Bjork, Marina Abramovi, and MOMA

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I’ve mentioned before that Bjork is doing a career retrospective at MOMA.  Here is an article in Rolling Stone about that retrospective.  It also features some clips as well.  This is definitely a show I would check out if I lived even remotely close.

Speaking of Museum of Modern Art, one of my favorite documentaries of recent years was about a show there.  That film is Marina Abramovi The Artist is Present.  This movie is fascinating and definitely worth your time.  Here is the trailer:

The Privileged are Taking Over the Arts

The Privileged Taking Over the Arts

Above is an interesting article from The New Republic which talks about how more and more popular artists are coming from a background of privilege.  (And really this could be for any art form.) It is an argument that I can’t help but feel has some merit.  That’s not to say that one’s art should be judged from where they came from, as at the end of the day the work is all that matters.  However, it may well be another reason why less and less music seems to speak truth to power.  I think it is a topic at least worth thinking about.  I am only just beginning to think about this topic, and will write more on this at some further point.  This article is definitely a worthwhile read.

Hat tip to William Michael Smith

Pussy Riot Stands Up For Eric Garner

This is Pussy Riot’s first English language video.  It is called I Can’t Breathe and it is in tribute to Eric Garner, the man that was killed by the New York City Police with an illegal chokehold.  They have commented that they stand in support with all of those that are victims of state violence.  I think the video itself is powerful as a piece of film.  I am someone that has long believed that art has a role in critiquing power.  One of the things that is as old as history itself is the idea that the elite try their best to divide and conquer those who have common cause.  One saw this especially during Reconstruction in the South where poor blacks and whites, who had more in common than either group had with former white slave holders, were pitted against each other, so the wealthy could retain their power.  Pussy Riot, in commenting on the piece, realize that Russia is more oppressive than the United States.  However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t also speak out against injustice wherever they see it.  I wish more artists in the U.S. would not only speak their political conscious, but also stand side by side with those in other countries with similar political aims.  In a world that is more and more interconnected, when multinational corporations are causing corruption at all levels, it is important that we stand in solidarity with those seeking justice, wherever they may be.  It is also important to note that non-violence is the best antidote to corporate and state violence.  Art, because of the powerful emotional connections that it can make, has a role that is complimentary to forms of non-violent protest.

Bjork to be Featured at MoMA

I still really love the new Bjork album, though I got on some other trips and got slightly distracted from it.  I want to write a comprehensive piece about it, but it may be awhile.  In the meantime I saw that Museum of Modern Art is doing a sound and video installation of her work called Black Lake.  The above clip is the trailer for this installation.  Bjork is one of the few musical artists where you feel the visual side of what she does is fully integrated into her work, that it isn’t just a way to drum up press.  So many modern pop stars are visual spectacles without substance.  She is someone that you feel belongs in the Museum of Modern Art.  I actually started appreciating her by seeing one of her concert films in a theater.  It was a totally unique experience.  I’m about 99% positive that I won’t be able to go to the MoMA installation, but if I was in striking distance I would.

How Black People and Art Became Devalued

How Black People and Art Became Devalued

In my last blog I mentioned that culture, in general, seemed in decline.  I asked why.  The above article is from Salon and focuses on the same idea, but from a black perspective.  The writer, Brittney Cooper, starts with Prince’s quote at the Grammys:

“Albums still matter. Like books and Black lives, albums still matter.”

And then goes on to talk about the connection between a culture that devalues human lives and arts, hitting upon this core theme:

But under conditions of neoliberalism, which favor the unregulated, unchecked reach of huge multinational corporations into every area of our lives, art and music and the people who produce them all become merely marketable commodities.

Andrew Sullivan to Retire From Blogging

I am finding out late, as keeping up with my own blog has not allowed me the time to read his like I once did, that Andrew Sullivan is retiring from blogging.  I am deeply saddened at this.  I think Sullivan’s The Dish is the best blog going, a blog which greatly influenced this one.  Sullivan is someone whose interests seem to know no bounds.  You can go there any day and find discussions on politics, religion, art, and any number of topics.  Although his blog skewed slightly to political issues, I would say only slightly.  Some days you will pull up his blog and find a poem at the top of his page.  Sullivan is Catholic, gay, and moderately conservative on some issues.  (If you use the word conservative in the way that it used to be before the anti-science, corporatist, religious right completely took over.)  I am none of those things.  However, I knew that anytime I went to his page I would be opened up to new ideas, and most importantly, made to think.

There are several minor stylistic things that I stole from Sullivan, like not allowing the typical internet comments to play a part in the discussion.  (As they usually just end up consisting of endless tirades and insults.)  If Sullivan had a reader write a thoughtful dissent to what he wrote he would post it.  He allowed the best of his critics a voice.

But more importantly was the idea that a blog didn’t have to be something narrowly defined.  That in its own way it could be a kind of art form and window into the world.  Political ideas, poetry, videos, and all manner of things could exist on a blog in the same way they do in our real lives.  His blog created a community that was hungry for ideas and that wanted to think and be challenged.  His blog inspired critical thinking and how many things in our media saturated world can you say that about?  It was the first blog that I remember that was outward looking and not just a diary of the self.  Although you felt like you got to know Sullivan through his writing, he was much more concerned in trying to shed light on the world.

I am hoping that this is a premature retirement, that like many musical acts he will return after a brief interlude of rest.  If not, his blog was extremely important to my life and I know to many others.  Although there is still talk of The Dish continuing in some form, I advise you to check it out while he is still at the helm:

The Dish

Why Did Germany Produce So Many Great Composers and Why Does Art Flourish?

I’ve been reading about classical music again lately.  It is one of the forms of music, along with jazz, that I don’t have a real deep understanding of the history of, or that I don’t understand the forms and technical terminology.  It is this insanely large and diverse body of work that I didn’t grow up on, which can be intimidating if you try to dive into as an adult.  My parents taught me to see it on rare occasion.  Sometimes they played it around the house.  I also had the typical public school music education, but honestly a lot of that has been lost to the cloudy fog of memory.  So I am left to my own devices to navigate something the size of an ocean.  The book I’m reading is a really good introduction.  It is called Classical Music:  The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works.  It is by Phil G. Goulding.

The author begins the book by telling the reader how he came up with the list and is very conscious that this list, or any other, is not perfect.  It is simply a means to start a conversation and to initiate the new.  What amazed me at the very beginning, and what I never put together on my own, was how many of the titans of Western music were German.  The author puts 18 Germans in the top 50 on his list.  (The author is American.)

So in learning about classical music a new set of questions arise.  What was going on in Germany that allowed for such an wealth of talent?  What was going on culturally, economically, and politically that set the stage for a certain art form to thrive?  Why in 1960’s America and England did rock and pop music suddenly explode into being, at a level of quality that has not since been equaled?

Art of any kind is not created in a vacuum.  Artists have to be able to earn a living so that they can focus and hone their talents.  If someone has to work 12 hours a day in a mine they are probably not going to be able to develop the high level of skills that especially something like classical music takes.  Whether it is paying for recording time now, or assembling an orchestra in the past, there has to be the means to do so.  There also need to be a culture that is at least somewhat receptive to new ideas and talent.  Their needs to be some kind of audience, even if it is just the wealthy, that has the skill set to appreciate and demand more of art.  That’s not saying that there won’t always be some kind of brilliant art in any society, but for it to be widespread there must be an audience that is receptive and appreciative of what is going on for it to thrive.

Also, although political turmoil can often inspire great works of art, too much political turmoil can also crush art in its cradle.  Mikhail Bulgakov is an interesting study.  He was a novelist and playwright in Russia who wrote the classic The Master and Margarita among others.  That book is considered a masterpiece and it was inspired partially by what was going on in Stalinist Russia.  On one hand he might never have created his masterpiece if he did not find inspiration in the political events of the day, which were extremely oppressive.  However, many of his works were banned.  Would he have possibly written more in an open society?  That is something we will never know.  However, he was spared when many others were not because he was liked by Stalin.  How many other writers work was destroyed, or how many writers were themselves destroyed, before their work ever came to be?  Even in Stalinist Russia there was still the basics of a functioning society, however repressive.  What if there was a war so brutal in a country that it descended backwards to where everyone was living in a primitive tribal society, and if so how much art would be created then?

Again, these are all questions I don’t have answers for, but I think they are worth thinking about, especially in relation to modern life.  Why is it that television is producing so many great shows that have some degree of mass appeal, while the most popular recording stars are often completely vapid?  Questions, questions, questions…