A scene from the opera Dark Sisters by Nico Muhly (photo: Pittsburgh Opera)
At times we treat certain art forms as a closed set. Complete. We want our reliable standards and nothing more, nothing new. Opera has this challenge. Treating the creative period of opera as if it were behind us, we put it into a museum for preservation. Yet why do we resist the new in opera, while embracing new works in other arts like film, visual arts, and music? Composer Nico Muhly gives us reason to support the creation of new work. Yes, we have to preserve the masterpieces of the past and keep presenting them on stage. Yet we should also cultivate a creative environment that encourages artists to create within these great forms.
Read on for an argument on Nico Muhly as a case study for why we need our organizations and our audiences to be a part of the creative process, in “Nico Muhly, Dark Sisters and the Case for New Opera” (click here to read full article).
The Intrinsic Impact of Art on Community
Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate. Located in Millennium Park in Chicago. (Photo: anishkapoor.com)
Many arguments for art ground themselves on extrinsic impacts, economic growth for example, but for communities like individuals, the greatest impact is intrinsic. Just as we as individuals employ art to reflect on questions of substance and explore issues of curiosity and controversy, so too do entire communities find meaning, happiness, and collective identity through art. Yet not often enough do we value art in this way, and it is time that we should. Andrew Swensen writes, “Yes, art makes communities more fulfilled. And yes, a fortunate byproduct of that sensibility is improved economic prosperity. So let’s talk about making artful communities because of the intrinsic impact, and then be pleasantly grateful for the secondary extrinsic consequences that follow.” Fortunately, thanks to the shifting discourse of the 21st century, evident in integrated thinking of TED talks and with a little help from at least one neuroscientist, we may already be heading in the direction of a more unified view of artistic thinking as part of a healthy society.
Join us for our latest reflection on arts and society, “The Intrinsic Impact of Art on Community” (click here to read full article).
Joseph Gaines, the Story of Opera and of an Artist
Joseph Gaines as Pontio Pilato in the 2008 Glimmerglass Opera production of Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot, with Ryan MacPherson as Luzio (Photo: Cory Weaver)
Artists pursue a calling in a special way, yearning to participate in an art form often in the face of long odds for making a career of it. What is an artist to do if their calling is opera? Opera has faced some difficult times in recent years, and it is facing an uncertain future. Yet if it is to have a future at all, it must depend on those with unwavering commitment to realizing the form — to celebrating past masters and new works, and to bringing those creative expressions to an audience. Joseph Gaines, a tenor, seeks to serve an art form that he truly loves. In telling his story, we seek to both learn something about the form itself and about the admirable motivations of the artist, motivations from which we might all learn something even if we ourselves are not artists.
To learn of a good narrative about a career artist and to reflect on the nature of opera, we invite you to read our third installment in the opera series from The Muse Dialogue, “Joseph Gaines, the Story of Opera and of an Artist” (click here to read full article).
The Future of Opera, a Conversation with Christopher Hahn
Mary Cassatt, Woman in Black at the Opera, 1879
The future of opera has many considerations. It must respond to changes in financial markets, in audience tastes, and in the aesthetic direction of an art that has a 400-year history but that also remains productive with new works. Beyond that, it is simply one of the most complex and expensive forms to produce. Consequently, contemporary opera companies are dealing with a number of intersecting issues. How to present new work and find audiences for it, how to mount expensive productions of the historically celebrated repertoire, how to balance the budget in tough financial times, and how to honor the artists who pour their soul into their beloved work. The Muse Dialogue offers some thoughts on the situation, and shares the thoughts of Pittsburgh Opera’s General Director, Christopher Hahn.
Join us for reflections on opera, its history and future, and even on the wonders of nonprofit finance in “The Future of Opera, a Conversation with Christopher Hahn” (click here to read full article).
“That Was Not What I Was Expecting”
A scene from the Pittsburgh Opera production of La Cenerentola (Photo: Pittsburgh Opera)
The Muse Dialogue turns attention now to opera and opens a series with consideration of the barrier of our own presumptions and misconceptions. Opera is among the longstanding art forms now in a state of transition, evolving as it faces the current era of the arts. One of opera’s challenges is surely our own notion of what it is, an often misinformed bias. Andrew Swensen writes, “Opera might well stand at the top of the list of art forms deserving your good-faith effort to dispel preconceptions. You might find yourself having what is perhaps the most frequent response of first-timers: “That was not what I was expecting.”” Along the way, we have the thoughts of Christopher Hahn, the General Director of the Pittsburgh Opera, and a reflection on Richard Wagner’s responsibility for one of opera’s great cliches.
Join us for the first in a series on opera: “That Was Not What I Was Expecting”: To Get to Opera We Must First Get Past Ourselves” (click here to read full article).
Leonardo, gone but not forgotten
We love the arts, and want to preserve them all…or so we think until we realize that we also need to make space for the new. In the process, forms come and go, and some ultimately die out. The process is natural and not necessarily a bad thing unto itself. However, it comes with some difficult questions. Andrew Swensen takes up some of those challenges — the need to cultivate the new, to preserve the old, and to make sure that everyone has a place in the rich world of the arts.
Read on in our latest article, “Aesthetic Darwinism” (click here to read full article).
Amy Enrico, Owner of Tazza D’Oro
As we reflect on the connection between art and business, we should consider the natural connection between them in the fact that both depend on innovation and creativity. They also flourish when we create an environment that feeds thought and imagination, that fuels dialogue and social exchange. The coffee house, once known as the “penny university,” is a microcosm for how to get it right. We trade ideas and learn. We meet new people and grow from fortunate encounters with others. We build community.
Tazza D’Oro, a coffee house in Pittsburgh, exemplifies all the good that comes when a business embraces the spirit of the arts. The result is an environment of creative ferment that feeds both the arts and the “learning organization” that businesses should strive to be. The Muse Dialogue takes a trip to Tazza D’Oro, to understand just how much comes of the intersection between arts and business in “The Penny University: Tazza D’Oro Mixes Art and Business” (click here to read full article).
Athletics Meets Art in the Form of Mario Lemieux (Photo: Pittsburgh Penguins)
Recently Erin Yanacek offered an article on The Muse Dialogue, exploring what she sees as the similarity between her experience as an artist and her experience as an athlete. In the process, she discusses that the topic came out of a debate with colleague Andrew Swensen.
As we always seek to offer the opportunity for dialogue on the arts, Swensen has taken the time to explore everything from dance competitions to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Add a bit of Coppola’s The Godfather, rhythmic gymnastics, and Mario Lemieux’s goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and you come to his argument. And what is that argument? Well, you will have to read on to see if he has been convinced in his response “Artists May Be Like Athletes…But Art is Not”
by Andrew Swensen
It is National Poetry Month, and we at The Muse Dialogue want you to celebrate. I will start with a few suggestions from our own archives…
Last year, I wrote an article titled “Bring Back the Poets,” which holds a special place in my heart. Not necessarily because I think it to be especially good — I will leave you to be the judge of whether it is or not — but rather because it comes from the heart. I have written about many things here, and they all matter in their own way. Yet I have a special place in my heart for poetry. I will not be shy to say that the likes of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Mary Oliver have all changed my life with single works. Among the arts, poetry has so many wonderful qualities — it is portable, so compact that you could copy one and carry it in your wallet; and yet it has the capacity for such impact. Unfortunately, our era seems to have lost its regard for poets, except those who set their lines to music. While I also have great regard for some lyricists out there — John Lennon has penned some powerful lines — we do not spend enough time with the magnificence of the small, the beautiful poem.
You may be interested in hearing from a poet during this month, and we can offer you a couple of those as well. The poet Richard St. John, from our beloved Pittsburgh, offered up a two-part series “The Power of Personal Experience” (the link goes to the first installment, and a link to the second appears at the bottom). St. John has a wonderful sense for how poetry speaks to our individual selves, and to the power of truth. For a different sort of poetic offering, you may also be interested in an interview conducted last year with slam poet and education advocate Taylor Mali. The article also includes links to his work and a video to his performance of “Labeling Keys.”
Beyond those celebrations from our own pages, consider a couple of other wonderful resources. Both the Poetry Foundation and The Writer’s Almanac offer email subscriptions for you to receive a poem every day, and the Poetry Foundation has a host of other wonderful resources as well, all related to poetry, and The Writer’s Almanac includes the literary birthdays of any given date. I subscribe to both, and I encourage you to do so as well. The few minutes that it takes to read a poem can open doors of aesthetic experience that one cannot anticipate. It is a daily discovery, and the practice of checking in with a poem reminds us to always take time for a little art in the everyday moments of our lives.
One last suggestion: write a poem. It does not have to be good. It does not have to be long or complicated. It does not have to be shown to anyone. Yet the very act of artistic creation has its own benefits for the inner self. Cultivate that place in yourself, that place that can issue forth in artistic words. Make it your own private celebration of National Poetry Month.
Reflections on Theological Aesthetics: Overlooked Perspective on Artistic Creativity or Passé Thinking
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
For centuries in cultures around the world, art was conventionally linked to the metaphysical and the religious. Yet in the contemporary age, we tend to veer away from the idea of theological aesthetics. The discourse of discussing art hedges on the theological question by treating even religiously motivated work through the language of cultural studies. Yet Andrew Swensen wonders if the thought of our most theologically motivated artists and aestheticians might then become only history lessons. What are we to do with the likes of Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art or the poetry of Blake, which is so rooted in theological motivation? Swensen writes, “For a variety of reasons, we have largely steered away from considering a connection between art and the area of religion, theology, spirituality and metaphysics.”
Read on in our latest offering from The Muse Dialogue, “Reflections on Theological Aesthetics: Overlooked Perspective on Artistic Creativity or Passé Thinking” (click here for full article).