Welcome to 2005

Since I can't seem to find a way to sleep more than 5.5 hours, no matter what time I go to bed, I need to start using the time newly allotted to me in the morning to get some writing done, or some work, or something. We stayed up until midnight out of some sense of duty and then promptly fell asleep. I woke promptly at 5:19, or something like that.

So, high time to reflect upon my profession, I'd say.

I've been worrying a bit about the class I'm about to start teaching, which is, for the first time, of a directly political nature. I have to worry about something, so I worry about this. I'm worrying partly because of Campus Watch, which encourages students to spy on their professors and try to ferret out registered Democrats in order to compile statistics to pressure Congress to make laws mandating political "diversity." Would such a student really take a class on art and activism? Well, we'll see. It would be hard to find an art history professor who's not a registered Democrat, I think (Bruce Cole being a shining counterexample) but perhaps by staking out the far left of the department I can argue that I constitute a different kind of diversity.

I'm also worried not about the class itself but about what the composition of the class has to say about the discipline of art history. Not a single art history student has registered for the class out of fourteen students. I don't want to make too much of this fact, but I do find it a little odd in the current political climate. Does our discipline only attract students who want high culture and aesthetic enjoyment, who want to avoid having to think about politics?

What is the discipline of art history, right now, anyway? There seemed, to me anyway, to be more of a sense of urgency in it when the discipline was being racked by the "crisis" of theory. Now, what are the great debates of the discipline? I'm not sure. My department seems very atomized, not in a hostile way, but in the sense that everyone is practicing a kind of pragmatic eclecticism in their own little corner of history/geography, and there are no big methodological issues over which we can fight or bond.

Recently we had a talk in which a critic practicing a kind of neoformalism (arguing for the independence of aesthetic issues from social and political ones) asserted her approach as if it constituted resistance to some kind of orthodoxy, when in fact neoformalism seems to be quite a dominant approach these days.

I can see how, in the current political situation, art history can take two divergent paths -- one tying itself all the more strongly to political issues, the other finding in aesthetic contemplation a kind of escape from these trying times. I don't mean to be judgmental about either. (One student pointed out to me that he's a formalist where aesthetics are concerned but quite active politically.) Is there any room for dialogue between these two positions or are the constitutively incompatible?


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