June 2005

The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art.  By Roger Kimball . Encounter Books. 186 pages. $25.95.

Even casual visitors to museums realize, once in a while, that museums are somewhat out of sync. Show catalogues seem to be describing a completely different collection than the one at hand. Newspaper and magazine reviews detail historical context, the artist’s supposed psychological handicaps, current social trends, all the while barely mentioning the works of the artist. Much of this background is interesting, but a little goes a long way. In fact, much too far, if elitist curators pretentiously distort the original intent of the artist, never mind that it might be completely unknowable.

Even established masterpieces from the past do not escape the vaunted experts who would amend and refashion. Roger Kimball is incensed by the dominance of the art world by those who care far less about art itself than they do about art criticism as a vehicle for their own message, and he takes the miscreants to task sharply and severely. Using seven works by established painters including Gustav Courbet, Mark Rothko, John Singer Sargent, and Paul Gauguin, he analyzes what the critics have written about them and shows clearly how cleverness is no substitute for veracity.

Kimball’s acerbic humor and true erudition, so well known to his New Criterion fans, make this critique well worth studying. After all, we know what we like and are curious about how a work of art has come to be. Most of us are not so obtuse as to suppose that we can wholly explicate, in one glance, a work’s particular iconography. What we need is a trustworthy guide. Roger Kimball is among the best.

- Elizabeth C. Hanink



The American Catholic Voter: 200 Years of Political Impact.  By George Marlin. St. Augustine’s Press. 400 pages. $29.95.

Marlin’s book is of, by, and for political junkies, albeit political junkies attuned to America’s culture wars, past and present. With table after table, the book documents the primacy of matters cultural over matters economic in our political history. It also traces the increasingly rocky relationship between the Democratic Party and the Catholic voter, especially if that Catholic voter is not a cafeteria Catholic.

Marlin examines the Catholic vote in 1992. First there is the “generic Catholic” vote, which broke down 44 percent for Clinton, 35 percent for Bush, and 21 percent for Perot. Marlin then separates the “practicing Catholic” (39 percent, 41 percent, and 20 percent) from the “cafeteria Catholic” (44 percent, 33 percent, and 21 percent) in that same election. Then in 1994 something happened that had never happened before in the history of American congressional elections. Catholics, no matter the type, gave a majority of their votes to Republican candidates.

Pondering the history of Catholic Democratic presidential candidates, there is little reason for hope and much cause for concern. First there was Al Smith, who practiced his faith and defended it, even if he was not well-versed in it. Then there was John Kennedy, who denied that his faith had anything to do with his political life and who as an adult personally defied Catholic sexual morality. Recently we had John Kerry, who claims to be a well-formed Catholic and who parades his Catholic credentials, but who publicly opposes major teachings of his Church. Not an inspiring trend to say the least.

The Republican Party of the 19th century, and for a goodly portion of the 20th century, was an anti-Catholic institution.

But if the Democratic Party continues on the road of complete secularization, the likelihood will increase that the next Al Smith will emerge from the Republican Party and that such a candidate will be opposed by an increasingly anti-Catholic Democratic Party. Ironic as it may be, but the next genuinely Catholic presidential candidate might well come from the ranks of what was once the genuinely anti-Catholic party of the 19th century.

- John C. Chalberg





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