Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Was the Romantic Beethoven Really a “Radical Evolutionary”?

Of all the standard myths and accepted truths of the life and music of Ludwig van Beethoven, the idea of the “Romantic” Beethoven—the embodiment of Germanic sturm und drang and 19th century revolution—clings the most. In a massive new biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, Jan Swafford hopes to tear away that and many more myths to rediscover the real man and artist buried beneath. “Beethoven was not a Romantic, and he never called himself a revolutionary,” Swafford asserts. “He based much of what he did on tradition, models, and authorities, and he never intended to overthrow the past. He was an evolutionist more than a revolutionist. Call him a radical evolutionary, one with a unique voice.” Using his own unique voice as biographer of great composers, Swafford traces the life and art of Beethoven in eye-opening, rational detail and gives you a more human, more fascinating portrait of Beethoven the radical evolutionary than even the Beethoven the Romantic of legend. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Was the Romantic Beethoven Really a “Radical Evolutionary”?"

The Fight for Images of Ferguson

The flood of images of violence and unrest continues to flow from Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. (See one slide show here.) The promise of a “post-racial America” after the election of the first African-American President seems a cruel joke when watching scenes of mostly African-American citizens square off against mostly white police and government representatives. But aside from the story that these images tell is the story of the images themselves. According to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “Press freedom in the United States dramatically deteriorated in 2013.” A major part of that curtailed press freedom involves the primary medium of today’s information society—visual images. From arresting and threatening photojournalists to performance art specifically about picturing dead young, African-American men, the fight for images of Ferguson reveals more than we realize and more than many people want to acknowledge. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "The Fight for Images of Ferguson."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hearing and Seeing James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Anew

“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay,” begins James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, opening a torrent of words that has drowned many readers in confusion over Joyce’s modernist approach. A fresh new edition of Joyce’s 1939 novel edited by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon and illustrated by John Vernon Lord throws a life preserver to readers by offering a more readable, more musical text accompanied by illustrations that capture the playful, multilayered, flowing spirit of the story. For anyone who has tried and failed to finish Finnegans Wake or for anyone too intimated to try, this new edition will have you hearing and seeing Joyce’s language more clearly than ever before. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Hearing and Seeing James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Anew."

Are Liberals Killing Art?

In his recent New Republic article titled “Liberals Are Killing Art: How the Left became obsessed with ideology over beauty,” art critic Jed Perl makes a convoluted argument that liberalism now “find[s] the emotions unleashed by the arts—I mean all of the arts, from poetry to painting to dance—something of an embarrassment.” Embarrassed by emotions, liberals “who support a rational public policy—a social safety net, consistency and efficiency in foreign affairs, steps to reverse global warming—[are] reluctant to embrace art’s celebration of unfettered metaphor and mystery and magic.” Beginning with that quick hop, skip, and rhetorical leap from global warming to art appreciation, Perl stands up a series of liberal straw men to knock down in his overall accusation that liberals see art just as political (or politicizable) content at the expense of aesthetic pleasure. In resurrecting an old school argument from more than half a century ago, Perl asks if liberals are killing art, but ends up making readers ask if conservative critics are killing art instead. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Are Liberals Killing Art?"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Zen and the Art of Silent Movie Watching

Must mindfulness always mean meditation—eyes closed, mind clear, simply breathing, simply being? Dan Harris’ recent best seller 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Work—a True Story modestly proposed that just 5 minutes of meditation a day could go a long way towards making you more mindful and more happy, even if it’s just 10% happier. But even 5 minutes of meditation seems impossible for many people conditioned to be continually on the go or continually stimulated visually by one screen or another. After reading Harris’ book and David S. ShieldsStill: American Silent Motion Picture Photography (which I reviewed here)
close to one another, my new interest in mindfulness overlapped with my rekindled interest in silent film. If we can’t break our visual addiction but acknowledge the need for greater mindfulness, I thought, then maybe the different kind of visual storytelling of the silent film era might be the solution—a tale of Zen and the art of silent movie watching. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Zen and the Art of Silent Movie Watching."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How Mickalene Thomas Breaks Up the Modernist Boys Club

When Pablo Picasso and other early modernists appropriated elements of so-called “primitive” African art for Cubist and proto-Cubist works such as 1907’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon they perpetrated a kind of artistic colonialism similar to the economic colonialism that brought back African treasures to French museums and galleries in the first place. It was an exclusively European, almost exclusively male club that marginalized not just the African culture it emulated, but also the women that were often the subjects of their art. In Mickalene Thomas: Tête de Femme, African-American artist Mickalene Thomas breaks up the modernist boys club a century after its formation and takes aim at the lingering effects of its subtle misogyny and racism that continue in the visuals of our present-day culture. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "How Mickalene Thomas Breaks Up the Modernist Boys Club."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Paul McCartney’s Seventies Struggle to Escape the Beatles

During the 1960s, four of the most famous people on Earth were collectively known as The Beatles. Most people struggle to deal with the post-fame life, but how do you live as an ex-Beatle? In Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s, Tom Doyle asks that very question of the life of the “cute Beatle,” Paul McCartney. For McCartney, the 1970s “was an edgy, liberating, sometimes frightening period of his life that has largely been forgotten,” Doyle writes in no small part because beneath the myth of the “Bambi-eyed soft-rock balladeer, [Paul] was actually a far more counterculturally  leaning individual (albeit one overshadowed by the light-sucking John Lennon) than he was ever given credit for.” Thanks to years of exclusive interviews with McCartney and people close to him during this era, Doyle paints a far more interesting portrait of the writer of “Silly Love Songs” as an eccentric, experimental, and even inspirational artist whose partnership with wife Linda McCartney (shown above together with Paul) showed him how to escape the shadow of the Beatles and find a new life and career. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Paul McCartney’s Seventies Struggle to Escape the Beatles."