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Posts Tagged ‘art’

Opening Day 2016

Opening Day 2016 is coming up. And thus an opportunity for me to pursue an issue I addressed in 2014’s Opening Day post: how baseball remains America’s true pastime.

Real sports excitement and engagement rests in large part on the uncertainty of the outcome. This is why the drama of sports exceeds that of the scripted arts like theater, movies, and novels. Overwhelmingly, art scripts end predictably: heroes defeat villains, true love conquers all, innocent babes are saved, and so on. Sports stories, which also have moral plots and subplots, are unscripted and unpredictable and thus more engaging and exciting. And baseball is more so than the other leading American sports.

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Art and the Machined World

Much of early twentieth-century art in the West was commentary on the massive technological developments of the late 19th century. Where, 100 years later, is the comparable twenty-first-century artistic response to the technological developments of the late 20th century? Stella

American artists a few generations ago, especially painters and photographers, portrayed the massive structures, machined objects, and rationalized, sharp edges of the industrial world. (They were, of course, responding to other things, as well, such as new techniques and European challengers like Picasso.) Many took the rapidly growing cities, New York most of all, as emblematic of the coming future, so urban scenes often serve to represent the modern, mechanical world. What in art is similar today?

Warning to readers: Follow this post at your own risk; I am not an art historian. But, heck, it’s my personal blog. (BTW, I use illustrations here from stamps, so as, hopefully, not to infringe reproduction rights.)

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Artful History

In a Christmas Day review, film critic A.O. Scott wondered what “future archaeologists, digging through the digital and physical rubble of our long-gone civilization in search of reasons for its collapse,” would make of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the new Scorcese-DiCaprio “bacchanal of sex, drugs and conspicuous consumption.” Is the film a “diagnosis” of our pathology or  “an especially florid” example of it?

Trying to understand what a work of art tells us about its times is a task not only of art critics, but also of historical scholars. If a historian a century or two from now examined the cultural artifacts of the last several years – say, Beyonce’s latest release, a Twilight Saga movie, a pulp thriller about a serial killer, performance art in museums, reruns of Friends, a major Broadway production, or “Wolf” – how well could he or she describe the lives of average Americans today?

We can ask a similar question looking from our own time back to the 19th or 18th century. While a future historian will have all sorts of “hard” data about our era – business transactions, traffic records, news databases, government statistics, polls on what Americans think, maybe even NSA files, etc. – little material like that is available to describe Americans’ experiences before about the 1920s or so. We do, however, have a lot of art from long ago: songs, paintings, and particularly fiction. What can art tell us about life in an earlier America and about people’s thoughts and feelings in those times? (more…)

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How Material Are We?

“ ‘Cause everybody’s living in a material world / And I am a material girl,” Madonna sang in 1984. It’s a common refrain, that we are materialistic – obsessed with wealth and goods and consuming – in ways unheard of an earlier eras. But it was heard of in earlier eras.

Overspent

by Juliet B. Schor

Clearly, Americans of the 21st century have more and consume more than Americans 100 or 200 years ago did. That the closets of old Victorian homes hardly begin to store the stuff that today’s middle-class family owns testifies to that. Yet, because more Americans can afford more things than their ancestors could does not necessarily mean that they are more obsessed with things. (Indeed, one stream of social science research talks about modern people as being “post-materialist” – e.g., here.) For those concerned with a too material world, there are social movements and web sites devoted to pursing the simple life, seeking “freedom from stuff and over-consumption” (e.g., here). This, too, has precedent: some people looked for the simple life in the 19th century. [1] (more…)

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