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Abortion and Art


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#1 The Invisible Man

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 03:55 PM

Words fail me.

#2 opus

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 05:03 PM

Dear Lord... this is just sickening. I find it interesting -- and encouraging, strangely enough -- that folks on both sides of the abortion issue were disturbed by this endeavor.

#3 mrmando

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 08:37 PM

It is sickening to have one's nose rubbed in it to this degree, but one could argue that Schvarts' attitude toward abortion is simply the logical conclusion of milder "pro-choice" arguments. If we decide, for example, that it's OK to create fetuses just to destroy them for stem-cell research, then how can we object to using them for other things, like art projects?

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"I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity," Shvarts said. "I think that I'm creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be."


So the way to keep art from being a commodity is to create something so disgusting that no decent person would want to buy it?

Art is not merely a commodity, but the things we use to make it are commodified by the artistic process. A rock may not be a commodity on its own, but it becomes one if Andy Goldsworthy uses it to create one of his sculptures. Shvarts is turning human fetal tissue into a commodity by using it the way a real artist uses paint or clay. Or rocks.

Andres Serrano has made a career out of photographing his bodily fluids, but hey, at least he didn't destroy life in the process.

Cal Arts has a pretty liberal policy on bringing pets to class. Inevitably this leads to dogpiles in the hallways. Most of these are duly cleaned up, but one young artiste, on finding a fresh example, wrote "This s*** is art" on a piece of notebook paper and taped it to the floor next to the mess, which resulted in the mess being left there for a couple of days. Pretty stupid, but at least the dog didn't have to die.

Edited by mrmando, 18 April 2008 - 11:35 AM.


#4 opus

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 09:36 PM

QUOTE (mrmando @ Apr 17 2008, 08:37 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
It is sickening to have one's nose rubbed in it to this degree, but one could argue that Schvarts' attitude toward abortion is simply the logical conclusion of milder "pro-choice" arguments. If we decide, for example, that it's OK to create fetuses just to destroy them for stem-cell research, then how can we object to using them for other things, like art projects?

Good point.

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"I hope it inspires some sort of discourse," Shvarts said. "Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it's not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone."

About ten years ago, some of the members of a fraternity at my university were caught dressed up in Confederate garb and burning a cross during one of their ceremonies. Suffice to say, there was quite a bit of outrage from the community, but the fraternity themselves seemed surprised by the outrage, as if the thought that what they were doing might be seen as offensive had never once crossed their minds.

They said their intentions were not racist, but either that's true, and they were incredibly clueless, or there was something racially motivated and they were just covering their butts.

Schvarts' comment above strikes me the same way. Yes, she can say all she wants that her intention was not to scandalize and outrage, and she can use various art-related explanations all she wants -- but at some point, it seems to me that such an argument just can't hold much water given the gravity of the situation. Either she's incredibly naive and thoughtless, or she's just covering her butt now that the sh*t is hitting the fan.

#5 opus

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 09:44 PM

It was all a "creative fiction":

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In a statement yesterday, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said: "Ms. Shvarts... stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body.

"She is an artist and has the right to express herself through performance art.

"Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns."

Shvartz, an arts major, told the Yale Daily: "I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity. I think that I'm creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be."

But to many, her piece symbolized the worst of art -- shock without substance -- and of academia, with professors encouraging useless introspection.


On the one hand, I'm relieved that this all turned out to be false, but on the other hand... "shock without substance" is about right.

#6 mrmando

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 11:41 PM

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"I hope it inspires some sort of discourse," Shvarts said. "Sure, some people will be upset with the message

I think what's upsetting people is the purported method more than the message. The message, if not exactly tame, is pretty well worn by now.
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and will not agree with it, but it's not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone."

Right. Scandalizing everyone is more like it.

And here's what one of her classmates said:
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"It's supposed to challenge the mythology of the body," he said. "Are we only supposed to do what our bodies were 'naturally' meant to do, which is to procreate?"

Well, it sounds as though the piece is just replacing one mythology with another. If you ask me, the mythology that really needs challenging is the one that says a human being's body is his property, in the same sense that his boots, his paintbrushes, or his tuna fish sandwich are his property.

... And now, Shvarts is challenging the university's claim that the work was fiction:
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But Shvarts reiterated Thursday that she repeatedly use a needleless syringe to insert semen into herself. At the end of her menstrual cycle, she took abortifacient herbs to induce bleeding, she said. She said she does not know whether or not she was ever pregnant.

“No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen,” Shvarts said, “because the nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties.”

Well, one thing is for certain: Brian Flemming could take a few lessons from her on how to get attention.

Edited by mrmando, 17 April 2008 - 11:59 PM.


#7 Jeff Kolb

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 01:35 PM

It would appear that someone is merely seeking attention. If so, how does one respond (or not respond)? Is there a point where the moral outrage trumps the practicality of ignoring the attention-seeker? I guess that's just a rhetorical question in today's media culture, where everything is noticed.

And from comments section at the NYT blog post on the matter: "But will Shvarts put this on her resume when she moves to New York and applies for the manager’s job at Starbucks?"

#8 mrmando

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 04:52 PM

QUOTE (Jeff Kolb @ Apr 18 2008, 11:35 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
It would appear that someone is merely seeking attention. If so, how does one respond (or not respond)? Is there a point where the moral outrage trumps the practicality of ignoring the attention-seeker? I guess that's just a rhetorical question in today's media culture, where everything is noticed.

Yeah. I mean, she's an undergraduate art student, and this, to some extent, is just the sort of thing undergraduate art students do when they have more passion than maturity. My wife was at Cal Arts ten years ago, and in addition to the dog poop episode, the undergrads were tacking used Kleenex to the wall and calling it art. But this was just before blogging hit the big time, and it wasn't quite yet possible to get this much attention this quickly for something this stupid.

#9 opus

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 10:45 PM

Abortion as Art? (Critical Theory Gone Berserk):

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There is a lot to be disturbed by in this little viral provocation. Of course, the cavalier treatment of pregnancy and abortion (as mere tools in an artistic creation—even if just on the conceptual level) is one thing; and the notion that anything so disgusting (a cube of menstrual blood from self-induced abortions?) could be considered art is another…

But the most frightening aspect of this whole thing, for me, is that it shows just how inaccessible (and out of fashion) truth is in the academy today. When someone like Shvarts can blatantly lie to the press and write it off as part an academic project, what does that say about our academic standards? Where would she get the idea that education (formerly known as the search for truth) can be founded on lies and the privileging of ambiguity?

Hmmm, well, she can get that idea from at least 20 years of critical theory, for starters. This is the strain of scholarly thought that puts truth on the backburner (if it doesn’t dispose of it entirely) in favor of a view of reality as a contested space in which nothing is certain, everything has to do with power imbalances, and ambiguity (re: “complicating, problematizing…”) is the end of all academic pursuit. She also gets this idea from radical feminism, which in saying “the personal is the political” situates the human body in a discursive battleground of contextual ideologies that laughs off the idea of transcendent morality or gender.