David Smith

Host of David and Art

David Smith, host of David and Art, is an American historian with broad interests in his field.  He’s been at Baylor University since 2002 teaching classes in American history, military history, and cultural history.  For eight years he wrote an arts and culture column for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and his writings on history, art, and culture have appeared in other newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Dallas Morning News.

The very first record he remembers listening to when he was little was Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic’s recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and that set him on a lifelong path of loving music and the arts.  He’s loved history for almost as long, and finally saw them come together in his career.  He believes that history illuminates the arts and the arts illuminate history—that they co-exist and are best understood together.

Ways to Connect

Telling the story of a woman who moved American painting onward from a once dominant style.

Artist biographies are, for me, a pretty safe bet when it comes to reading material. If it’s about an artist I like, whose work I like, I can get a lot out of a good biography.  There’s a new one out of an artist named Helen Frankenthaler that, while I haven’t got the book yet, is giving me a chance to reflect on her and her work and I’m looking forward to reading it.  She deserves a good 

From straight jazz to electronic fusion, to duets with banjo players, American pianist Chick Corea did it all, and left a lifetime of music.


Art forms never simply disappear as long as there are people dedicated to keeping them alive.

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David and Art - "Ragtime"

Mar 1, 2021

A Texan born shortly after the end of the Civil War was instrumental in creating one of America's most distinctive styles of music.


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David and Art - August Wilson

Feb 8, 2021

Thinking about a great playwright, and his century-long account of what life was like for millions of Americans.

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David and Art - "Books"

Jan 25, 2021

What you read can open up the doors of the art world.


This episode orginially aired July 15, 2019

As a historian, I’m often asked if I can recommend books to people who are interested in learning more about art and the art world. I love questions like this because I’m a perfect example of how easily you can educate yourself about things. All it takes is curiosity and the desire to do it.

One good place to start is with an overview of American art. My favorite is critic Robert Hughes’ 1997 book “American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America.” It’s not written as a scholarly text, but for general readers who want to know. Such an overview provides a good chronology of the artists and movements that come and go through the ages.

Jazz isn’t the only art form that contains individualism and improvisation.

If you happened to catch my Christmas jazz show last month, you heard me remark about the individualistic character of jazz, even in the context of old tried-and-true Christmas standards. The impulse behind that however is by no means limited to jazz.  Individualism is at the core of all the arts.

It would be too simplistic to say that all art is improvisational Like a jazz solo. But it is accurate to say that all art comes from the workings of the brain of the individual artist. And all artists are different. So when you hear an improvised jazz solo you are 

Outside pressures about what a museum should display intrude on what a curator’s job should be.

The recent decision by a quartet of prestigious art museums to postpone an exhibit on which they had collaborated reminded me of a controversy from the past.

Ten years ago this month the Smithsonian Institution found a 

David and Art - “An Exhibit On Hold”

Oct 26, 2020

When are controversial images in a series of paintings enough to make four prestigious museums postpone an exhibit for four years?

Last week I talked about an artist named Philip Guston whose remarkable career took him from realism to abstract expressionism, but then when he was almost 60 he shocked the art world by going back to representationalism.  As soon as he made the change, a curious cast of characters began to populate Guston’s new style.  Indeed one of the most distinctive features of his new worl was the appearance of hooded figures that look like they could be members of the Ku Klux Klan.   They’re not represented as people—not exactly.  They’re portrayed simply as cartoonish but vaguely menacing hoods and hands. 

Virgil Thomson, who wrote memorable music and wrote about music memorably, was an insightful artist whose opinions on art remain fresh more than 30 years after his death.

The other day a book arrived in my mailbox that I was really looking forward to receiving.  It was the Library of America’s edition of the music writing of a critic and composer named Virgil Thomson, an artist who ought to have greater name recognition among the American public.

Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri the year William McKinley beat William Jennings Bryan the first time.  He studied piano from an early age and after high school went off to Harvard where he studied music, specifically the piano works of Erik Satie.  He also sang with the Harvard Glee Club which took him to Europe for the first time.  He loved it and after graduation moved to Paris where he lived from 1925 until 1940.  There he fell in with an impressive crowd of artists including 

An original painting on the cover of a magazine reminds us that we’re all human, and we’re in this together.

The September issue of Vanity Fair has a cover that will catch your eye, even from a rack of nondescript magazines.  It features an original painting of Breonna Taylor in a wash of bright turquoise and teal.  It’s one of the most striking magazine covers I’ve seen in a long time.  And it puts the power of art on clear display.

Breonna Taylor was a young woman who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky back in March.  She was 26.  The artist commemorating her in this painting is Amy Sherald.  She’s originally from Columbus,

David and Art - "Save our Stages"

Aug 24, 2020

Saving our stages means keeping afloat places where people can hear the magic of live music.

On one of my last voyages out before the lockdown last spring, I went to New York City for a couple of days to give a talk.  New York is one of my favorite places and I had one night free, all to myself.  I wanted to hear some jazz and I wound up downstairs at Birdland, one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world, listening to a talented cabaret singer named Marissa Mulder.  She did a really nice set of Lennon and McCartney songs backed by guitar, bass, piano, and drums.  The crowd was knowledgeable, appreciative, and responded really well.

Just a few weeks later Birdland was closed.  I felt like I’d been on the last plane out of Casablanca.

In a grim cascade from coast to coast, all music venues great and small closed within a few days.  The group I play with here had a gig cancelled on March 12 and there’s been no place to play since.  I would like people to understand that places that host live music represent a crucial piece of the art scene in any town, from Waco to New York City; and, beginning last spring, the question quickly became how, and if,

A flowering of Russian art a century ago changed what we thought a painting or a ballet had to be. 


Over 100 years ago, Russian folk music provided the doorway to a flowering of Modernism. 

Anytime you hear the word “Russian” these days, there’s a good chance one of the next words you hear will be “interference.”  The image of Russia this inevitably creates is that of a power operating on the fringes of Europe—or on the fringes of western democracies more generally. It reflects a suspicion that has a long pedigree.  After the fall of Napoleon, the European states all looked apprehensively at Russia with  

Seeing Hamilton reinforces what the Ancient Greeks knew about theater.

I knew every word of most of the songs, if not all of them. I knew all of the little inside references to other classics of musical theater and at least a fair number of the ones to the world of contemporary pop music. I knew the history, of course; I knew the story. But I wasn’t prepared for the effect that finally watching the staged version of Hamilton had on me.

I talked just last week about the way in which online offerings are not the same as seeing something in person, whether in a school classroom, or a concert, museum, or opera, so I knew that

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