August 2017

NOTES & COMMENTS

An Event to Remember but a Movie to Miss
If you'd like to see a feature film that does justice to the "Miracle of Dunkirk"--in which nearly 340,000 members of the British Expeditionary Force and other allied forces were evacuated from that besieged city in northern France in 1940 with the help of a hastily enlisted civilian armada of more than 800 small fishing ships and pleasure craft--Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is not it. Unlike Christopher Orr in The Atlantic, we do not deem it a "masterpiece." For the simple reason that the most significant aspect of that historic event--that is, the miraculous evacuation itself--is overwhelmed by Nolan's interminable reenactment of the enemy assault on the Dunkirk beachhead and the English channel.

Most of the film's running time is consumed by an excruciating soundtrack and display of special effects recreating the horrors of the battle. That is relieved mainly by all-too-brief sequences in which a British patriot played by Mark Rylance is doggedly sailing his small boat toward the French coast with his son and a young friend named George Mills. For much of the film he seems almost to be a solitary eccentric. Only near the end do we get a glimpse of the extraordinary civilian armada he was a part of. If memory serves us, a far better sense of that heroic, world-changing communal effort was created in the award-winning 1971 BBC adaptation of the Paul Gallico novel The Snow Goose--although Dunkirk is tangential to the love story at that novel's center. Watch it if you can.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of what Nolan's film fails to convey, see the trenchant review by John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard ("Undone Dunkirk," August 7, 2017)--a welcome antipode to the raves posted by most of Dunkirk's reviewers.

James Gardner on Rauschenberg
Art and culture critic James Gardner, a well-established contributor to conservative and other publications, is often remarkably clueless on the subject of contemporary "art." The latest example is his review of "Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends," a major retrospective now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York ("Rebel's Reward," Weekly Standard, August 14, 2017). Though Gardner finds that "Rauschenberg's work ultimately fails to satisfy," he utterly misunderstands how and why. He argues that Rauschenberg "did achieve beauty"--in works such as Yoicks! ("perhaps his best single painting"!)--but that "such beauty as he achieved, in comparison with that of Pollock and Rothko, was not, in the end, beautiful enough."

In thrall to the idea that fine art is concerned primarily with beauty, rather than with meaning (on which see our What Art Is, esp. pp. 203 and 272), Gardner fails to recognize that Rauschenberg was concerned with neither. His whole project as an "artist" was, in fact, the flouting of art. For a very different view of the retrospective from Gardner's, see Michelle Kamhi's "Fake Art--the Rauschenberg Phenomenon," For Piero's Sake, May 24, 2017.

The Other Face of Contemporary Art
For a brief review of two exhibitions of recent art that offered art lovers something to rejoice in, see Michelle Kamhi's weblog post "Contemporary Art Worth Knowing," For Piero's Sake, June 9, 2017.

A Miniature Gazelle
Can you guess where, and about when, this delicate ivory creature at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was made? To view enlarged details, point and click the cursor, and use the mouse wheel and the bar at the bottom to further position the image. Click again to return to the original. Read about the gazelle here.

Abstract Art--Inversion of American Values
As part of a series on "The Dead End of Communism" in Epoch Times, Michelle Kamhi contributed a brief article entitled "Abstract Art Is an Absurd Inversion of American Values" (May 23, 2017). Documenting the profoundly collectivist impulse that had given rise to "abstract art," she pointed out the various logical contradictions inherent in the U.S. State Department's promotion of Abstract Expressionist painting as a token of American individualism during the Cold War.

Letters to the Editors
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