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

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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. 

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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 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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,

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


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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  

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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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There are important differences between experiencing something online and experiencing it in person.  But there’s still something good that can come from virtual art.

Is there anyway online content can be made as effective as in-person content? Can it be anywhere close? I know school districts are wrestling with this question right now. It’s at the forefront of their concerns as the uncertainties of the coming school year loom just ahead. I also know very few teachers who think that online content comes anywhere close to the experience of in-person education. 

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The art world is eager to open up from the quarantine, in part because the arts provide something to a society that it gets from no other source.

A couple of weekends ago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston became the first major American art museum to reopen since the country went into lockdown back in March.  On Saturday morning May 23, a score of museum devotees, all in masks and observing proper distancing etiquette,

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Whether dancers, painters, or sax players, artists are a central part of American society.  When economic trouble hits, it’s good if the rest of us remember that.

Last week I mentioned that within the relief and recovery programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression, there were measures specifically designed to help artists who needed relief as much as any American worker.  In helping artists, these programs also nourished American culture.

When you look over the roster of artists who were involved with the New Deal, you’ll find some names you’ve likely heard of.  People like Jackson Pollock, Marsden Hartley, Diego Rivera, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and  

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*This segment originially aired October 22, 2018.

Is art elitist? Is there something in it that’s automatically exclusionary, reserved for only a few people, leaving everyone else outside, puzzled, irate or indifferent? 

I know a lot of people believe this but it bears very little resemblance to what art is really about.

To be sure, great art itself is elite.  Everyone can be creative, but that’s not the same thing. Many people like to draw, but most can’t turn out a masterpiece. I can hum and sing and even make up a tune now and then, but no one will mistake me for a good singer, let alone a composer.  There just isn’t a lot of really

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Helping artists navigate legal questions is a good way to help the local arts scene

A couple of weeks ago when I was talking about the new gig economy law in California, I mentioned that there’s a great deal of uncertainty about who counts as an artist in the eyes of the law.  The day-to-day realities of being a working artist are so far removed from the experiences of most people—certainly from

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

People who play a musical instrument are witnesses to the power of art.

I was walking through the music building the other day at the university and I passed down a long hallway lined with practice rooms. Over the course of a just a couple of minutes—I was walking slowly just to take it all in—I heard violins, pianos, flutes, clarinets, a French Horn, percussion, and a bassoon.  All of the players were working on pieces that sounded difficult, but all were likewise nailing them pretty well, at least when I took my walk.

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