Recent links of note:
The National Portrait Gallery unveiled a new portrait of Harry Styles by David Hockney this week. It neither looks nor feels like a portrait of the British pop star—it’s almost as if Hockney, a historically great portraitist, is making fun of the singer. The reception in most journalistic outlets has been somewhere between earnest admiration and fawning, but the vox populi has cried out in unison, “Overrated!” Overrated? Not at all—the piece is just being misread by every commentator involved: this painting is a delicious bit of irony on the part of Hockney. The canvas is a late addition to the museum’s upcoming exhibition, “David Hockney: Drawing From Life,” a portrait show that premiered at the Morgan Library & Museum in 2020 and was well received by Karen Wilkin. The show is characterized by the intimacy of the portraits, an intimacy resulting from the close, preexisting relationships Hockney has with his sitters; Hockney and Styles had no such relationship. In fact, Hockney had never heard of Styles before the sitting. Styles seems to have simply ended up in Hockney’s studio at a time that conveniently coincided with the release of a new album. Perhaps this explains why the painting looks nothing like the man, in either a literal or an essential sense: in painting a portrait of Styles that has nothing to do with Styles, Hockney denies the singer—for whom he expresses no affection—his fame, denies him his cachet, and even denies him his very image (the blue eyes are the most salient piece of the subject’s face, and they’re the wrong color!). The portrait of a very image-conscious celebrity thus becomes a portrait of someone unrecognizable.
“In defence of the Arts Council”
Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Spectator
The National Endowment for the Arts has drawn its fair share of controversy over the years (as has often been documented in this magazine’s pages), but in its defense, it never ordered the Met Opera to pack up its things and move to South Dakota. Such is the predicament in the United Kingdom, where Arts Council England threatened to revoke entirely its funding of the English National Opera if the company did not move to a city less economically advantaged. The reasoning? Art is apparently needed as a social Band-Aid in places outside the capital. Igor Toronyi-Lalic argues that this absurdity is the natural consequence of multiple generations of critics manically obsessed with the idea that art’s highest calling is to be socially useful. This is the “instrumentalization” of art. To Toronyi-Lalic’s words—and at the risk of sounding like a broken record—I add that it is also this obsession with art’s instrumentality that will doom the art world to the clutches of AI. If utility is our grail and a goopy canvas made by AI can secure that utility just as well as a goopy canvas made by a human, but the AI can do it for free, what reason would we have not to use the AI’s godforsaken version?
Jason Blakely, Harper’s Magazine
If there’s one word the technocratic tyrants don’t want the average citizen to know, it’s scientism. The Oxford dictionary labels the word as “rare,” and a quick survey of my more politically and scientifically engaged friends seems to confirm the OED’s designation. Without discounting the value of science in general, the word gives a name to that quasi-religious zeal—of which so many Americans are suspicious—that characterizes science’s white-coat-wearing practitioners with increasing regularity. Put otherwise, it allows one to criticize science’s overreach without criticizing science itself. Absent knowledge of the word, criticism of this overreach is difficult and clumsy and, worse, allows these self-righteous boffins to label you “anti-science.” Consider an article published alongside a recent poll conducted by the Financial Times: the poll found that the number of Republicans espousing “a great deal of confidence in the scientific community” has plummeted in recent years (why could that be?), but this lack of trust in the scientific community was immediately spun by the piece’s author into a lack of trust in science. This odd refusal by the expert class to engage with the anxieties of those Americans whose trust they’ve lost is the subject of this thorough and careful long read by Jason Blakely.