illustration by iDaisan
Although Schutz’s intention may be to present white shame, this shame is not correctly represented as a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist — those non-Black artists who sincerely wish to highlight the shameful nature of white violence should first of all stop treating Black pain as raw material. The subject matter is not Schutz’s; white free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.
–Hannah Black, ‘The Painting Must Go’
Sentimentality offers us the dubious chance to feel while bypassing the messiness of any real human engagement: not too much feeling but too thin an experience. This is what Flannery O’Connor meant when she wrote:
We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography . . . is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it simply an experience for its own sake.
Sentimentality is emotional satisfaction without emotional connection, an agreement between the artist and the audience to skip straight to the gratification, which, due to the skipping, is not so gratifying after all—as Shakespeare knowingly suggests in his Sonnet 129 (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame”). The popular painter Thomas Kinkade’s cozy little cottages, for instance, offer all the warmth of home—something I certainly enjoy—but what is the warmth of home without knowing the coldness of the world? What is homecoming without the hard journey? In Hebrews, we read that “these all died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country” (11:13–14). Kinkade’s error is not in depicting the homecoming; it is in ignoring the seeking. That is why, when a student recently told me that she lovingly sends a Kinkade postcard to her grandmother once a month, I blurted, “Stop sending pornography to your grandma!” Art must be truthful in what it says about the world and our sojourn in it. Lying down in green pastures is a great goal for an artist, but he must not attempt to get there without walking through the valley of the shadow of death. If he does, he is a liar.
–Benjamin Myers, The Sentimentality Trap