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Why can’t art just be “beautiful and strange”?

Theatre in London has become an “embarrassment”, says Zoe Strimpel in The Spectator. Not because the plays are boring, or badly acted, or any of the other problems that used to spoil productions, but because theatre-makers are now obsessed with “identity politics”. Who Killed My Father at the Young Vic culminates in a “predictable rant” about political injustice. The Globe’s take on Joan of Arc opens with a bizarre prologue stating Joan was a “them” and “trans”. The other side are just as dull: Eureka Day, hailed as a “strike against wokeness”, tackled the riveting topic of Covid vaccines. Creativity, grossness, hilarity – the stuff that used to “delight and provoke” – have been replaced by “one mean axis: right or wrong”.

The same is happening with art, says James Marriott in The Times. Tate Modern’s Cézanne exhibition earnestly ponders whether the Provençal artist’s landscapes were a subtle reflection on the horrors of colonialism. Tate Britain highlights that a chair in a Hogarth self-portrait was made from timber that reached Britain along a route that also shipped slaves. The gallery’s label-writer muses on whether it represents “all those unnamed black and brown people enabling the society that supports his vigorous creativity”. We all know the curators only pump out this guff because they feel they have to. But “moral indignation is only thrilling when it is wielded by insurgents”. When it is the establishment view, it just feels boring. Galleries should help us see why their pictures are “beautiful and strange”, not obscure their specialness with “weary, irrelevant controversy”.