Venice: Where Ignorant Artists Clash by Night

When I visited the most recent documenta, there were dozens of dull didactic installations meant to indoctrinate visitors into the proper attitudes toward everything from organic farming to the Western Sahara. Fortunately, there were also intriguing works of art.

Yet the trend toward unoriginal laments on the state of the world from art bureaucrats continues unabated. Here is Okwui Enwezor, the curator of the current Venice Bienniale, writes in his introduction to the show:

One hundred years after the first shots of the First World War were fired in 1914, and seventy-five years after the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the global landscape again lies shattered and in disarray, scarred by violent turmoil, panicked by specters of economic crisis and viral pandemonium, secessionist politics and a humanitarian catastrophe on the high seas, deserts, and borderlands, as immigrants, refugees, and desperate peoples seek refuge in seemingly calmer and prosperous lands. Everywhere one turns new crisis, uncertainty, and deepening insecurity across all regions of the world seem to leap into view.

…blah blah blah. To paraphrase Mary McCarthy, every single word of this is wrong, including 'and' and 'the'. 

A few charts from Our World in Data, the site run by economist Max Roser which turns the best and latest data into informative charts:





7 thoughts on “Venice: Where Ignorant Artists Clash by Night

  1. @Narf: Actually, many of the graphs do include data from Africa, as you can see. Wars and other conflicts are a lot easier to count than general population statistics, and those of course show Africa, as well as the rest of the world, becoming dramatically more peaceful in recent decades. In any case, trends within most African countries are also largely positive, as I’m sure you’d agree. Just read the most recent development reports.

    As for using statistics from Oxford University’s Dr. Max Roser, who has a “BSc in geoscience, a BA and an MA in philosophy, an MSc in economics, and a doctorate from the University of Innsbruck, Austria”, I think I’m on pretty solid ground.

    If you have an alternate source with equal qualifications, resources, and credibility, which shows different conclusions, I’d be eager to hear of it.


  2. Andrew, the point is that you frequently lambast other people for using no or inadequate sources. Several important statistics here do not mention African countries: literacy rate, child mortality and life expectancy (although there are some in the last one). In others, they vanish among a more overarching statistic. It might be that the situation in these sectors has improved in Africa, but we don’t know for sure, do we? (We also don’t know of well it has improved.)

    I’m also pretty sure that appealing to authority is a logical fallacy. It is of secondary importance whether Mr Roser is good at his job. You picked the graphs and they do not show a complete picture.

    It’s also worth mentioning, I think, that you did not disprove one bit of Mr Enwezor’s statement. His statements about the different crisis are facts, but in every other aspect it is simply too general in nature to come up with any of the assumptions you made.
    You can, however, critisise him for being too general and not saying that the various crisis have come closer to Europe in recent years as opposed to staying in different continents like in all the decades before.


  3. @Narf: Appealing to authority is a fallacy. I.e. ‘The Pope tells us abortion is wrong so it is’; ‘Our President says we’re the greatest country on earth.’, etc. What I appealed to is expertise.

    In any case, Roser is sitting on a massive database. He has merely selected a few nations to present an overall picture. If you want to dig deep into the statistics for recent developments in Africa, I’m sure he can help you there. But the graphs are meant to provide an overall, easily-digestible impression for people who don’t want to page through massive databases. They do this well, I find.

    In any event, dozens of reports from reputable international bodies show positive trends in most African countries as well. You can find them with a simple Google search. You would expect this, since mass armed conflict is a huge impediment to development, and is now much rarer in Africa than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

    In any case, Africa isn’t the entire world. China alone has a population as large as Africa’s. So when the curator says the ‘global landscape’ shows nothing but turmoil and disaster, it’s fair to take him at his word.


  4. Yes, well, the global landscape does show nothing but turmoil and disaster – as it always has -, even if the magnitude has lessened (I don’t dispute the facts; I merely wanted to point out that the graphs you put up are lacking). I think it is unfair to criticise the man for such a general statement.


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