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

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 - "The Image of the President"

Feb 22, 2021

From the beginning of the American republic, artists have played a role in shaping the image of the presidency.

The U.S. presidency is much on people’s minds these days, to put it mildly, and over the past few years there’s a been lot of talk about the proper kind of image the President should put forward.

Today is George Washington’s birthday and I’m thinking of an interesting book entitled The Painter’s Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art by historian Hugh Howard. It tells the story of the many times Washington patiently 

David and Art - "Reading Zola"

Feb 15, 2021

When a great artist returns to a topic over and over again it’s a sign that if we pay attention we could experience something significant.

Last week I mentioned that I hope to someday read through all of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays from start to finish. I think that in doing so, what I would get out of it would be a better understanding of Wilson’s vision of life and a very different and valuable angle on American history.

There’s another author I’m already doing something like this with.  A friend and colleague of mine in the history department and I have undertaken to read through an entire cycle of novels by a French writer named Emile Zola. 

Zola was a master of a genre that in Europe was called “naturalism,” but among most

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 - "What Art Can Express"

Feb 1, 2021

Art has the ability to express emotions that words are incapable of relating.

I once heard songwriter David Crosby—of the group Crosby, stills, and Nash—remark that as an artist, his job was to put into words things that basically weren’t compatible with language. It was 2014 and he was speaking in the context of a medical procedure he had had and how, upon emerging healthy from it, he was, for the first time in his life, speechless at what the doctors had done for him.  He said as an artist, he was completely unfamiliar with that feeling.  It revealed to him the gravity of the situation he’d been through.  

That quotation stuck with me.  Indeed, it was a sign of his ability as an artist that he was able to grasp and express that role for an artist. It’s not just songwriters who do this.  All artists take upon themselves the job of making communicable

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.

David and Art - Openminded

Jan 18, 2021
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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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