Sunday, September 14, 2008

The He-Said-She-Said Art

MSM loves reporting controversial Contemporary Art. If no outrage follows the artist, then the media gets bored.

Last April, a Yale Art student created an installation involving her own artificial insemination and self-induced miscarriages.

FOX News, the Washington Post, and several dozen sites in the blogosphere, including Drudge Report and picked up the story, along with hundreds of comments from a typically non-art viewing audience.

The artist, Ali Shvarts now also has a spot on Wikipedia.

Stories flowing from the major news dailies reported the story as a dispute between artist and Ivy League.

Yale insisted that her piece was merely “creative fiction… she neither impregnated herself nor induced any miscarriages. Rather, the entire episode, including a press release describing the exhibition, was performance art,” said Yale spokesperson Helaine Klasky.”

On the day before, the Yale Daily News first wrote of Shvarts’ project as if her pregnancies and miscarriages actually occurred. Following Yale’s statements, Shvarts kept her stance and insisted that she may have been pregnant several times throughout the 9-month process.

So, the basic outline of each report from Drudge, Washington Post, and FOX appeared as a “he-said-she-said” argument.

But that’s more than enough to spark angry comments from thousands of readers.

I scanned the mile long stream of comments from’s short update of the dispute on April 18th and found that the majority of commenters offered short responses. And not the good type of pithy shortness. These sound more like quick, unsupported rants from a bar fight on how mentally unsound Shvarts is.

Here’s a favorite, addressed to the artist:

“Enjoy Hell Sweetie!”
post # 53.

But that comes from a reader of, so perhaps that’s not saying much.

However, on HuffingtonPost, the remarks go into more depth. Commenters discuss Shvarts’ actions and their consequences.

However, most readers assume that Shvarts was pregnant and miscarried regardless of the media’s attention to a possibly hidden hoax.

NY Times writer Mike Nizza reported that Shvarts never took pregnancy tests during her project. His story, “Sticking to the bit, Yale’s Abortion Artist” was one of very few that addressed the way the media exposed the story. Nizza writes:

Most headlines this morning were designed to provide relief to anyone disturbed by the news (”Abortion art at Yale was faked“) but The Yale Daily News was not so sure (”Shvarts, Yale clash over project“) providing another spin on that theme was a site that drew major attention to the news early Thursday. The Drudge Report has been posting each turn in the story in chronological order, providing a sort of multiple choice:

“Shock: Yale student performs abortions on herself as art project…”


“Performance Art”

The last two versions seemed like the only way to cover a project designed to lack certainty. Before any justifiable exhaling, something will have to give in this stalemate between Yale and its student.

Shvarts’ story proves that a speedy, sensation-hungry journalism creeps around our newspapers, TV, and on the Web.

With some caution, I wonder if this might also be an issue purposely hastened by a conservative media trying to build ammunition for anti-abortion groups.

Most unfortunately and frustratingly, this type of media creates an audience of anti-art readers.


M. Dery said...

A cavil:
"Shvarts’ story proves that a speedy, sensation-hungry journalism creeps around our newspapers, TV, and on the Web."
Doesn't it prove that he-said, she-said journalism---journalism that unplugs its critical faculties and merely acts as a brain-dead conveyor belt for fact---does everyone a disservice? As you imply early in the story, the problem lies with the media's refusal, on the one hand, to call the artist to account, questioning her about the moral and ethical implications of her performance, and on the other with the media's weird refusal (inability?) to resolve the burning quesiton, namely, was she ever pregnant or not? Did any of the outlets that covered this story quote an ob/gyn, for example? Surely someone in the medical field could shed some wisdom on this.

M. Dery said...

Also: teeny, tiny font makes my eyes bleed. Courier is easier on the eyes, especially in "normal"-size setting. Just a thought!