To One of the 20th Century’s Greatest Jewish Art Critics, Religion Was Never Far Off

Oct. 24 2022

At the beginning of his long and fruitful career, the critic and essayist Hilton Kramer (1928–2012) was very close with the largely Jewish circle of writers known as the New York intellectuals. A great defender of modern art—he admired especially Picasso, Matisse, and Kandinksy—Kramer was also a fierce critic of what he saw as the excesses of such later figures as Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. He was also a dedicated anti-Communist and, later in life, an opponent of the sorts of political correctness that would now be labeled “woke.” In a careful consideration of Kramer’s work, Brian Allen analyzes the role played by religion and ethics:

The best art, Kramer believed, has what he called a moral purpose. I’d quibble with the word “moral.” Morals are personal and vary based on an individual’s upbringing and experience. Kramer, rather, saw the best art as rooted in ethics, those broadly held standards of best conduct—going beyond family, tribes, or taste—that make us a human community. Rigor, honesty, expressiveness, vision, yearning, and conviction are at the center of the art he liked best.

Kramer didn’t write about religious belief often. He was Jewish—not observant, but religious feeling wasn’t far. He wasn’t dogmatic about faith but was keen on soulfulness. He considered the early Modernists like Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, the most extreme abstractionists, as not dogmatically religious artists but certainly searchers after God. They were willing to abandon direct, discernible references to recognizable objects to get beyond materialism and the desperation, unbelief, and lack of purpose that it foments. Kramer thought that the best art broached topics like immortality and the meaning of life.

Kramer was sharp-eyed when it came to spotting the perils to artists and art historians of making their work political. Until the 1960s, Modernist artists were far removed from politics. It simply wasn’t their sphere. They were focused, as was Kramer, on the imperatives of aesthetics, which are nonpolitical. The politicization of art and art history reminded Kramer of culture behind the Iron Curtain. Culture has no purpose for totalitarians except to serve the state. Art in the Soviet Union, but also in its doppelgänger Nazi Germany, was thoroughly debased as a consequence.

By the 1990s, he feared that the same thing was happening again. The arts issue that concerned Kramer was the role of political correctness in demolishing art criticism, since, fundamentally, it was an assault on quality.

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Read more at City Journal

More about: Art, New York Intellectuals, Political correctness

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy