What do Dennis Prager’s ‘horribly bigoted positions’ have to do with his ability to conduct a symphony?

What do Dennis Prager’s ‘horribly bigoted positions’ have to do with his ability to conduct a symphony?
Dana Schutz (left) and Dennis Prager (Images: left, YouTube screen grab via HepworthWakefield; right, Dennis Prager)

Art isn’t easy, wrote Stephen Sondheim in his Pulitzer prize-winning musical “Sunday in the Park with George.” In the three-plus decades since that show debuted on Broadway, art has become immeasurably harder, mainly if the artist is white. Two stories in the news illustrate this.

One, at Campus Reform, notes that members of the faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles have joined musicians from the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra in boycotting an upcoming concert. The reason is not the musical selections chosen for the program. It’s because the guest conductor is political columnist and radio host (and amateur musician — who knew?) Dennis Prager.

In fairness, the open letter urging concert-goers not to attend does not mention Prager’s skin color or his equally objectionable religion (Jewish). It does, however, take Prager to task for his political views, calling him “a right-wing radio host who promotes horribly bigoted positions,” which these days amounts to the same thing.

The second story is even more incomprehensible, if that is possible. It centers on artist Dana Schutz, whose 2016 painting”Open Casket” ignited a firestorm of controversy in March when it went on display at the Whitney Museum in New York to celebrate the museum’s biennial.

Again, it was not the title or even the presentation of the subject, which is abstracted:

Rather, it is that the work is based on a photograph of Emmett Till, the black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman. Schutz was assailed with charges of “appropriating black suffering,” and her photo on Twitter was thoughtfully retouched by an art lover who scrawled in red “Burn this sh*t bitch.”

But Schutz’s run through the gauntlet didn’t end there. The Federalist’s David Marcus writes:

This week in Boston, tempers over Schutz’s work flared again as a solo show of hers went up at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). …

As the Daily Beast reported, a group of artists and activists sent a letter to ICA which said, “Please pull the show. This is not about censorship. This is about institutional accountability, as the institutions working with the artist are even now not acknowledging that this nation is not an even playing field. …

This time, “Open Casket” wasn’t even in the exhibition, but apparently the Left is determined to make sure that Schutz’s “original sin” follows her for life.

Look, I don’t know how good a conductor Dennis Prager is, but obviously that should be the only criterion on which to judge his worthiness to conduct. The condemnation of Dana Schutz is even more ridiculous. Clearly, her goal in painting Emmett Till was to send the message that hatred based on race is itself odious and senseless. That is precisely what a painter of color would have sought to embody in his own work. Too bad the voices speaking out against her and her work don’t appreciate that that lesson cuts both ways.

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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