Male applicants excluded from professorship at Stockholm University for Arts, Crafts and Design: their art “Old Time Machoism”

Academic Rights Watch marvels at a recent expert opinion from The University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm where male applicants for a professorship in Visual Communication are marginalized as a group because their art is considered masculine. We caution that the requirements of norm criticism and norm creativity on the part of the holder of the professorship in practice discriminate against men.

Male applicants for professorships in Visual Communication at The University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, have recently found themselves to be on an unleveled playing field. Earlier, the publically-owned university was criticized by Academic Rights Watch (ARW) and others for requiring successful applicants to have exercised “norm criticism” and “norm creativity” in their artwork. We regarded the requirement as one of “ideological purity” as opposed to merit or skill, which are the chief criteria for state employment. Importantly, norm criticism is here understood in a narrow sense including criticism of some norms but not others. For example, feminist norms are typically not considered legitimate objects of criticism.

The appointment of a female applicant, Sara Teleman, was by one candidate referred to the Appeal Board, which reacted to the fact that the university had violated its own internal regulations in engaging solely female experts. Consequently, the process had to be redone with new experts. Unfortunately, the problems did not end here. One of the new experts stands out by excluding a group of male applicants for having produced supposedly “conservative” and “powerful” macho art. The expert in question, Merav Salomon, is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Visual Communication, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, in Jerusalem.

Salomon instead recommends Teleman for the position. Teleman is praised for her norm-critical activity ”with subject matters such as feminism, sexual education, refugees and immigration, and the History of Swedish illustration”. Salomon also notes that Teleman wants to inspire the students to “develop critical thinking and recognize their personal point of view”, which of course properly understood is a laudable intention (but see below). The fact that Teleman has had no international impact or network and never held a teaching position apparently does not detract from the positive norm-critical impression. The applicant listed in second place, Catherine Grünewald, receives much norm-critical praise, too. Thus, she has “extensive experience of norm-creative practice, within her one artwork’s subject matters, as well as in her modes of action and fields of action”.

The same applies to the third female applicant whom Salomon recommends for a trial lecture and interview: Karin Sunvisson, who is complimented for her use of illustrations to challenge hegemonies, social norms and structures. In addition, Salomon is very impressed by Sunvisson’s philosophical theory according to which what makes an illustration good is, contrary to reasonable expectation, not a quality of the illustration itself, but rather the ethical standing of the artist:

Sunvisson recognizes the responsibility of the illustrators’ practice as an ethical obligation to the conclusion of the images massages, suggesting to examine the ‘goodness’ of an illustration not based on its effectiveness or kindness but rather on its creators’ ethics.

Salomon seems to be saying that she can tolerate technical or other imperfection in the artwork produced if the candidate is a good, norm-critical person. Possibly, Solomon projects too much of her own thoughts onto Sunvisson’s application at this point. As mentioned, three male candidates are excluded, and emphatically so: “I recommend the candidates: Vitali Konstantinov, Samuel Nyholm and Lefteris Heretakis not be considered for the position of Professor of visual communication, specializing in Illustration and Visual Storytelling in the Department of Visual communication and Master Program at Konstfack in the first instance, ”writes Salomon (original emphasis).

Although all three fulfill the eligibility criteria, they fail miserably with regard to norm criticism:

I found that their record, portfolios, professional career in illustration and storytelling experience, alongside their experience and motivation in Norm creative and norm critical thinking is poor and deficient. … Their professional portfolios, depicting their illustration and storytelling work was somewhat conservative and limited. In some cases, I had a sense of ‘Old time Machoism’ and of forcefulness.

This is the first time in her report that Salomon comments on any candidate’s submitted works samples. Regardless, none of these men, according to Salomon, fit into the delicate creative environment of the university. Far from it, their problematic masculine tendencies pose a serious risk to the extant fragile feminine harmony, making them particularly unsuitable as role models for students:

Hence I concluded that these candidates have little to offer to the position, and fail to present abilities that will able them not only to integrate within the delicate intellectual and creative human fabric at Konstfack, but also pose a role model and inspiration to both students and colleagues.

Salomon fails to note that the kind of critical thinking on one’s own perspective that she finds so attractive in others is entirely absent in her own expert report.

How, then, should one go about if one wants to be considered for a professorship at the University of Arts, Crafts and Design but happens to be of male gender and thereby run a serious risk of marginalization? The answer, as so often in life, is to learn how to play the game. A candidate who possibly realized this is Gunnar Krantz, who despite his gender affiliation receives a lot of praise from Salomon. Primarily a cartoonist, Krantz believes that the comics medium can be used to change perspectives, hegemons and ideas. At the same time, he finds that the comic book is an alternative art form struggling for acceptance, which, although lamentable, has the norm-critical advantage of making him and other cartoonist members of an, in Salomon’s words, “excluded and underprivileged group”. And here comes the stroke of genius: it now follows that Krantz’s involvement in the Swedish Arts Association and the Swedish Comics Association can be seen as – a “norm-critical action”. Although Salomon has some nagging doubts about Krantz’ sincerity, she chooses to recommend him for a trial lecture and interview. Apparently, it does not hurt to be a bit creative as far as norm creativity is concerned.

It should be mentioned that the two other experts – Robert Nyberg and Siri Dokken – have done a considerably better job than Salomon. Both are positive to Grünewald and Teleman, but also regard Nyholm, who was excluded by Salomon, as belonging to the top group. Unlike Salomon, both mention that Nyholm is already a professor in the subject in Bremen. They also evaluate the work samples and seem genuinely interested in whether the applicants can actually illustrate. Dokken, finally, evaluates Krantz’ listed norm-critical merits in a way that makes them seem somewhat less opportunistic.