This article is taken from the March 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
The purpose of a museum
It is right and inevitable that museum buildings and displays should continuously reflect changes in public taste and perception, as Charles Saumarez Smith and others have suggested in your pages. Restitution of looted objects or at the very least full and open acknowledgement of their history is also fundamental in this day and age.
But the purpose of a museum should be less open to wholesale change. To debate one needs knowledge. To share ideas one needs to be exposed to them.
The concept of a museum as a refuge or just a place to meet other people is utterly out of context. There are many public places for such activity.
The ability to see and understand great art objects created over centuries is an opportunity to reflect on the human condition which overcomes war and hunger, ambition and conquest, whereby artistic genius — whether painting or sculpture or literature or music — outlives human frailties.
Listening to music on devices is no substitute for reality nor is seeing works of art on a screen. They are introductory chapters to the book itself. New masters become old masters. Let us ensure that museums remain as places to learn about the past so that we may engage with the future.
The Schorr Collection, London W1
Josephine Bartosch’s article “Rise of the sex robots” (January/February) is apposite at this sad and solitary time for humanity, but for the most part simply rehashes feminist fallacies about porn and its new prosthetic incarnation. In this sterile debate — no pun intended — the 1960s are year zero and its sexual revolution is an unqualified success, rendering the debate, such as it is, is as much post-moral as it is post-feminist.
I am reminded of Craig Gillespie’s black comedy of 2007, Lars and The Real Girl, truly a parable of our times, in which an apparently normal, attractive young man (Ryan Gosling) becomes fixated with a silicone mannequin which he proudly introduces to friends and family. After some initial surprise, all accept his choice of partner in an exemplary, non-judgmental way. This reaches its absurd climax when Lars one day finds her “dead” — by what measure, nobody asks — and even doctors at the local hospital embrace the lie of her (erstwhile) humanity.
From a mental health point of view, Lars would arguably have much better been told from the outset that he was delusional, but by modern standards this would likely have been judged moralistic. Thus we have a generation (possibly two, since porn became normalised in the late twentieth century) of men whose sexuality is essentially solipsistic and who, with every new “advance” in the verisimilitude of pornography, gravitate to it more, in preference to real sex.
Bartosch echoes reports I have read elsewhere of young women having to “up their game” to satisfy increasingly recherché sexual tastes acquired on the internet, and this is sad. But she would do well also to ask why so many men — whether consciously as part of some kind of cost-benefit analysis or unconsciously after rebuffs and rejections — choose the solitary vice.
Has it occurred to her that women’s proliferating sexual appetites and demands could also be a factor? I have lost count of the number of published texts on “understanding the female orgasm”, but I have yet to see one published about men’s sexual pleasure. I have lost count of women’s “dating disasters”, in which men’s deficiencies are endlessly catalogued, but almost never hear a man’s side of the story.
But men are also the architects of their own downfall here. Online porn increasingly corrupts women too. So if Bartosch wishes to rekindle human relations — and don’t we all, in these lonely days? — she would do well to jettison the ideology and simply ponder why respect for women has dwindled and why the phenomenon known as MGTOW (“Men going their own way”) has risen. It takes two not to tango.
Burwash, East Sussex
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