Tuesday, April 22, 2008

(gasp) Common sense in the Ivy League

I've been watching this story develop over the past week, and I've resisted the temptation to blog about it until now.

Here's the short of it:

An art student at Yale University gave an interview to the student newspaper wherein she admitted "creating" her senior project out of the product of several miscarriages she suffered. The student, Aliza Shvartz, told the student press that she artificially inseminated herself with the help of a certain number of unknown sperm donors and a needleless syringe. She maintained that she then induced miscarriages by consuming herbal treatments specifically meant to cause miscarriages; she then smeared the resulting product (yes, I mean blood and tissue) over sheets of plastic, which she wrapped around a cube. "The cube was to be suspended from the ceiling of the exhibition hall, and videos of her undergoing the alleged self-induced miscarriages were to be projected on the cube and the walls," according to the Associated Press.

Pro-life groups expressed immediate outrage, not just for the blatant disregard for the pregnancies Shvartz allegedly conceived, but also for Shvartz' own mental health. Interestingly, there was no such immediate reaction from pro-choice groups (at least, not that I saw); they waited to hammer the project until Yale officials responded to the criticism with a statement that Shvartz' project was simply a work of "creative fiction" and that her claims to have conceived and aborted multiple fetuses was part of her "performance art." At THAT point, NARAL came out and said that the exhibit was "offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage."

So Yale disputed the reality of Shvartz' exhibit, and Shvartz shot back that not only was it real, but it was in fact sanctioned by university officials. This ramping-up of rhetoric on Shvartz' part seems to have served only to harden Yale's position; the university upped the ante and is refusing to display her "artwork" until she admits, in writing, that the whole thing is fake.

No word from Shvartz, who was supposed to have been honored at a reception on Friday.

Let's step back for a moment and consider just a couple of the disturbing aspects of this story:

  • Let's begin with the idea that the definition of "art," as defined by Yale officials, includes plastic sheeting smeared with blood -- however it is collected -- and suspended from the ceiling. A university official said that the project was "designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body." Um, riiight. Look, I understand that art is subjective. But shouldn't the university draw the exploration line at the point where someone inflicts bodily harm on themselves or others? If Shvartz wanted to produce this "art," Yale should have encouraged her to do it AFTER she picked up her Ivy League degree. I'm sure there would be plenty of studios that would be happy to host an exhibition for her ... right?
  • I found it interesting that NARAL apparently believes that Shvartz' claim to have induced abortions is "offensive and insensitive" only in the abstract. Had she actually done it, NARAL would have been in the position of having to defend her choice to do so. Kind of throws a whole new light on "choice," doesn't it?
Here are some links for more on this story: