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Beware the new myths of anti-woke

Scored a new bullshit bingo card, today. 'Art must no longer tingle, I quit'. Big headline in a quality newspaper, with below it the terrible story of gallery owner Jeanette Dekeukeleires of Gallery Art Kitchen. The 60-year-old says she is quitting her job because nothing is allowed anymore. (read the story here)

For instance, she received complaints from young people about the famous PSP poster with that naked woman and cow from the 1970s. There were also objections to a portrait of an Asian possibly interpreted as racist, and she had to recall a dog portrait from a corporate collection because the animal looked rather intrusive.

All very natural, and it seems to fit the bill of people's 'attacks' on possible trigg art. We are reminded of the riot around the college portrait in a Leiden meeting room, which in the end was not such a huge riot.

No movement

Art is under attack by 'woke'. A movement that was never a movement, but is better named as an enemy when you do make it one. For a while it was a hobby of people we will conveniently call the far right, but it has now reached the arts.

That makes it tricky. After all, artists like to see themselves as leftist, young, anti-fascist and committed to the freedom of everything and everyone, not least the freedom to incite, provoke, agitate. So it was with great revolutions in the late 19th century, so it was certainly after World War II. And now they get a rebuttal from people who manifest themselves as leftist, young, anti-fascist and committed to the freedom of everything and everyone.

Because of that dissent as 'woke' classify, you make it a big enemy, brought over from the moralistic US, fuelled by social media on which anyone can just hold anyone accountable (call-out culture) or cancel (cancel culture).

Nobody gets cancelled

By now, it is clear that cancel culture does not exist, or at best is an easy tool for people who call out to be cancelled, to reach more audiences, and a better contract with your agent (Johan Derksen, anyone?). What does exist is call-out culture, and we don't have that to woke but to Twitter, where you can score big by retweeting someone's tweet with peppery comments, which in turn provoke dissent and eventually become trending. Activists from left and right use it, for instance to scare away GeenStijl advertisers, or threaten people who criticise Wierd Duk.

That is the hell of social media, but that is different from calling out that art should no longer excite or irritate. What I mostly see is a generational conflict. And this at a time when parents and adolescents seemed to get along better together than ever before.

Scoring in the biblebelt

The famous PSP poster from the 1970s

Let's take the example of the PSP poster. At the time, of course, the PSP made that naked poster to make people angry: people you had to hate as a PSP voter anyway, to be summarised briefly as: inhabitants of the biblebelt. That was permissible anger. As a biblebelt resident, you held back, because otherwise you would only play into the hands of the PSP.

Now there is a young generation that has grown up with , with abuse of power, and with its own means of reaching the media. The latter is just as unconcerned with historical context, and finds a naked woman on a poster sexist. Logical, you didn't need that much context as a young person in the 1970s to consider anyone reactionary or fascist. That they don't want to listen to your boomer arguments now? What's new? Did you do that back then in discussions with a VVD member?

Dictator

A racist stereotype in a portrait on your facade? Of course people can take offence to that in a globalising world, and they will let you know, they don't walk by silently. We have taught them that. So now an Amsterdam gallery owner should not complain that people have allowed themselves to be emancipated partly because of the liberal arts.

A painting with a staring dog that you have to look at all the time at work? Maybe there was a time when, as an employee, you silently endured that, but were you happy then? That the Works Council now has an opinion on art in the workplace: wonderful! It sharpens the mind and broadens the view: an artist is not a dictator who can impose his will on everyone for the sake of the freedom of art. And a gallerist is a salesman, and that's pretty tedious work if you no longer believe in your product.

Just tired

The generational conflict in the present article is also highlighted by something else. The troubled gallery owner is moving in a world where money plays an increasingly important role, and power no longer lies with Thorbeckian governments, but with Muskian money wolves. It is no longer about slowly evolving taste, but about whims of a generation of spoilt millionaires with a surplus of bitcoin.

Of course, that is a terrible world to have to live and work in, as someone who loves abrasive art. But rather the art world shouts that 'woke' blame everything, and that's not good. That your audience has become empowered: welcome it, offer rebuttal, or withdraw your cue if you agree with the criticism.

Perhaps, as an early sixty-something, you are just a little tired and would rather rest on your laurels than have to move in an increasingly empowered world and an increasingly coarse market. That is conceivable. I can even imagine it, because I have been walking this planet for just as long.

But don't put the new generations away as woke snowflakes.

Okay? Boomer?

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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