For a change let’s talk about two of the good things in America. One of them is its art; the other its music. In my opinion they have nothing to do with patriotism or with politics, really. Protest art for me is almost a contradiction in terms. The fact that great art can still be created in America is one of the few promising elements in these days of retraction, reaction, and neo-fascist propensities.
Writing in The New Yorker, critic Peter Schjeldahl called Richard Serra’s work (shown above) “a tuning fork to gauge the degree of fact in other aspects of a world awash in pixelated illusions.” I take that to mean an assertion of solidity and truth against the world of illusions (pixelated and otherwise) that we too much live by.
With Serra’s art, says Schjeldahl, “You’re knocked sideways out of comparisons to other art in any medium or genre.” Great art always makes you fight for comparisons. It almost mocks language. Those of us who have written about music know this. Sviatoslav Richter, a Russian, played Bach like no other pianist.
His artistry has nothing to do with our present or past conflicts or with politics. Richter played to great acclaim in America and around the world. We appreciate and love his playing in ways that have nothing to do with nationality or policy. Art, as they say, makes strange bedfellows.
Great art is certainly no antidote to all the problems now facing the United States. Nor is it any kind of panacea for the many ills that plague us. The fact that America could create a music like jazz is, still, extraordinary. Composers like Gershwin and Ives, pianists like Monk, and newcomers like Cécile McLorin Salvant should be celebrated.
Like Richard Serra’s work, their creativity is part of America’s remarkably rich artistic culture, still surviving though always under one threat or another. Right now we could use a few celebrations.