Thursday, May 7, 2009

Honors Day: Presenting. Right now.

A visual outline of the artists and issues presented in
Everyone's a Critic:
Arts Criticism in the Digital Age
Hamline University
Honors Day 2009

Glenn Gould (1932-1982)

Piss Christ, Andres Serrano, 1989

Miss Piggy (Timeless)

Winthrop Sargeant (1903-1986)

Harold C. Schonberg (1915-2003)

Alex Ross (b. 1968)

Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Unexpected Guest

As I continue to explore the connections between blogging and arts criticism, I often find that those who have the most to say (at least the most to say in a way I find meaningful) have nothing to do with my field. Peter Kramer--writer, psychiatrist, thinker, blogger--whose work I have referenced on my personal blog, Going40, begins his latest post with these words about blogging:

An unscripted appearance on a radio show always leaves me a bit shaken. Was I too vague? Too assertive? I thought that the discussion Friday with Jim Gordon and Ira Flatow went well. Still, there’s always the problem of what the French call l’esprit de l’escalier, the mot juste that comes to you on the staircase, after you’ve left the salon. The great thing about writing a blog is that you get to speak in public from the staircase.
Kramer then gets to the meat of his post, the importance of labeling depression a disease. What is useful to me, though, is his notion of speaking from the staircase. Bloggers are sometimes accused of rash writing, of dashing off un- or ill-considered rants. There may be some of that out there (out here?), but more often, I find that bloggers, while relishing the immediacy of the medium, also take seriously their opportunity to consider their subject, whether it's psychiatry or arts criticism or midwifery, away from the pressures of conversation and heated argument. A conversation still happens, but in a new paradigmatic way: everyone, blogger and commenter alike, has the chance to reconsider, interject, redact. Instead of thinking of bloggers--especially amateur critics--as uninformed hotheads, maybe we need to remember that they're trying their level best to be excellent company: informed, considered, thoughtful.

Is it art?

Over 500 school students are painting the town square of Weilheim, Germany. Literally, and sort of. They're painting a 2,100 square meter reproduction of a Kandinsky painting of yes, the town square of Weilheim, Germany. Art? Gimmick? Good clean civic fun? Other?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


In today's NYTimes, Virginia Heffernan explores the error-prone ways of bloggers and commenters. Good read. I try to edit as much as possible when I write online, but I admit how easy it is to let mistakes slip by in this medium.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A muse for today

Glenn Gould, 1932-1982.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sports break

Minnesota Public Radio, exhibiting one of its whorish pledge drive behaviors, is today broadcasting a 45-minute speech over two hours, with ample breaks for shilling. This normally makes me crazy, even if I enjoy the speaker or subject. Today I didn’t mind, as I had time to make notes between segments. The long-time Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford, also a popular public radio commentator, gave the opening speech at this year’s Chautauqua Institution in New York.

Deford’s writing always strikes me as candid and fair. His cynical side was on full display today, mocking the cash grab that is major college sports. He bemoaned the fat scholarships athletes enjoy while others’ extracurricular activities—he mentioned the college orchestra player and radio station worker—remain mostly unrecognized, let alone financially supported. His scathing review of the Olympics as an obsolete “spectacle,” an anachronistic event in a globalized sporting universe, stands in stark contrast to the cheerleading that passes for journalism from many sports reporters. And Deford noted that “America produces leisure” in a way that no other country in the world can even fathom.

But Deford obviously loves sport, even referring to it as an art. I was particularly intrigued by his claim that of all our society’s entertainments, sport is the only one in which popularity and excellence meet. That is, the best in sport is the most popular, whereas the best music might not be the most loved, nor does the best theater necessarily achieve the biggest audiences. Now, we may get in trouble when we start talking about the best in any category, and who defines best, or even good, is part of what this project is all about. But Deford’s larger point, that what might be considered excellent in the arts is easily ignored and/or misunderstood by its audience, is something that working artists face all the time. As a pianist, I know that an overwrought, sentimental Romantic waltz is going to get more applause from the average audience than a challenging Scriabin etude or a subtle Chaminade impromptu. In the arts, and sport, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it brings comfort and satisfaction.

I am reminded that thoughtful criticism can be found across any number of genres, even sport. Besides Deford, I regularly read L. Jon Wertheim, another writer at Sports Illustrated and tennis columnist for

Friday, June 27, 2008

Art kills

A retrospective of sculptor Louise Bourgeois's work is open at the Guggenheim. You can read the Times review here. I particularly love that Bourgeois is known to have said that the prevalence of spirals in her work is because they remind her not only of control and freedom, but of strangling someone. The art world could use more of this kind of honesty.