David and Art

Monday 4:44am, 6:44am, 8:44am and 5:44pm

Art reveals the world to us in new ways.  On KWBU, we have a new weekly feature focusing on art.

The module is hosted by David Smith, 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.

Follow David on Twitter @DavidASmith12

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Robert Frank was an artist who showed what photography could reveal about ourselves.

Great art shows us something fundamental about ourselves. It can show us things in a fresh way that we thought we knew; it can show us something that we may not have known; and it can show us something that we may not want to know.

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Western art is both popular and very familiar - we know it when we see it. But there are some western artists working today who are innovating within the style and who are worth seeking out. 


Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

The Texas Commission on the Arts is a quiet state agency that seeks to spread access to the arts to everyone in the state.

Here’s a little Texas tidbit for those who have grown tired of telling friends from elsewhere that we have 254 counties: The state of Texas now offers more than 500 different kinds of specialty license plates.

I’m oddly impressed by this, but I’m much more pleased by the fact that anywhere I’ve gone in the state the most prevalent one of these seems to be the “State of the Arts” plate.  For every one of them, the Texas Commission on the Arts receives $22 of the $30 annual special plate fee. And I think it’s a relatively safe bet that most of the people who have one on their car count as a friend of the arts.

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Feeling as though you are completely surrounded by a work of art is to appreciate, if only for a moment, its potential power over how we see the world.

One of the purposes of art is to transport you into another frame of reference, another place, into someone else’s experience and point of view.  The more immersive the art experience, the more you are transported.  I recently had experiences with visual art that were totally immersive and, because of that, totally transformative. 

Next year the Jets and the Sharks will again square off in a remake of one of the twentieth century's great works of art.

Politics on the island of Puerto Rico is unsettled lately. Last month after overwhelming protests, the governor resigned, dogged by accusations of corruption and general mismanagement of recovery efforts following hurricane Maria.  A few days later the Puerto Rican Supreme Court ruled that his successor had been installed unconstitutionally and decreed that a former Secretary of Justice should be governor.  And so now she is but not without detractors. 

David and Art - "Ambiguity"

Aug 12, 2019
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Most of us aren't very comfortable with a lot of ambiguity, but it's a key element in great art. 

When I walk into the classroom to teach history, I don't set out to tear down people like Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. What I do, however, is tell a very human story full of complexity and ambiguity, which inevitably begins to - if not exactly contradict - at least complicate the more simple stories so many of us heard when we were younger. 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Creative choreography and graceful movements are two key ingredients in turning human motion into art.

Earlier this summer I sat down in an auditorium here in town to watch my daughter dance in her last recital of the season. 

There are four dance companies in the studio where my daughter dances and each did several numbers over the course of the four-act show. 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

With the disappearance of editorial cartoons from newspapers, we lose an example of the way art can shape our opinions. 

Word comes that our nation's newspaper of record - The New York Times - has discontinued editorial cartoons. No more of these will grace its opinion pages. Is this a big deal? Well, it is, once you reflect on the power that art has to convey messages beyond the ability of words and our apparent unease in the presence of such power. 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

If it looks just like advertising, can it really be a work of art?

Could a can of soup be art? No, wait, I said that wrong. Can a painting of a soup can be art? A clean, exact reproduction: can that be a work of art?

The question of course pertains to pop artist Andy Warhol. In 1962, he painted a precise rendering of a can of Campbell’s tomato soup on a white, blank background, and it became one of the most famous works of art of the 20th century.

The Campbell’s soup can was something of an American icon at the time, and Warhol ultimately created a series of 32 canvases, one for each flavor of soup then available. As do many flavors of modernism, Warhol’s work creates skepticism among some people. It’s difficult to see why prepackaged imagery, no matter how skillfully mimicked onto a canvas, should qualify as original art. (more)

David and Art - "Books"

Jul 18, 2019
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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

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.

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Alternative newspapers are an important element in a city's art scene.

In 1928 modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg said that "art is from the outset naturally not for the people," and over the past 150 years or so, plenty of other Modernists have said similar things about their art, and this is certainly true for a  lot of their work. But I sometimes wonder if almost all great art is a poor fit with today's culture and in some real way an alternative to it. 

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

When school administrators and doctors realize the arts can help them do their jobs better, we should all take note.


Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Hearing an unexpected piano piece in church can open doors we didn’t even know existed.


Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

On D-Day in World War II, a French painter came ashore with the Allied armies. His art would be forever changed because of it.


Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

The greatest works of art circulate slowly through the world.  We may only get one chance to see some of them.

I was speaking with a friend of mine recently about a particular piece of music and she commented that she would like to hear it live sometime in her life.  I agreed and later her comment got me thinking about how a direct, in-person encounter with a piece of music or a painting can literally be a once in a lifetime experience.

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