The fact is, there are many people in the world who will take advantage of something like music or performing and use it for their own sinister purpose. Arts and culture is something that carries with it a patina of goodness and purity, but it can be misused, and it’s our job to see if somebody is trying to do that.”
– Stuart Patt, State Department spokesperson, Dec. 31, 2002
I feel compelled to join the growing chorus of conservative voices, especially CSUN’s ROTC Lt. Col. Shawn Buck and Daily Sundial Opinion editor Sean Paroski, in denouncing CSUN art professor Edie Pistolesi and her so-called “Peace Project.”
This semester, students in Pistolesi’s art education class were given a group project to convert plastic toy army men into peaceful creatures. To Pistolesi’s credit, and in mild support of the National Rifle Association, students were not allowed to cut off the plastic rifles or other weapons.
Instead, they had to convert them into peaceful objects as well. One student converted her inch-high toy soldiers into firemen and the rifles into fire hoses. Another turned her army snipers into butterflies and rifles into butterfly antennae. Pistolesi’s students made a wide array of non-warlike characters for the project, employing artistic techniques and principles of aesthetics. Students also were required to create dwellings for their transformed army toys.
So far this sounds like the usual loony-tune, leftwing, pro-French projects that permeate this university. But Pistolesi crossed the line when she had her students install their peace projects around the ROTC office near Sagebrush Hall. That effectively turned a politically dubious art project into a full-scale peace assault against American values.
Pistolesi’s flimsy defense is that her Peace Project was broad enough to accommodate even pro-war students who, for example, feel that U.S. soldiers are fighting for a more peaceful world of the future, as depicted by the transformed toy soldiers and their dwellings. She tries to shift the blame by arguing that art educators have been teaching this project for decades with school children. Yada Yada.
All of that misses the point. This thinly disguised Peace – God, I hate that word – Project was an act of treason. Buck caught Pistolesi and her students red-handed erecting the ankle-high installation, and courageously reported them to the CSUN administration. Thank God for the military! Our campus and all campuses need more military culture and military watchdogs to monitor renegade art projects.
Buck demanded to know when the project would be removed and accused Pistolesi of forcing her students to promote peace. He didn’t have any evidence of that, but modern army interrogation techniques could certainly change that.
During Pistolesi’s peace offensive, one of the ROTC cadets told her that he didn’t want to go fight in Iraq. When Pistolesi mentioned that to the ever-vigilant colonel, he barked back, “I would certainly like to know who that was.” Instead of cooperating as she should have, Pistolesi willingly and knowingly withheld that information from the colonel. The misguided art professor undermined the colonel’s academic freedom to get that cadet in trouble for speaking his mind.
Quite properly, Buck filed a complaint with the university administration that Pistolesi denied her students the academic freedom to be against peace.
Pistolesi justifies her cynical exploitation of students as a means to express her opposition to the invasion of Iraq by claiming that each participating student was and is free to interpret the artwork as they please. She claims that pro-war students can interpret it as a call for peacetime jobs for veterans, etc. Fine. But the professor erroneously also claims that right for herself. That’s the problem. When Buck slyly asked Pistolesi why she didn’t install her peace project around Jerome Richfield Hall, she did not have an acceptable answer. Touche, Colonel!
Adding insult to injury, Pistolesi and students withdrew the transformed army toys from the ROTC bungalow and placed them in a miniature refugee camp set up on the Art Department grounds. Again, this is leftwing politics masquerading as art. I pray that Buck, in cooperation with the CSUN administration, will track down the transformed toy soldiers and bring them to justice. A miniature Guantanamo Bay is exactly where they, and their cell leader, Pistolesi, belong!
Recognizing her own guilt, Pistolesi is publicly offering to work with Buck to erect an ankle-high barbed wire fence around the ROTC building. She is quoted as mumbling, “I would like to help the colonel guard against future peace assaults. We could ring the perimeter of the ROTC dirt patch with an ankle high barbed wire fence reinforced by tiny guard shacks and factory fresh toy army men, unmolested by art students. It would be a patriotic art project for him and his cadets. I am willing to help.”
You may be thinking that I’m making too much of an isolated art project that no students actually complained about, and that won’t really impede our efforts to kill Iraqis. But consider this. Some years back Pistolesi required her students to do a similar kind of project about homelessness. A photo of the miniature homeless people made the leftwing Los Angeles Times with the caption, “500 Homeless living under Art Department Trailer.” Our nation cannot afford that kind of publicity.
No students complained about that Homeless Project either, but that only proves that they were repressed from doing so. There must have been at least one persecuted yet silent dissenter who preferred the status quo when it comes to homelessness, and yet felt pressure to participate. Where was Buck back then when we needed him?
More broadly, what is at stake here is much more than controlling a few lefty art professors. Every academic department needs greater supervision when it comes to patriotism. And who better to take on this job than the military?
Edie Pistolesi is a professor in the Art Department.