New articles of interest
“Alive and Ticking”: The invention of battery-powered quartz time-keeping in 1969 heralded the death of machine- and hand-crafted wind-up watches. A resurgence in mechanically driven precision movement, led by Swiss design houses, represents more than a technological and aesthetic revolution.
“American orchestras: A time of crisis or rebirth?”: As Classical music fades farther from the center of American cultural life, bankruptcies, lockouts and closures threaten the future of the nation’s orchestras. Survival will depend on a blend of cost cutting, community building and experimental programming.
“The E-Book Piracy Debate, Revisited”: In an attempt to determine the impact of cost on e-book piracy, a major publisher of science fiction books recently removed copyright protections from its offerings. The results have proven little, for publishers or for piracy advocates.
Other recent articles of interest
“The Problem with David Mamet”: Since his 1991 anti-political correctness play Oleanna, David Mamet has used the stage as a bully pulpit for his evolving anti-liberal, pro-capitalist ideas. Only in two works since then (The Cryptogram and The Old Neighborhood) has Mamet dramatic poet side bested his polemicist inclinations.
“Saltz on the Death of the Gallery Show”: The gallery show used to connect artist and buyer while providing a physical venue for other artists to connect with and criticize the fashions and issues shaping their field. The Internet, direct-to-auction and the commercialization of art sales has expanded the idea of the “art world” even as it slowly erases that notion.
“Deconstructing PIFA”: The second biannual Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts will operate on a budget of 5.3 million. What does that say about a city in which only one-third of its district’s schools employed both an art teacher and a music teacher?
“Solving the Symphony Crisis”: Nearly three-quarters of America’s 131 professional symphony orchestras operate in the red, and the cause is clear: Their members earn more than six times the average salary of other musicians. If orchestras want to retain a place in the culture, they must stop overpaying their employees.
“Why eBooks are a Different Genre from Print”: While eBooks contain the same text as a printed version, electronic books alter the fundamental nature of reading from something private and egalitarian into a corporatized, editor-selected experience. In this regard, eReaders fail also to accommodate the permanence and potential for shared interpretation of physical, bound works.
“Ballet 101: Dispelling myths for newcomers and skeptics”: Skeptics may dismiss ballet as incomprehensible movement amidst layers of tulle. However, ballet demands as much athleticism and dedication as the National Basketball Association, while also requiring dancers to tell a story through movement and gesture that surpasses the skill of seasoned actors.
“Reports of the Death of Opera Have Been Greatly Exaggerated”: Two recent books have argued that the composition of new opera amounts to little more than a “zombie-like pursuit.” More than a dozen new works commissioned in just New York and London prove otherwise.
“Do Bigots Deserve an Audience too?”: Theater, like all the arts, leans left, especially on issues like abortion, equality and gay marriage. The genre’s failure to air right-wing perspectives not only inhibits open debate but also hinders theater practitioners’ ability to achieve their progressive goals.
“How and why taste changes”: Van Gogh’s genius rose to prominence only after his death. But even artists who enjoy fortune while living seldom fall out of the rankings centuries later. Critical appraisal rarely changes over time, and past masters remain just that.
“What Shall We Tell Our Young Playwrights Who are Black?”: August Wilson and Ntozake Shange presented the fullness of the black experience on stage, warts and all. Today’s black playwrights shouldn’t let our country’s move to a post-racial society mute a similar portrait of contemporary African-American life.
“Weapons Against Vandals”: For the past decade, jihadists and rebels across the Middle East and Africa have looted or destroyed ancient sites and cultural resources. U.S. museums and historical institutions could do far more to protect these antiquities.
“Why Hollywood kowtows to China”: In recent films such as Red Dawn and Looper, Hollywood studios have whitewashed depictions of the Chinese and their government. Distorting the activities of a repressive government pays off.
“The End of the Creative Classes in Sight”: Technology has already reduced the need for specialists who read MRIs, analyze securities and write software. Applications that compose music and write screenplays will similarly disenfranchise the creative classes.
“Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad?”: For decades, Hollywood’s biggest stars built their careers on romantic comedies. Today, the genre’s decline rests not so much on a dearth of talent as society’s relentless elimination of amorous obstacles.
“The Gaze”: The works of Édouard Manet transcended his era’s trends in portraiture by distorting perspective and employing heavy brushstrokes. His depiction of his painting’s subjects turned their gaze outward, heralding the gaze of modernity that would occur a century later.
“Maestro Wolfgang Sawallisch, 1923-2013”: The conductor who led the resurgence of the “Philadelphia Sound” passed away at his home outside Munich on February 22. The Inquirer’s music critics recall his career as one of the preeminent maestros of the 20th Century.
“Oscars 2013: What the nominations say about America”: Four of the 2013 nominees for Best Picture celebrated patriotism, righteousness and strong-armed justice by any means. The modern Western may be dead, but Hollywood, it seems, has returned to the virtues of the Wild West.
“Split decisions: When critics change their minds”: Art critics from Clement Greenberg to Terry Teachout have famously reversed judgment on artists as notable as Monet and Gustav Klimt. Changing social and cultural contexts can change a mind, but sometimes a deadened response is to blame.
“The queen’s new gambit: Chess as a great American spectator sport”: Collegiate chess programs operate with the same recruiting strategies, player and coach-poaching and drama of a Division I sport, only without the same fanfare. Through a bold series of publicity stunts, America’s only female Grandmaster hopes to make chess as popular as soccer.
“Violence in theater: Revelation, not nihilism”: Kings blinded, babies stoned to death, corpses dismembered: Theater has produced images that rival movies for violent barbarity. Yet on stage, far more often than in film, the violence serves moral and psychological ends.
“Of businessmen and ballerinas”: The recent acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet revealed the nasty drama involved in making art. The drama and inner workings of an arts company also shed some light on other less conspicuous but equally malicious industries.
“Why it’s time for galleries to dump the jargon”: Art gallery catalogues and descriptions abound with academic and faux-technical terms when familiar language could suffice (i.e., “interrogate” for “ask”). This language intentionally obscures and often confuses, begging the question of what the galleries are trying to hide.
“Ice Age Art at the British Museum”: More than 40,000 years ago, humans possessed the conceptual and cognitive capacity to produce art. Anthropologists can argue over the meaning of those works, but one thing remains clear: Not even Leonardo could surpass the evocative or technical skill of these ancient masters.
“Classical: What If It’s (Gasp) Entertainment?”: Orchestras and opera companies struggling to fill seats should abandon one limiting distinction in their missions: the division between high art and entertainment. This false dichotomy not only fails to capture much of the Western canon, but also refuses to recognize the ways that many listeners approach culture.
“Jerry Saltz on ’93 in Art”: The 1993 Whitney Biennial displaced painting as the dominant modern art form and ushered in an era dominated by installation and design works. By insisting on personal and political meaning over beauty, these artists have shaped the curation process ever since.
“From Beyoncé to horse meat”: At President Obama’s recent inauguration, pop singer Beyoncé lip-synched her way through what everyone thought was a live performance of the National Anthem. If we care at all about reckless contempt—from celebrities and politicians—for the public that supports them, her faux performance should outrage us.
“Hotel Artists”: In 1918, Matisse alleviated a bout of depression through a long stay in hotels along the south of France. His ascetic renderings of these interiors not only restored his mental health but also permanently altered his approach to painting.
“The case for naming a U.S. Secretary of Culture”: Since its inception, politicians of all stripes have treated the National Endowment for the Arts like a political football. Creating a cabinet-level post for culture may not ensure funding stability for the arts, but it would reassert culture’s vital role in informing and shaping policy.
“David Gockley and the Golden Age of American Opera”: American opera reached its lowest point in the mid- 20th Century, with few composers writing anything but academic-sounding music designed to please their peers. But since the 1970s, one company director has overseen the commission and production of 40 new works, almost singlehandedly revitalizing the genre.
“Where Have All the African-American Audiences Gone for Concert Dance?”: Dance companies across the country use aggressive ad campaigns to increase the number of African-Americans in their audiences. Maybe the marketing isn’t to blame.
“The Mozart Delusion”: The Nazis and Allies both claimed his music as a form of celestial culture. Psychologists claim his works raise fetal IQ or ease adults into a state of contemplative meditation. Despite these dubious claims, few of Mozart’s works showed anything other than the efforts of a conservative, even conformist composer.
“Why are we still waiting for Godot?”: Beckett’s existential masterwork turns 60 this year, begging the question why a post-World War II tragicomedy still sells out houses. The script’s indeterminate language, lack of easy answers and rich visual imagery provide some of the answer.
“The culture of the copy”: The Internet has revolutionized the production and dissemination of information much the way Gutenberg’s movable type displaced the manuscript. But libraries, museums and other cultural institutions should tread lightly before embracing the digital revolution for their archives.
“Making a case for high art”: The crowded market for contemporary culture emphasizes elevation of emotion and instant connection over works that reflect on the human condition. To ensure that culture does more than just entertain, we must insist on the superiority of higher forms of art.
“How Gangnam Style and Fifty Shades gave culture a spanking”: No works dominated culture in 2012 more than Psy’s pop music video and E.L. James’s novel about bondage. The former gave a peek into a rarefied class; the latter showed what an entire gender lacked in a feminist world.
“Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”: Half a century ago, writers as diverse as Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor and J.R.R. Tolkein presented Christian themes as central to the lives of their characters. The changing demographics and attitudes of contemporary America have turned current literature into a religious wasteland.
“Naked appeal: Is it OK to find actors attractive?”: When a man or woman appears nude on stage, should only the prudent avert their eyes? Or would all audiences demean performers by taking delight in the naked body in art?
“The Pleasures of Imperfection”: Critics refer to some of Shakespeare’s best known works as “problem plays”; Duke Ellington couldn’t finish one of his best known pieces; and Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo needs 15 more minutes of editing. But we should cherish these great artists because of their shortcomings.
“Too old for Beatrice and Benedick– or much ado about nothing?”: At age 78 and 81, respectively, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones will play the feisty paramours in a new staging of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Their celebrity will attract ticket buyers, but artistically speaking, are they too old for the roles?
“Why we like cruel reviews”: Writers in the New York Times recently trashed a mass-market restaurant on Times Square and a little-known novelist. Critics of critics allege that a nasty review is just the writer showing off. But why shouldn’t reviewers also entertain?
“Who should be the next NEA chair?”: Rocco Landesman just stepped down as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts after a three-year tenure that kept the once-troubled organization out of the public eye. The new chair must reverse this trend and return art and discussions about culture to the forefront of public life and American identity.
“Interesting Times”: People who sit at desks or computers all day find little opportunity to experience the beautiful or the sublime. But that doesn’t mean they lack daily aesthetic experience, even if reduced to the cute, zany, or merely interesting.
“Not Quite a Horse Race”: Each year since 1985, the University of Louisville has awarded its Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. Although its $100,000 prize dwarfs the Pulitzer’s $10,000 award, the general public and music journalists give the Grawemeyer little respect, most likely due to its process for selecting recipients.
“Kid Stuff at the Clark Art Institute”: Museum directors in Baltimore and Williamstown, Mass., invited members of the general public to design and select artworks for recent exhibitions. Enough of this politically corrects madness; the public should come to art institutions to learn.
“Will the decline of rep kill British acting?”: Sir Ian McKellen recently decried the death of repertory theater as the end of high-caliber British actors (like Dame Judi Dench and himself). Not so. The rep model produced a type of versatility in performance that no longer suits the needs of today’s performers, who must constantly switch from stage to TV to film.
“How Art History is Failing the Internet”: Art curators and historians have eagerly used the Web to publish works, highlight exhibits and engage audiences, but they’ve done so by continuing to work in isolation as solitary scholars. This approach misses the Internet’s potential for collaborative research and fails to employ new open-source technology for analyzing images and tracking data.
“Worthwhile Canadian Coolness”: Over the past decade, America’s most successful recording artists, performance groups and actors have all hailed from the Great White North. Does this trend reflect a crisis of American confidence, or just the appeal of Canadian wholesomeness?
“It’s a brand-news day in Hollywood”: The Walt Disney studio used to sell products in order to fund its films. The company’s recent acquisition of Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm indicates that the business end of making movies now takes precedence over the production of art.
“Sienna Miller nude”: British actress Sienna Miller posed naked for artist Jonathan Yeo during her recent pregnancy. While these paintings intend to shock, contemporary artists who paint pregnant nudes enjoy a safety net: our culture’s veneration of motherhood protects them from controversy.
“A guide to drinking with Hemingway”: Papa Ernest peppered his prose with references to more than 50 drinks, many of which his writing helped popularize. The type of alcohol not only defined his characters, but also helped elucidate his plots and themes.
“It’s Polaroid’s World— We Just Live in It”: When Polaroid founder Edwin Land introduced the first instant camera in 1948, he intended his invention to fundamentally alter the way humans interact with each other and to daily events. More than 60 years later, it has.
“Horror: A genre doomed to literary hell?”: In the late 19th and early 20th Century, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and HP Lovecraft elevated horror stories to literary status. More than ever, our age of multimedia and capitalist crisis demands writers who can transcend realistic, scientific depictions of contemporary life.
“How Contemporary Art Lost its Glamour”: For nearly two decades, the super-rich have inflated the cost of artworks, and artists such as Damien Hirst and Maurizio Cattelan have catered to their pretensions. Over the past six months, leading critics, dealers and gallery owners have rebelled against this consumerist approach. But will this revolt signal a return to appreciating art as a form of virtue, or a re-elevation of modernist values?
“I’ve Got a Bad Feeling about This”: That George Lucas just sold the rights to Star Wars probably doesn’t matter to anyone but hardcore fans. But it should upset anyone interested in film as art. For 35 years, these films remained a singular example of artistic integrity and personal vision in a medium built on franchises and merchandising.
“Pina Bausch’s True Gifts”: The late choreographer Pina Bausch blended intense theatrical techniques with sometimes obvious intrusions of text and symbolism. As the town government of Wuppertal, Germany, struggles to decide her company’s future, an appraisal of Bausch’s greatest gifts and technical weaknesses shed light on how she created her own genre: dance-theater.
“A Matter of Taste?”: The weekend chef has now replaced the Sunday painter, as amateur gourmands everywhere uphold foodism as the pinnacle (or at least, substitute) of culture. But this enthusiasm neglects that food, however intoxicating to the senses, isn’t an art form that can enlighten our souls.
“Does Willy Need Protecting?”: The owners of Arthur Miller’s plays stepped in when an Australian director wanted to stage his own rewritten ending to Death of a Salesman. If Shakespeare can withstand multiple rewrites and interpretations, modern classics have nothing to fear from a fresh perspective either.
“Hollywood’s perception of value versus real value”: The entertainment industry’s elevation of status over worth has seeped into academia, the financial sector and the art world. But a reliance on popularity as a metric leaves us struggling to determine what’s good from what’s merely successful.
“Glengarry Glen Ross revival shows us how low we’ve sunk”: David Mamet wrote his verbally aggressive critique of capitalism in the wake of Watergate and Reagan’s “Morning in America.” The current Broadway revival arrives on shores of cynicism; like the Occupy protests, the play’s message no longer makes a dent in the national consciousness.
“The Dangerous Business of Being an Opera Singer”: The push to broadcast and film live opera in high-definition has led directors to incorporate realistic fight scenes, daredevil stunts and unsafe blocking into live performances. In this podcast, three opera critics assess whether these requirements place dangerous demands on performers trained only in voice, not stunt work or fight choreography.
“You Are Not a Switch”: “Talent borrows, but genius steals” has become a mantra in arts driven by technology, such as digital images, film, pop music and DJ culture. But applying that understanding of creativity to literature and painting misses the essential act of creation in fashioning the old into a new vision.
“How Capitalism Can Save Art”: Before the 1960s, great art emanated from a grounding in commercial trades and a healthy exploration of sexuality and religious ideas. Now, argues Camille Paglia, only entrepreneurship can save contemporary art from the wasteland of white-collar attitudes and insular academic ideology.
“Are professional book reviewers better than amateurs?”: The chairman of England’s Man Booker Prize recently stirred controversy when he remarked, “Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.” The proliferation of blogging may have democratized criticism, but it hasn’t changed the fact that paid professionals, subject to a higher standard of content, produce superior opinions on books, or anything.
“The Case for Wagner in Israel”: An informal (though mostly enforced) ban has forbidden live performances of Wagner in Israel since the end of World War II. This prohibition of Hitler’s favorite composer confuses much about Wagner’s politics and Hitler’s history and leaves an important question unasked: Why should Jews continue to hear Wagner’s music through Hitler’s ears?
“Hold your applause until an actor deserves it”: The rash of celebrities on Broadway and the West End has audiences applauding the moment a Hollywood star walks on stage. Even starlets should face the same critical standards as understudies.
“Philadelphia Orchestra’s residency in China: What’s the goal?”: The Philadelphia Orchestra first played in China in 1973— a huge diplomatic achievement that came on the heels of Nixon’s visit 19 months earlier. Its coming ten-day tour blends soft diplomacy with the organization’s more modern goals of establishing an annual schedule and finding new talent.
“There You Go Again”: What do filmmaker Wes Anderson, playwright Samuel Beckett and composer Philip Glass share in common? All of their works repeatedly return to the same set of themes depicted by a narrow set of stylistic devices. But this is due less to a lack of originality than to a fecundity of artistic obsession.
“Olympics, 388 B.C.: Mud, Sex, Hymns…Sports Too”: This summer’s Olympics in London will generate billions of dollars in revenue by pitting contestants in 35 sports in a struggle for national supremacy. The original Olympiad more resembled a hybrid of Woodstock and religious festival, with sports a diversion for the aristocratic athletes.
“So Whose Swan Lake Is It?”: Nineteenth-century romantic ballets—from Swan Lake to Giselle to The Nutcracker— dominate spring schedules by claiming their origin in the choreography of the great Marius Petipa. But most versions seen on contemporary stages display the hackneyed steps of meddling, lesser minds.
“Barnes move to Parkway is progress, but a quirky something has been lost”: Moving the Barnes Collection to downtown Philadelphia may boost tourism and increase access to the world-famous collection. But the Barnes move is one more step in the commercial ascendance but spiritual decline of a city that used to take its character seriously.
“How to Enjoy Going to the Movies Again”: Cell phones have driven the last nail into the coffin of movie-theater etiquette for serious cinephiles. The boisterous crowd at midnight movies offers a different spectacle: hard-core fans who connect— albeit loudly— just as much as their silent, screen-worshipping brethren.