Erika López Prater and the Assault on Academic Freedom

I could belabor this case, but I’ll refrain. This New York Times article tells you what you need to know. A summary:

Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor at Hamline University, said she knew many Muslims have deeply held religious beliefs that prohibit depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. So last semester for a global art history class, she took many precautions before showing a 14th-century painting of Islam’s founder.

In the syllabus, she warned that images of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha, would be shown in the course. She asked students to contact her with any concerns, and she said no one did.

In class, she prepped students, telling them that in a few minutes, the painting would be displayed, in case anyone wanted to leave.

Then Dr. López Prater showed the image — and lost her teaching gig.

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Life Imitates Art

The 2002 film “John Q” begins with a scene in which a reckless driver dies, clearly at fault, in a horrific car wreck. Her organs, including her heart, are “harvested” or “recovered,” depending on your preferred choice of medical terminology, for purposes of organ donation. That organ recovery drives the plot of the rest of the film, which involves–somewhat heavy-handedly–the transplant of that very heart into a totally unrelated person dying of heart disease. In short, one person’s recklessness becomes her tragic demise; that tragedy becomes another person’s salvation.

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Nor Custom Stale Her Infinite Variety

Every time (or nearly every) that a new artistic style or movement emerges (in literature, think e.g. of romanticism or naturalism or modernism; in painting, think of impressionism or cubism or abstraction), it’s accompanied by two narratives.

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One narrative comes from defenders of the Older Art. The burden of this narrative is that the Newer Art is not merely inferior, but pernicious – that it represents a betrayal of the very principles of art itself. Think of the hostile reviews of the first Impressionist Exhibition in Paris (such as “Wallpaper in its early stages is much more finished than that”); or the singers who refused to learn Wagner’s operas because they were “unsingable”; or the Vienna Musikverein’s initially rejecting Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht because it used “nonexistent” chords; or the literal violence that broke out in the theatre at the first production of Victor Hugo’s play Hernani for its violation of the rules of classicism.

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