Katherine Kersten – Minnesota’s Worst Writer?

I know something about writing so I know it’s not literally true that Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten is actually Minnesota’s worst writer, as Minnesota’s liberal bloggers would have you believe. But I’ll agree that she is Minnesota’s worst paid writer. It’s a shame the Strib had to pick Kersten–who, prior to being hired by the paper, was at the heart of one of Minnesota’s most profoundly conservative political institutions, the Center of the American Experiment think tank–to mollify the paper’s conservative critics who, no doubt, mumble in their sleep about the paper being too liberal.

Whatever. Kersten was obviously a public relations hire because it’s patently obvious she’s not expected to meet many journalistic standards.

The liberal bloggers have had a field day in the political blood sport of picking apart Kersten’s columns. It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel, but it looks like so much fun, I just have to jump in:

Kersten’s only purpose with her column, it appears, is to spread pedestrian, boilerplate, conservative dogma to all corners of Minnesota. Her hobgoblin today is predictable enough: Liberal academia; her argument is that they’ve lowered our standards for artistic excellence.

Kersten frames her argument at the outset by using a patently offensive example that she can imply is the rule rather than the exception it truly is:

When you think of "outside the box" art, what comes to mind? Elephant dung splattered on a picture of the Madonna?

Actually, that is not what comes to mind for me, but I see where she’s going. Kersten uses The Atelier, a Minneapolis art academy that teaches the techniques of the Old Masters, as her contrast in her attempt to prove that LIB-eral academe disdains the Masters in favor of Modern Art.

I, too, prefer the Masters to Modern Art but I’m pretty certain that that’s were I part company with Kersten on probably any other subject in the world. The problem, as with all of Kersten’s columns, is she fails to deliver any evidence to support her thesis; a standard she’d fail to meet in any high school composition class. Which is why I find it deliciously ironic that the woman is always on about standards, especially academic ones!

Assertions are not proof, but that’s all Kersten seems to have:

But in the 1950s and ’60s, Lack [the founder of the Atelier] and artists like him were shut out of galleries and museums as the juggernaut of modern art swept all before it.

It’s perfectly believable, but where’s the proof? How bout numbers on gallery showings and museum exhibits for Modern Art versus Classic art? Nope, Kersten offers nothing. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Kersten; after all, that kind of data may not even be available. I’m not being too hard on her. Several paragraphs later, she writes:

Atelier teaches foundational artistic techniques that generally get short shrift — if they’re taught at all — at today’s art colleges and university art departments.

I added the italics to highlight another of Kersten’s unproven assertions. It could be true but we’ll never know because Kersten has not bothered to do the research to support her argument. Surely among all of the well-funded conservative "think tanks" throughout the nation, someone‘s been tracking the amount of time academia devotes to traditional as opposed to Modern Art.

Five paragraphs later:

Today, establishment art programs generally discourage — even frown on — representational art.

No proof. The closest Kersten comes to offering evidence to back up her argument is in the third from the last paragraph were she uses that rhetorical device conservative commentators have mastered, the anecdote:

Redpath [one of the Atelier’s co-directors] floated around looking for the right art school until she stumbled across the Atelier. While taking an art course at a local community college, she said, her teacher mentioned with disgust in her voice, "There’s a show downstairs I suppose you would like." It was an Atelier show, and Redpath was hooked.

Disgust in her voice!! Clearly, Liberals are destroying our traditions!

Let’s be charitable, give Kersten a pass, and concede that academia does not spend a ton of time on the Old Masters. Has it never occurred to Kersten that, if this is indeed true, it could simply be a matter of the problem that plagues every educator, Time? There is simply not enough time to teach all of the material you’d like to teach, so you end up short-changing all subjects?

Here’s a dirty little secret I learned when I was an art major: Modern Art is much more appealing to students whose skill may be lacking. It’s easier and it doesn’t take as much time. The students who truly have the skill, devotion, and patience to excel are the ones who will study the Old Masters and practice their techniques.

Here’s a generally known fact that Kersten seems oblivious to: Artists are a dime a dozen and there’s far more crappy art being created than there is good art. The phenomenon knows no school or movement; it flourishes amongst those emulating the Masters as much as it does those who splatter Pollocks.

Kersten’s criticism is misplaced. Rather than railing on LIB-er-al art professors, she should be criticizing lazy art students such as yours truly.

The thing is, Kersten’s column today could have been a great piece about a little art academy doing great work in our midst that few people know about. It’s been said that a great painting can be destroyed by the frame you put around it. The same can be said for this column. By framing her column in forced conservative dogma, it’s hard to focus on the great story she has otherwise painted.