Dutch museum renaming art for cultural sensitivity

Dutch museum renaming art for cultural sensitivity

I don’t know how I feel about this. Actually, I think I do know how I feel about this, but I don’t have an extremely strong stance.

If we sterilize history to meet our current standards of cultural sensitivity, we risk not understanding the context of the artwork. One admission - I’m a white male, so my view on this may not be the most topical. I’d like to hear some other voices on this. Do you think this is the correct way to go about it, or do you think that art should be viewed in an academic sense and presented as it was created?

I’m not seeing this as a big deal: certainly not for artworks by deceased artists where the “title” of the work is basically a nickname applied after the artist’s death. It wasn’t Leonardo who called the “Mona Lisa” by that name, for example, and it would not be usurping Leonardo’s “creative control” in any way if we started calling it, say, “Lady with a Smile” instead.

Likewise, should Manet’s “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe” be called “Le Bain” instead, since that was its original title? Titles of paintings are generally not considered an intrinsic part of the work the way the title of a literary work might be, and the artists themselves often changed their painting titles rather casually, or used some generic descriptor like “Portrait of a Man” or “River Landscape I”.

So I don’t think it’s really a problem if the Rijksmuseum is introducing alternate titles for artworks currently known by phrases like “Young Negro Girl” that are potentially off-putting to modern audiences. Of course, the relation between alternate titles and original titles should be made clear for identification purposes and for historical accuracy.

Furthermore, of course there’s nothing wrong with the museum modernizing their own official descriptions of the artwork in their collections, which I suspect is where the bulk of the changes are going to be made.
If a museum is officially changing a title that was deliberately chosen by a living artist to characterize something about their work that they considered meaningful, though, I’d have a problem with that.

I think it’s fine if the title wasn’t given to the work by the artist, but added on as a descriptor by someone who acquired it at a later date, but I’d find it much more problematic if they’re replacing the artist’s intended title. (The article doesn’t say which of these things is the case with the specific works it mentions.)

“However, far from erasing all traces of original titles and descriptions, Rijksmuseum will archive them so that the public can still access them if they wanted to.’
However they are incorrect in as “For instance, many Dutch people don’t understand why Eskimo is an offensive term, but it is, and indigenous people don’t like to be called that way,” says Gosselink.” In Canada, where nearly all the eskimo are Inuit, the term “eskimo” is largely not used and mostly incorrect. However, in Alaska, there is very little issue with it. And there also the Aleuts…

The CNN article seems even-handed.

In English, “Negro” is dated & would not be used for a living person. But it was always the polite alternative for a word that remains a slur. These are English terms. Are they translations of Dutch words being changed? There could be shades of meaning in Dutch, not obvious to Anglophones. Are these changes to the English parts of multilingual signage?

Really, if you want people to get angry at the PC-ness of it all–use the *Daily News *coverage of the story.

Nicely put. IOW-- that’s what I was going to say! :slight_smile: Although, I question if, for Americans, either “Negro” or “Eskimo” rises to the level of a cultural insult.

This isn’t like changing “nigger Jim” in the text of Twain’s works to something less shocking to contemporary sensibilities.

So we can retitle Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the Narcissus, the way Agatha Christie’s Ten Littler Nigger Boys became Ten Little Indians and Then There were None.
There’s precedence. The first US edition was called Children of the Sea, but not for PC reasons:


It seems we will have our work cut out for us, retitling paintings, literary works, and musical works (Debussey’s Gollywog’s Cakewalk already has two strikes against it with that title). But they did it with geographical designations a few years ago.

Not sure if your intent was to insinuate otherwise, but I’m not looking for PC outrage. I see both sides and I find it an interesting debate.

For a personal anecdote, I recently found that my in-laws have a cabin in PA on a road that had its name changed. The road’s former name was “Negro Camp Rd” and I think it was changed in the 60’s. I find that an appropriate action.

Maybe it is the subject matter. Maybe it is the assumption that the audience would be capable of grasping the nuance. I lean towards thinking this is the wrong decision, but the circumstances around the situation aren’t known to me. Ultimately I don’t feel strongly either way.

Recently a Spanish town decided to change it’s name from “death to Jews camp” to “Jews’ hill camp.” That is a clear improvement. It seems like you are advocating the use of racial slurs for the sole reason that people in the past used racial slurs. There’s a difference between:
[ol]
[li]“Welcome to black point, before the 1990’s this was called ‘nigger point’ by the locals”[/li][li]“Welcome to ‘nigger point’”[/li][/ol]Sensibilities change, and history is still preserved; there’s no loss here.

Right. The analogy to that in terms of painting would be if the Rijksmuseum were actually repainting artworks in its collection to make the subjects more ethnically diverse, or change non-white servant figures into courtiers and doctors or what have you. Sort of like these racially-tweaked parodies of Holbein’s Henry VIII portrait and the Mona Lisa.

If the Rijksmuseum were attempting anything like that, I’d be screaming about “political correctness run mad” right along with everybody else.

But just using alternate modern titles to refer to historic paintings without changing the paintings themselves in any way? Doesn’t even ping my outrage meter.

I’m actually ok with them changing things to make them less offensive. shrug Not sure why it’s a problem, really. As others have said, it would be one thing if they were changing the art work itself, but the title? And a title not originally given by the artist? And a title used in a public display? Naw, I’m totally good with changing that. If needs be, archive the original title to retain the information.

Actual titles actually bestowed by the artists should be retained in all circumstances; whether the artist is now living is not relevant.

Long-standing descriptive ‘titles’ should be retained in cases where the work is of not only intrinsic but art-historical significance, but it should be discernible (to any who care) the difference between these and artists’ actual titles.

Rijksmuseum is too close a cognate of “Reichsmuseum” for my comfort. Change it please.

In American English, “negro” is sort of like “Oriental.” Not automatically offensive (though it certainly can be intended as such), but I’d wonder if the speaker has been paying attention to social culture or even watched a TV in the last 40 years.

AFAIK he was never referred to as such in the book, so there is nothing to change as far as his name goes; the references are indirect.

Jim’s name or nickname in the book is not “Nigger Jim,” it’s just Jim. He is certainly referred to as a “nigger” many times.

Certainly changing the word on grounds of racist offense would be an outrageous crime against literature and literary history–not to mention, a completely ignorant misunderstanding of the purpose of the word in the book.

Yes, let’s censor history. Lest we recall it.

How about you read the article, rather than just be a knee jerk rebel against PC. Kimstu’s post basically spells it out if you are too lazy to click. These aren’t artist assigned titles for the most part and they aren’t completely erasing previous “titles” from anyone who cares to know.

Not even that bothers me as long as it’s not presented as the original. If I got upset at that, then I’d have to get upset at the various abridged versions or children’s versions of classics.

The idea that being politically correct requires rewriting history just isn’t true. Accuracy and political correctness do not have to compete with each other.

The only real issue with political correctness, in my mind, is when people refuse to listen to the very minorities who tell them it’s not actually offensive. Like the movement to redefine “crazy” as an ableist slur. No one I’ve ever met with a mental disorder has a problem with “He’s driving me crazy” or “That is crazy good!”

Call slavery in all forms a “practical economic strategy.”

These works have historical nomenclature that has defined them for decades (if not centuries). This is political correctness infiltrating history and art. As an artist, I don’t care for it one bit. I shouldn’t have to read the historical name of a piece of art from my iPhone, when it stands a few feet from me.

You really get the feeling someone is trying to kill the very best in white European culture.