I admit to being a bit bemused over the Manchester Art Gallery’s removal of J W Waterhouse’s painting, Hylas and the Nymphs https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-42904024 The story caught my attention because I have a framed print of it on my study wall, just above my computer. I’m glad to say I haven’t removed mine, which I’m looking at as I type.
According to a curator at the museum, Clare Gannaway, they want to provoke a debate “about how such images should be displayed in the modern age”, and have been inspired by the recent MeToo campaign about sexual abuse by men in Hollywood. Apparently, the painting depicts women “either as passive beautiful objects or femmes fatales”, which makes it offensive.
Some time back, my wife (wisely) advised me never to express political opinions on this website, social media, or elsewhere. And she’s right. Politics is notoriously divisive, and – as a writer – my take on such matters is neither here nor there. But political correctness is different. It’s a form of insanity that assumes the moral high ground and gags people whose opinions may differ. Rather than ridding the world of prejudices, it reinforces them. Rather than allowing people to freely challenge each other’s viewpoints – hopefully giving them the chance to change their minds, which is what traditional debate is about – it simply forces them underground. The recent vote in the UK to leave the European Union, and the election in the USA of President Trump – love these seismic politiquakes or hate them – resulted directly from suppression of debate by political correctness.
Returning to Hylas and the Nymphs, as a person interested in history, I’m disappointed and worried about the way the past is being misinterpreted and hidden away. Are people really offended by this picture? Is it really about depicting women as “passive beautiful objects”? Even if it is, should we shield ourselves from the way people thought in a past era, just because it doesn’t suit the sensibilities of the self-appointed political priests and priestesses of the modern age? As for portraying women as “femme fatales”, so what? I doubt Waterhouse is suggesting that all women are men-hating would-be murderers. And what about those of us on the male side of the sexual divide? Films, television, books and paintings have spent centuries depicting men as murderers and rapists. I could choose to take great offence at such stereotypes, but I don’t see the point.
What do you think?
Maybe it’s the original myth of Hylas and the nymphs that has offended the Manchester Art Gallery. It’s certainly true that the ancient Greeks (particularly the Athenians) were a tad misogynistic. Take the Amazons, for example – intended as a warning to men of what happens when women get too much power. But they were just as mean to men, if not more so. Odysseus is often portrayed as a self-serving cheat and a liar. Achilles is proud, over-sensitive and prone to tantrums. Agamemnon is power hungry. Heracles was a womaniser and a child-murderer. And let’s not even start on the male Olympians.
But, if – as they claim – the gallery wanted to create “debate and discussion”, then they have certainly succeeded. However, it’s much more likely this is an immature and selfish publicity stunt. Rather than bringing art to people – as is their job – the curators have denied the public access to a much-loved work of art, even removing postcards of it from sale in their shop. All to make a cheap political point. I expect it will backfire on them in the end.
I’ve almost finished the second edit of Son of Zeus – I just have to add a scene with Hera, which I’m struggling with at the moment. I watched a film called Life this week, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s an entertaining rip-off of Alien, but lacks the suspense and horror. Nice, if predictable, twist at the end. No new books started this week – I haven’t had much time to read with the editing and various other distractions.
Best purchase of the week: my new bed. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. I woke up this morning and for the first time in five years didn’t have a stiff back. Bad backs, like paper cuts, are the big physical dangers of being an author (too long spent bent over a keyboard), but I’d never suspected my lovely old bed was half the problem. In fact, I was afraid to change it in case it made matters worse. But my wife bullied me into it – yet another thing that I’m thankful to her for.
Second best purchase of the week: lots of parts for a new computer. I’m a techno-numpty and don’t know a CPU from a motherboard, but my friend Ray has given me a shopping list of the best components and is offering to put them all together for me. Everything arrived today, so I’ve been excitedly trying to work out what’s what. It’ll be nice to own a high speed computer, though I doubt it will quicken my writing output.
Sounds a bit like the Nazis burning books that they didn’t approve of, think it may turn round and bite them as art whether you agree with it or not has a right to be seen, spoken or heard without censorship.
Couldn’t agree more.