Camille Paglia Believes That Revenge of the Sith Is Our Generation’s Greatest Work of Art
Camille Paglia, the indispensable art critic and long-serving Professor of Humanities at the University of the Arts, has for over two decades lived in the shadow of Camille Paglia, the polemicist, enfant terrible, expert provocateur and, according the British writer Julie Burchill, “crazy old dyke.” Paglia is the lesbian who doesn’t like lesbians, the pro-drug libertarian who wouldn’t touch the stuff herself. And, through no fault of her own, the extravagances of Paglia’s proclamations have too often lead spectators to overlook the marrow of her ideas.
She became an international celebrity in 1990 upon the release of Sexual Personae, wherein Paglia argues that Western art and culture are underlined by the pagan fixations on phalluses and Earth goddesses that pre-date Christian hegemony. An ardent defender of free expression and inquiry, she was a darling of the British and American talk show circuits on account of her parallel advocacy for Madonna’s tits and Rush Limbaugh’s revulsion at the sight of them.
Paglia’s mission today, however, is less confrontational and yet more ambitious: She wants American culture to embrace the story of art. Paglia has just released Glittering Images, a direct and beautiful volume dedicated to the study of 29 works throughout art history. The book launches her quest to make David’s La Mort de Marat as common in US public schools as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Crucially, Paglia has the writerly gifts to make introductory art history sing to the uninitiated and old hands alike. It’s an essential work by an essential public intellectual. Paglia hasn’t left behind controversy, either: in the book’s final chapter, fed up with the direction of contemporary art, she argues that George Lucas’ Revenge of the Sith is the greatest work of art in recent memory. So, if you’re just wrapping up that MFA, set your sights on Mace Windu and Padmé Amidala instead of Jessica Warboys and David Altmejd.
Anyway, we were delighted to speak to Camille Paglia about contemporary art, education, penises, her goals for this new project, and Lorraine Bracco’s terrible acting.
VICE: So, Camille, how come contemporary art is so terrible?
Creative energy has migrated into industrial design and digital animation—videogames, for example, are booming! Commercial architecture is also thriving, as shown by amazingly monumental new buildings everywhere from Dubai to Beijing. But the fine arts have become very insular and derivative. There is good work being done, but it too often reminds me of ten other sometimes better things over the past 100 years. The main problem is a high-concept mentality. There’s too much gimmickry and irony and not enough intuition and emotion.
Well, what about Revenge of the Sith? You say it’s the greatest work of art, in any medium, created in the last 30 years. It’s better than… uh, Matthew Barney or Rachel Whiteread or Chris Ware or Peter Doig?
Yes, the long finale of Revenge of the Sith has more inherent artistic value, emotional power, and global impact than anything by the artists you name. It’s because the art world has flat-lined and become an echo chamber of received opinion and toxic over-praise. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes—people are too intimidated to admit what they secretly think or what they might think with their blinders off.