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

David and Art - Openminded

15 hours ago
Joe Riley

Familiarity is not the most important element in experiencing art.

What do “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the “Mona Lisa,” Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” all have in common?  Well, for one thing, they’re some of the familiar workhorses of our culture: things that a lot of people automatically think of when they hear the word “art.”

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 

David and Art - "Starting Over"

Jan 4, 2021
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Decades after the start of Modernism, a handful of artists wanted to make art that was part of society again.

We certainly live in unsettled times. Even as the New Year begins and we hope it will be an improvement, not many people are thinking that things are going to instantly return to normal.  On the contrary, we will probably be living with the effects of the crescendoing trauma of the past few years for quite some time.

Those same remarks could have been uttered 100 years ago without changing a single word. Artists in Europe looked around in 1920 and surveyed a society that had been completely uprooted and destroyed.  The most devasting war that anyone could imagine had been followed by a global pandemic that killed more people than the war did.  In the face of this, what were European artists to do? 

A new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City offers us one possible

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Remembering a pianist who created a style of jazz all his own.

I don’t think I would’ve expected an internationally renowned jazzman to have started off in life wanting to be a rancher instead of wanting to play the piano. And it probably isn’t the case very often.  But, it was the case once.

This month is the 100th anniversary of the birth of pianist Dave Brubeck. Brubeck was born in Concord, California on December 6, 1920. His mom taught him and his two older brothers piano lessons. And, as he remembered, his brothers took to music but he did not. He didn’t want to play the piano.  He wanted to follow his dad into ranching.

In the late 1930s, he enrolled in the veterinary program at what’s now the University of the Pacific but apparently his professors recognized something in him even if he did not.  His zoology professor told him to change his major to music and stop wasting both their time.  He graduated in 1942, was drafted into the Army,

David and Art - "History and Art"

Dec 21, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

History and art are interconnected in countless ways, and to understand those connections is a good way to understand both of them better.

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David and Art - "150 and Counting"

Dec 14, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

One of the country's leading museums is celebrating its 150th anniversary and displaying the range of human creativity as it does so.  

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David and Art - "Now You See It...and Him"

Dec 7, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

The appearance of a mysterious work of art allows an overlooked artist to appear as well.

It sounds like something straight out of science-fiction: a mysterious silver monolith standing 10 feet high deep in the remote deserts of Utah.  No one knows how it got there; no one knows how long it’s been there; no one knows who put it there.  Utah state biologists counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter discovered it on the 18th of last month.

Very quickly there was speculation in the art world that it could be the work of a minimalist sculptor named John McCracken, who died in 2011. Those who knew him and his work well however were skeptical.  A spokesman for the gallery that 

David and Art - "Of Possums and Riots"

Nov 30, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

A Comic strip character that once caused a riot reflects the power of art to convey significant messages.

When I was a little boy, I had two animal toys sitting on my bookcase.  One was an alligator standing up on his hind legs and the other was a little gray furry thing wearing a striped shirt. I had a vague sense that the two came from a comic strip, but I really wasn’t sure.  I knew their names, so I—or my parents—had to have been familiar with where they came from.  The alligator’s name was Albert.  The grey thing was a possum named Pogo.

Pogo was a comic strip drawn by Walt Kelly that ran in newspapers from 1948 to 1975.  Kelly was born in 1913 and worked as an animator on the Disney films  

David and Art - "Voting for the Arts"

Nov 23, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Even in times of economic troubles, some cities are choosing to use tax dollars to support their local arts scene.

In Jersey City, New Jersey earlier this month, the election was not just about Biden vs Trump. Voters there had before them the question of a new tax that, if they approved it, they would soon be paying.

And approve it they did, perhaps unlikely enough in today’s climate.  What’s more is that the second largest city in New Jersey has now become that state’s first to establish a municipal tax that will go to support the arts.  Estimates are that it could generate between $1 and 2 million per year. A city arts committee will make decisions about where the money will go.

The Jersey City mayor has worked for two years to get this referendum on the general election ballot.  He didn’t want to just stick a line for funding the arts into the city budget.  Doing that would make it too vulnerable to arbitrary

David and Art - "Creativity Silenced"

Nov 16, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Sometimes we’re reminded that the power of human creativity can be limited only by human frailty.

One of the most creative musicians of the second half of the 20th century was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania on the day World War Two came to an end in Europe.  Keith Jarrett was a piano prodigy almost from the time he was a toddler.  He began piano lessons before he was 3 and gave his first full recital when he was 7.  After high school he went to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music but left after a year to go to New York City and play. Like so many other great players he did a stint in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers after meeting Blakey at a Monday night jam session at the Village Vanguard in 1964.

Like many jazz players, he put a high premium on improvisation, but was determined to push that as far as possible.  In 1973, he began playing totally improvised solo piano concerts.  He would approach the piano with no music

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 - "Modern and Familiar"

Nov 2, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

In his first symphony, composer Virgil Thomson build a bridge to carry his listeners into the past, but to bring them back to the present as well

Most of the time when someone mentions modernism in music, our minds jump to some pretty strange things.  We tend to imagine something with no tonality, plenty of dissonance, weird unpredictable rhythms, and the lack of anything approaching a melody.

But if you listen to the work of, say, Igor Stravinsky--without question a modernist master—you’ll hear melodic touches that have their roots in anything but the modern world. Much of what he did was pull folk melodies from the past and work them through his musical vision—into something new, often revolutionary.

Other composers in the 20th century, and some American ones, experimented with the same thing.  One evening a couple of weeks ago I sat down and listened to Virgil Thomson’s Symphony on a Hymn Tune which he composed while he was in Paris from 1926-1928.  It’s his first symphony, a four-movement piece 

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. 

David and Art - “Philip Guston”

Oct 19, 2020
Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Philip Guston was an artist whose career spanned half of the 20th century and whose paintings are still the source of much discussion.  Maybe now more than ever. 

Painter Philip Guston was born in Montreal, Canada in 1913. His father and mother were immigrants from Russia and when he was seven the family moved to Southern California. His father, despairing over his inability to find work in the new surroundings, committed suicide when Phillip was about10. In part to deal with the grief he turned to art, often locking himself in a little

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

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