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 - "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.

(more)

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

From Paris to Dallas, architect I.M. Pei created timeless art in the buildings he designed.

Growing up in Dallas, and having heard of architecture, I knew the name I. M. Pei before I had any inkling of his story and his significance in the world of art. (more)

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

What it takes to really get into history are the same qualities it takes to get into art. This is not a coincidence.


Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

When it’s embroiled in controversy, art can’t speak as loudly as the people who speak against it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to it.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” tried to lower the unemployment rate through a vast and varied program of public works.  Along with construction jobs, the WPA also paid artists to decorate new public buildings. (more)

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

The people who participate in a High School Choir Contest testify to the power of the arts.

I recently had the chance to attend a high school choir contest.  I sat in an auditorium while choirs from around the state filed in and out, each performing three pieces for a panel of judges.  The effect was to pull back the curtain and get an appreciation of the work, the stress, the nervousness, the preparation, and the overall effort from countless people for something like this to happen.  (more)

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Taking pieces of songs from different sources, Charles Ives made orchestra music that described America.

I spent some time last week listening the music of an American composer named Charles Ives. Born in Connecticut in 1874, Ives isn’t very familiar to the general population but some say he’s one of the few American composers who ranks alongside Europeans.  He wrote his remarkable second symphony between 1897 and 1902 but it wasn’t performed publicly until 1952.  Leonard Bernstein was among those who tirelessly championed the then mostly unknown Ives and his music. ( more)

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