Musings on Art and Taste

Many years ago, I had a lengthy correspondence with a friend in another part of Canada about what constitutes art. His basic argument was that art was not neutral or generic, but was the final product of high achievement: real art was “good” art. That is, art was defined by recognized masters and their works. Mona Lisa was art, Picasso was art, Monet was art — … (more–>)

Point to Point: The Book From the Ground

A few years back, during one of our Toronto mini-vacations, I was browsing in the shop of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I came across a small book that had no words, just pictures. No, it wasn’t a book with pictures of artworks or photographs: it was a story, told entirely through common icons, symbols, and emoticons. Pictograms, looking not unlike a modernized version of … (more–>)

La Bohème at the Galaxy

Starving bohemian artists living in drafty Paris attics in the mid-19th century, struggling to produce their art, falling in and out of love, sharing and suffering, living and dying, all done while singing. That’s La Bohème in a nutshell. I am embarrassed, even ashamed to admit I’ve never been to the opera. Not to a live performance that is. For someone who has long enjoyed opera … (more–>)

Does poetry make things happen in 2018?

I was thinking about how little poets seem to matter to modern political administrations. Maybe to modern society as a whole. Their light has, it seems, been waning for several decades as our collective attention shifts. I was thinking about what an odd, awkward fit it would be for a poet to be invited to today’s anti-literacy White House. Would he or she have to start … (more–>)

Guillermo, monsters and me

Tucked away at the bottom of a tall display case in the ‘At Home With Monsters’ exhibit at the AGO is a small collection of seven old, well-thumbed books, all by the 19th century French naturalist and entomologist, Jean-Henri Fabre. At the very bottom of the pile, its title almost hidden in the shadows, is The Life of the Spider, first translated into English in 1913, … (more–>)

Cultural appropriation is the new gluten free

Like food fads, political fads wax and wane as the gnat-like attention span of their followers gets diverted by the Next Big Thing. Political Correctness has of late given birth to Cultural Appropriation just like the gluten-free food fad gave rise to lectin-free food fad. All such fads are fuelled by the earnest desire of some people to avoid thinking and follow the crowd over the … (more–>)

Auden, Trump and poetry

There’s a poem by W. H. Auden (1907-73) going the internet rounds these days with suggestions of Auden’s prescience towards the latest American president and contemporary politics. It’s a powerful piece, but the bad news for conspiracy theorists is that Auden was a poet, not a prophet. A good poet, even a great poet, mind you, but not one to predict much of anything outside the … (more–>)

Leonard Cohen deserves the Nobel Prize, too

News that songwriter Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature shook the literati worldwide. Here was a pop icon sitting in the august company of Alice Munro, Mario Vargas Llosa, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter, V.S. Naipaul, Gabriel García Márquez, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Yasunari Kawabata, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, Rudyard Kipling and many others. Novelists, essayists and poets. No songwriters, and especially … (more–>)

Why Fonts Matter

The first problem I have when receiving a new book on typography is that I spend far too much time looking up the typefaces described or sampled therein, and searching for them online, instead of reading. Then I start looking at (and critiquing) the typefaces chosen for the book itself. It’s a trees-not-the-forest kind of wonderment that comes over me. As I am wont to do, … (more–>)

Judas, a Biography

Long before Darth Vader, long before Lord Voldemort, long before Stephen Harper, Judas Iscariot reigned as the supreme icon of evil in Western mythology. Judas betrayed God. How much worse can you get?* For 2,000 years we’ve used the term Judas to refer to anyone who betrayed anything, any cause, any belief, any friendship. Yet, like all the icons of evil that came before, and who have followed, … (more–>)

The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproduction

I have been reading the essays of the late critic, Walter Benjamin, most famous for his 1936 piece, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproduction (an earlier translation of this essay is available here). Wikipedia notes of this essay that it has been, …influential across the humanities, especially in the fields of cultural studies, media theory, architectural theory[1] and art history. Written at … (more–>)

Anthony and Cleopatra

While Julius Caesar is my favourite of all Shakespeare’s plays, I think Anthony and Cleopatra is my second favourite. I know it’s hard to choose any favourites from his plays, they’re all so good, but this one seems to resonate with me more than most others, enough to encourage me to reread it this week. Perhaps it’s because both lead characters are past their prime (as … (more–>)

Shakespeare Changed Everything

I have been reading an entertaining little book called How Shakespeare Changed Everything, which, as the title suggests, is about the pervasive influence the Bard has had on pretty much everything in our lives ever since he started putting quill to paper. Stephen Marche’s book was described in the NatPost as a, “sprightly, erudite sampling of Shakespeare’s influence on absolutely everything.” Reviewer Robert Cushman isn’t always … (more–>)

Marcus Aurelius

I continue to be profoundly moved by the wisdom of the classical authors. It’s often hard to accept that some of them were writing two or more millennia ago: many seem so contemporary they could have been written this century. Of late – within the past year or so – I’ve been reading Lucretius, Aristotle, Horace, Cicero, Seneca, Pliny the Elder*… and more recently Marcus Aurelius. … (more–>)

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