The definition you speak of goes back, as I mentioned, to the Athenians of Pericles’ time, who (in the insolence of their power and prosperity) decided that all manual tasks should be left to slaves, and that any work done with the hands was unworthy of a free man. This is an evil sentiment, and it is dangerous to appeal to it. This is why the term ‘servile art’ has passed clean out of current usage, though ‘liberal art’, alas, has not.

                  If you meant to refer to the difference between visual and plastic arts which produce objects, and performing arts which produce varying impressions with each performance, you could easily have done so without dragging in obsolete and tendentious terminology.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                He means it is physical primarily rather than mental primarily, or so I took it.

                • Comment by Tom Simon:

                  He may mean that by the words, but what the words themselves mean is that painting is slaves’ work and categorically inferior to music. It read to me as if he were using an obsolete distinction to make excuses for faults in the visual arts. ‘It’s only a servile art, not a real art for gentlemen, what did you expect?’

            • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

              Painting is indeed a servile art, because it uses material support and needs craftsmanship to realize the work. The beauty of the works of art is something else, though: artists express forms (essences) for everyone to see and feel; the form is how the thing enters the minds of the beholders. The more craftsmanship in the details, the more easily the form is expressed and perceived. It is a pity that works of art are lost over time, most of all if they are lost on men who cannot appreciate beauty anymore, but beauty being a transcendental, it will always crop out everywhere in nature and in the best cultural expressions.

              • Comment by Tom Simon:

                Painting is indeed a servile art, because it uses material support and needs craftsmanship to realize the work.

                To classify that as ‘servile’ requires the unthinking and wholesale adoption of the late-classic Athenian belief that manual labour is inherently demeaning, and that manual skill is contemptible and unworthy of a free man. This was not true even a century before Plato’s time. Under the laws of Solon, as I have read, if a man did not teach his son a craft – a manual craft – the son was under no obligation to support him in his old age. And this law applied to the highest class of citizen as much as to the lowest. It was only the proliferation of cheap slaves that led the Athenians to look down upon physical labour and manual skill; and we would do very ill to emulate them.

                But in fact, music requires every bit as much material support as painting, unless it is done purely a cappella; and the physical dexterity and manual skill required of a trained musician are every bit as rigorous as those required of a good painter. But of course it was music theory primarily, and not musical performance, that was a liberal art: that is, the portion of music that could be treated as a branch of mathematics, along with Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy.

                Absent the reference to the Quadrivium, there is no reason to contemn painting with the sneering epithet ‘servile’, and no reason to elevate music above it. Indeed, even if we stick to the Aristotelean/mediaeval definition of the liberal arts, we can make a case that painting, after the development of perspective, was a liberal art under the rubric of Geometry. There is as much mathematics in a Giotto as in many a learned volume.

          • Comment by CorkyAgain:

            Agreed, it’s not exactly in the paint, but neither is the Mona Lisa’s beauty only in the minds of its perceivers.

            It’s in the transcendent truth which cannot be destroyed and therefore will survive the canvas, paint, and all the people who have or ever will look at it.

            As I understand it, this is what we mean by objective beauty. It is something that is neither material nor psychological, although it can be manifested in both.

  4. Comment by [email protected]:

    You probably don’t have time to read Fernandez, but…

    One can imagine the last two postmoderns crawling towards each other in the ruins of a once great city to die, and while waiting to expire engage in conversation to pass the time.

    “Waldo,” the first said, “do you remember that tablet displayed in front of the Texas Statehouse. You know, back when there was a Texas?”

    “Yeah, didn’t it have a whole bunch of stuff scrawled on it. Tell me again what it said,” replied the other.

    “Waldo, it said, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ And ‘thou shalt not lie’.”

    “Anything else?”

    “Yes it also said, ‘thou shalt not steal’. Plus somewhere in the middle said, ‘thou shalt not have sex with people you weren’t married to.’”

    “Yeah, I remember it now,” the second post-modern said. “What a bunch of hooey. It’s a right wing, nutjob, racist document called the Ten Commandments. It’s a religious document.”

    “No Waldo,” the first replied. “That’s where you’re wrong. It ain’t no religious document. I just figured out it was a survival manual.”

  5. Comment by Pastor:

    “The fact that you admit that I could change the Picasso image at random, without forethought or craft, without detracting or adding anything to it, means a fortiori that no forethought are craft is present in it.”

    I didn’t admit that. I admitted that it would be possible to alter the picture to some extent without my being any the wiser, because I am an inexpert viewer, and because my reaction is to the composition as a whole, not to any single element within it. I left open the possibility that you could change it too much and this broad effect would be diminished. Your analogy is inexact, in any case – of course I would notice if a (basically) naturalistic drawing had two left feet. But what if it were redrawn with the skin a shade lighter, or slightly larger eyes (if the differences, in other words, did not exceed generic limits)?

    “For a real artist, changing the smallest line, removing a comma, will alter and mar the poem or its meaning, or moving one line.”

    With respect, I think you overstate your case a little. I can think of lots of examples of artists whose work you could change in ways that would be invisible to a non-expert. First thing that comes to mind: Homeric epithets – if I replaced “grey-eyed” with “Gorgon-crested” half the time Athena’s name appears in the Iliad, would you notice? To take a more modern example, think of Petrarch’s Rime sparse. You could probably switch around dozens of individual sonnets without many people noticing – Petrarch spent about thirty years doing just that. So your point doesn’t carry absolutely – there are at least some exceptions. The question, I think, is then whether or not surrealism falls under one of them.

    “I am not talking about how pretty or ugly the picture is. I am talking about whether it is sublime. The subject matter can be ugly without the picture itself showing a frenetic and ghastly lack of proportion, shading, composition, or any element of coherence.”

    The example you supply is certainly well-crafted, and far more pleasing to the eye. But, I submit, it is a picture that accomplishes something far different than the one we have been discussing. Your picture’s apparent object is to ennoble the bloody death of St George – we see him, still whole, looking unto heaven whence his martyr’s crown is being carried down. And it is pretty obviously successful: looking at it, I feel like I ought to weep for his sufferings and venerate his courage; in representing a ghastly thing in a seemly manner, the painter’s craft matches his (apparent) purpose.

    To Picasso, that combination would be false – Guernica’s power lies in its despair, in its depiction of a world gone mad, where war and death make mockery not just of life and goodness but of sense itself. This is not a perspective I agree with, but I recognize its power – particularly coming, as it did at the moment when so many Modernist certainties about the world were proving hollow. The art in Guernica is to reproduce the perspective of madness in a picture of the world. And I think we agree – correct me if I err – that in that task Picasso was resoundingly successful.

    The difference is that you are calling it incompetence, whereas I call it the sin of despair. Since we agree that he had the ability to paint proper cows, that makes his decision not to do so an artistic choice, not a lack of talent – he makes three-eyed, radically broken cows as an argument that the world is meaningless. He’s wrong, as we can both agree. But it seems strange to me to conflate poor craftsmanship with what is basically a failure of theology.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      With respect, I think you overstate your case a little. I can think of lots of examples of artists whose work you could change in ways that would be invisible to a non-expert. First thing that comes to mind: Homeric epithets – if I replaced “grey-eyed” with “Gorgon-crested” half the time Athena’s name appears in the Iliad, would you notice?

      With respect, it would change the meter, and so yes, your ear would notice even if you could not put your finger on why. Nonetheless, your point is well taken. Longer works, or looser works, can have more elements changed without changing the whole. There are novels which could be improved by the removal of whole chapters and plotlines. My argument is that precisely this is what makes it have less of the quality we call artistic craft. The sloppier and more random it is, the less artistic discipline went into its making.

      • Comment by Pastor:

        Fair point. I recall reading a study purporting to demonstrate, in fact, that Homer assigned his epithets based chiefly on the metrical position of the nouns they modify! I am nothing like a scholar of Homer, but it seems plausible enough.

        I guess the other possibility, when we find that changing something does not appear to make a difference, would be that the the art in question is actually rather subtle. So, for instance, with a consummate artist like Petrarch, the ordering of his poetry collection was the clearly the opposite of random – the man spent half his life organizing and re-organizing the thing. Nevertheless, it would be hard to pin down exactly what changes if you switched sonnets nineteen and twenty. Similarly, I cannot read Arabic and would overlook even very large alterations to a text of the Koran. But the fact that casual observation cannot tell the difference is not a good test of craftsmanship in either case.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Your point is still valid. I am not making a black and white binary test: I am speaking of the ideal. The more resistant a work is to random changes without losing some vital meaning, the more artistic it is. Hence, the dialog in a daily soap opera television show, which is meant only to entertain for a day, can be swapped or ad libbed without harm. It is not very artistic. But no one line of a Shakespeare sonnet can be swapped, because the craft of construction is too tight. If you change the last word, the lines won’t rhyme. It is noticeable.

          When Disney, for reasons of political correctness, changed two lines in the opening song in ALADDIN, they messed up the internal rhyme and lost one of the jokes in the song — it was noticeable because the lyricist, Ashram, was a true craftsman, inspired by genius.

          My contention is that if you find a piece of modern art, music, or what have you, where the elements can be reversed or swapped at random, with no loss and no gain, then you are dealing with gibberish. The partisans of modern art say their are subtleties of proportion or symbolism present which would be lost, but are too subtle for me, with my extensive education, exquisite and cosmopolitans tastes, and knowledge of art worldwide, will miss because I am too uneducated and parochial and ignorant. That Emperors New Clothing trick only works on men who doubt their own senses, or secretly wonder if other men are better educated than they. I have many flaws, but lack of education is not one of them. Lack of intelligence is not one of them. Lack of taste is not one of them.

          I am a qualified expert. There is no one whose credentials so far outmatch mine that they can legitimately ask me to doubt my eyes.

          I remember when I was a child and thought Shakespeare was boring. I remember the days when I could not listen to Wagner for pleasure. The sensation of an uneducated ear encountering poetic words or songs too high for him is one I recall, as should everyone. It is boredom and confusion.

          Encountering modern art, the sensation is disgust.

          They are jaded, and normal beauty will not sate. They need a larger and ever larger dose of the drug of shock to jar their sleepy nerves to action. Hence, I do not think they are lying. I think they actually see the emperor’s clothing. I think they are training to mistake jarring for sublime, and shocking for profound.

          • Comment by Pastor:

            What I keep coming back to is the distinction I raised a few comments ago between ideology and competence. I have understood you to be arguing that this particular painting of Picasso’s is not art as a technical matter – i.e. because the objects it represents are not properly depicted – whereas I am saying that the distortions are themselves artistic, because intentional, and the work must therefore be judged on ideological grounds. I am using “art” in the functional sense of “a thing deliberately constructed by human artifice or ingenuity.” In this sense, we might have bad art, or even perhaps (remembering what was said before about the proper end of art being beauty) anti-art, but we would be able to distinguish between a forty-foot canvas that painstakingly depicts horrid things in a deliberately repulsive style, and the result of me jumping in a pile of leaves. Have I understood you properly, that, qua art, you think there is no particular difference between the two?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              No, you are attributed to me a much more nuanced argument than I am making. My claim is that art requires craft.

              As best I understand the question, I see no difference between the two. I have shown an example of deliberately repulsive artwork, or I could show you the painstakingly crafted latex masks used in horror movies, or the artwork of HR Geiger, and that is art because there is craft involved. Someone with some skill used that skill to make something skilfully. Picasso is a dirty fraud.

              My claim is that the idea of craftily and carefully making something look like drunken monkey made it without care and without craft would be absurd, even if that were what shams like Picasso were attempting. But, for me, we need never reach the question of their ideological grounds, or state of mind, or anything.

              The pictures are so terrible that I could draw something better with my left foot. You could swap elements from one part of the picture to another without anyone being the wiser. If you saw it pinned to the bulletin board at a grammar school, you would not be able to notice it or differentiate it from things drawn by two year olds. Likewise, if you saw it pinned on the bulletin board at a madhouse. If you saw it in a junkyard, you would not stoop and pick it up. There is nothing there, neither beauty, nor talent, nor art, nor message, nor representation, nor anything.

              I myself am an artist, and a professional one, since I have been paid for my drawings, and one worked all summer doing nothing but drawing cartoons. So I am looking at the matter from the inside out, so to speak, not from the outside in.

              I know what it is a drawer does when he draws. Picasso is not doing that, he is doing the opposite. This is not a difference of taste, or a different school of painting, or a different aesthetic theory. Shrieking random syllables without order is not a different language, or a different way of speech. It is cacophony.

              This is none of those things. This is a matter of life versus death.

              The art from my world, a living world, makes sense and means something and has a purpose and a disciplined craft. The anti-art from the anti-world, a world of death, makes no sense, means nothing, has no purpose and no disciplined craft. Those who seek to excuse this rubbish on the grounds that it is deliberately purposeless and meant to be meaningless, that is, in other words, non-purposefully purposeful and non-meaningfully meaningful, are somewhere in the wilderness of the mind where the difference between a sick joke, an insanity, a grave moral evil, and mewling sadistic insolence is lost and commingled. These things are both sick jokes, and evil insanities, and neither, and both, all at once.

              An architect who designs a building and a mad dynamiter who blows a building to rubble and NOT DOING THE SAME THING, and no matter how many times or how many ways clever fools find to pretend that arson and vandalism is the same as carpentry and masonry, they lie.

              • Comment by Pastor:

                You’ve clarified your position admirably, and having no further rebuttals, I cheerfully yield the point. Picasso, at least as represented in the kind of paintings under discussion, is a fraud, or at any rate not an artist.

                Thank you for a very stimulating and educational discussion.

  6. Comment by The OFloinn:

    Is this one ugly?
    The figures are all out of proportion, one shown absurdly large compared to the others. The perspective on the book and bookstand are at odds with each other. The choristers cannot actually fit in the space they are shown occupying.

    And in this one….×300.jpg
    the subject is shown holding an entire building in his left hand, a feat of superhuman strength, especially for one with a cleaver in his bloody skull. The book in his left hand is not actually in his left hand, but is floating unsupported.

    Then there is this:
    Which purports to display the Summer, but is actually just a congeries of fruits and veggies.

    Of course, artistic standards were different back then. The most important figure in the image should be larger than the others; and the viewer needs to see whatever is important, even if perspective has to be violated. It is also important to show certain figures with their instruments of glory and iconic elements. Bishops are shown holding cathedrals, for example.

    And Archimboldo is the first surrealist!

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