Properly appreciated

From another piece reporting on the Met and Balthus and the petition:

In a 2013 review of the Balthus show in The New Republic, critic Jed Perl called Balthus the “last of the mystics who transformed twentieth-century art.” Perl said mystics are “by turns revered, reviled, demonized, and ignored—and at one point or another in his very long career Balthus was regarded in all of those ways.”

Perl added that Balthus’s paintings of girls “have stood in the way of a full appreciation of his achievement.” He wrote that these works “can be properly appreciated only when we accept them as unabashedly mystical, the flesh a symbol of the spirit, the girl’s dawning self-awareness an emblem of the artist’s engagement with the world.”

Oh come on.

That’s one way of looking at it, certainly, and one way to appreciate it, but if it’s really the only way to appreciate it properly then Balthus fucked up, because another way of looking at it is pretty damn hard to ignore.

What it most obviously is is a very young girl in a skirt sitting with her legs apart in a way that young girls’ mothers teach them not to do when they’re wearing skirts and other people are around. Young girls’ friends and peers and enemies also teach them that, by laughing and shouting and taunting. It’s a thing girls grow up with: the fact that skirts make you vulnerable to accidentally showing your Naughty Bits, and to men and boys who like to put cameras in places where you show your naughty bits even though you’re standing up straight or sitting in a toilet stall.

The glaring fact here is that Thérèse Blanchard would not have been sitting that way in front of Balthus unless he had told her to. He posed her sitting that way. How, exactly, is that calculated pose (calculated by him, not by her) supposed to be unabashedly mystical? How can we tell the flesh is meant to be a symbol of the spirit? What indicates that the girl’s dawning self-awareness is an emblem of the artist’s engagement with the world as opposed to a “look up my skirt” self-awareness imposed on her by the artist?

Mystics forsooth.

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