I came across two stories recently that seem to be connected—if you look at them in the right way.
By coincidence, the subject of the first story is…looking at things in the right way. A German art historian recently discovered that one of Piet Mondrian’s iconic paintings may have been hanging upside down for the last 75 years.
Why did it take them 75 years to figure that out? Well, it you’re familiar with Mondrian’s work, you can see why. Mondrian was an abstract artist who specialized in colorful geometric lines. Unfortunately, Mondrian neglected to sign the painting called “New York City 1” in the usual place. And, unlike the people who print your packages from Amazon, he forgot to include the instructive “up” arrow.
The second story is like unto it. One headline puts it this way: “Florida mandates annual training for school librarians to help weed out sexually explicit books.” “Huh,” you might ask, “why do librarians need special training to recognize soft-core porn? Isn’t it self-evident? That was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s reasoning when asked to define “obscenity” in 1964. He responded, “I know it when I see it.”
But apparently, today’s school librarians who are supposedly well-trained in things like age-appropriateness don’t know what’s obvious when they see it. And so, the State of Florida has decided to provide some “up” arrows to help the librarians differentiate between “the Gingerbread Man” and “the Genderbread Person.”
When it was discovered that Mondrian had been hanging upside down for quite a while, afficionados of the abstract leapt to his defense. The catalogue of the museum where the painting hung explained that it doesn’t matter if the picture is hung upside down:
This may be the truly revolutionary feature of “New York City 1:” the fact that it can be read in any direction, like the street map of a big city, in an attitude of open-mindedness, moving every way at once…
In fact, that is true of much abstract art. You can angle it any way you like, and you can assign to it whatever subjective meaning you wish.
But the interesting question about the Mondrian painting is not how it should be interpreted, but how it was discovered that it was upside down. The answer is that an old photo of Mondrian’s studio was discovered which showed the painting displayed in what was presumably the artist’s intention—namely right-side up.
In short, when art historians seek certitude, they turn to objective criteria—such as photographic evidence. They want to discover the reality of things.
There was a time when artists themselves felt a duty to capture the reality of things in their paintings or statues. God had created a fascinating world, and artists strove to represent it faithfully. The general term for this representational art is “realism.” The realists were not intent on showing you the mysteries of their own inner lives, but in showing you the wonders—both fetching and frightening—of the world we live in.
If you saw a Renoir or a Rockwell hung upside down, it wouldn’t take 75 years for you to notice that something was wrong. You would know right away. Why? Because they were realists who tried to paint things as they are. They didn’t paint trees with roots in the air or people with two eyes on one side of their face.
There’s no law that says that artists have to paint in a realistic style. The law might want to get involved, however, if other professionals begin to experiment with modernism. Imagine a plastic surgeon who tells his patient “In reconstructing your face, Mr. Jones, I will use this Picasso painting to guide my scalpel.”
Luckily, surgeons are held to stricter standards than painters. And so are teachers—or so we try to convince ourselves. If a history teacher holds up a Mondrian print and tells his fifth-grade class that “This is a picture of New York City as it looked in 1951,” parents will expect someone to set the teacher straight.
Likewise, a school librarian shouldn’t hold up a book about a girl, and tell students it’s about a boy. Just as New York City is a real place with recognizable features that are not to be confused with those of Los Angeles, there is a real and recognizable difference between boys and girls.
But you wouldn’t think so by browsing through the stacks of the average school library. There are shelves full of books about boys who have supposedly become girls, girls who have supposedly become boys, and boys and girls who are still trying to decide which—if any—gender they fit into.
But the big secret which most adults understand is that boys can’t really become girls, and girls can’t really become boys. Any good biology text will explain why. And the library’s anatomy books—if they haven’t yet been banned—will show why.
One of the skills that a librarian learns is to assign books to their proper categories. But what’s the proper category for the boy-becomes girl genre? Well, since many of these books are biographies or memoirs, they belong in the non-fiction section. These books are presented as realistic non-fiction, of the kind that will prepare children for the real world. But, in fact, they are profoundly unrealistic. They encourage children to pursue fictions—goals that can never be achieved because they are self-contradictory.
The chief characters in these books are living a fiction, or attempting to live a fiction. This is more obvious in the case of individuals who claim to have transitioned or are contemplating a transition. But it’s also true of same-sex relationships—one of the hot topics in today’s “Young Adult Fiction.”
Such books often imply that same-sex relationships are essentially the same as opposite-sex relationships. Likewise, same-sex “marriage” is portrayed as being little different than marriage. But, as Bishop Joseph Strickland has recently noted, a person who is in a same-sex “marriage” is “living a fiction.” As members of the same-sex they cannot perform some of the essential complimentary functions of marriage such as consummation, conception, and childbearing without bringing a third person into the picture (often, a paid surrogate). You could call this a “union” or a “commitment,” or a “relationship,” but it’s not true to call it a marriage. At best, it’s only an imitation of marriage. It is not a marriage, it’s a “let’s pretend it’s a marriage.”
Indeed, pretense seems to be an important part of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. Pride marches are usually replete with Mardi-Gras-like costumes, masks, and sex pantomimes. The fascination with cross-dressing also suggests a preoccupation with what might be called “a Neverland Complex”—the desire for something that can never be attained.
Which brings us to the subject of drag queens in libraries. It’s one thing for societies to tolerate the excesses of the occasional pride parade, but it’s another thing altogether for social institutions to put their stamp of approval on such mockeries of normality.
How many parents think that drag queen story hours are appropriate for children? Undoubtedly, there are some parents who feel a duty to hop on every passing fad, and allow their child to hop on the belly of the strange looking “woman” on the library floor; but let me go out on a limb and assume that the majority of parents don’t approve.
Yet the drag-queen story hour has become a prominent feature of public libraries all across the land. And since public librarians and public-school librarians get their training in the same places, we can expect that drag queens will soon be popping up in kindergartens and middle schools across the fruited plain. To seed the ground, several books about drag queens are already available in school libraries.
It’s hard to believe that our modern librarians have had any training in age-appropriate literature. They have, of course, but it’s quite obvious they need to unlearn whatever they have learned, and learn some common sense instead. Many of our librarians and teachers have been trained to believe that human sexuality, like a Mondrian painting, “can be read in any direction.” Hence, they are encouraging children to believe that they can attain to what is not attainable. They are presenting a fiction as an achievable goal, and the children will eventually pay the price.
Right now, much of the insanity that goes on in schools and school libraries still seems wrong to most of us. But will it continue to seem wrong? Or will we soon come to the point where we have lost all our reference points, and can no longer see that, like the famous Mondrian painting, our world has turned upside down?
Hopefully not. And the State of Florida’s initiative to retrain school librarians to see things properly is a big step toward returning our schools and our culture to sanity.