The Classics: Looking Back, Looking Forward
At the end of the 19th century, following the emergence of technological invention, surging cities, and thinkers like Darwin, Freud, and Marx, disruptive rumblings—foreshocks—shook the world of the Western arts.
By the 1920s, the philosophical and aesthetic earthquake of modernism had separated artists from their artistic forebears. Impressionism made clear that art was a self-conscious act; the “-isms” that followed became increasingly abstract. Musical composition meandered from harmony; literature no longer presented reliable narratives; and dance, theater, and even opera distanced themselves from straightforward storytelling.
Fine art, literature, music, theater, and dance turned to innovation as a primary aesthetic creed and Ezra Pound’s “Make it new” defined the movement.
The arts suffered a major aftershock in the 1960s when feminists and minority voices, long underrepresented, surfaced. The healthy influx of voices revitalized the performing, visual, and literary arts, but further separated art from its roots.
Today, that rift may be closing a bit. Classical music blogs are offering complete works rather than snippets; opera singers like Joyce DiDonato are reinvigorating the public’s appetite for baroque music; the Atelier movement in New York is re-exploring representational painting; and Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, is captivating audiences with spectacular all-male productions of Shakespeare, to list a few examples.
But the more than 100-year disruption to the arts of the past provokes questions: Are the classics worth holding on to? Do they have a place today?
This series of articles asks practitioners of the classical arts—actors, musicians, singers, writers, dancers, painters—as well as those associated with the arts—curators, galleries owners, producers, educators—to respond to why they think the texts, forms, and methods of the classics are worth keeping and why they continue to look to the past for that which inspires and speaks to us.
Educator Andrew Kern: The Classics Ignite Our Desire to Learn, to Honor Others
Not everyone likes school, but everyone loves to learn. “Star Wars” fans light up when they learn something new about the franchise’s movies or actors... Read more
Ballerina Ashley Tuttle: Classics Reveal Our Essential Humanity
Beauty in the arts comes from human emotion honestly expressed, a quality often found in the classics, says ballerina and Tony-nominated actress and dancer Ashley... Read more
Classical Music Producer Leonid Fleishaker: The Classics Lead Us to See the Colors of Life
Accompanied by a pianist, 11 violinists in formal evening attire (only two of them men) stood across the stage and bodily engaged with the music as... Read more
Suzuki Instructor Devin Arrington: Classical Music Training Can Break Down Barriers
Cradling the violin under his chin, holding the bow just so, a 5-year-old violinist was rendering a lovely Bach minuet—lovely until he got to the... Read more
Polyphonic Music: Classics Worth Treasuring
For tenor Tom Jim Solon, who co-founded New York-based Canticum Scholare, early music is a miracle in many ways. The very fact that medieval, Renaissance,... Read more
Organist Paul Jacobs: The Classics Give Purpose to Humanity’s Suffering
Paul Jacobs, the only organist to ever win a Grammy, believes that the classics transform humanity’s inevitable pain and give it meaning. It is the... Read more
Educator Jeremy Tate: The Classics Can Help Us Build a Better Future
Do we value self-control or indulgence? Do we value kindness and generosity or competitive self-interest? These are the questions educator Jeremy Tate asks us to... Read more
Actress Tracy Arnold: The Classics Ease Our Loneliness
When actress Tracy Michelle Arnold was in sixth grade, she was asked to read aloud the role of Calpurnia in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” In the scene,... Read more
Composer William Vollinger: The Classics Keep Artists Humble
Composer William Vollinger writes deeply humane works: Hearing his song for soprano and clarinet, “The Child in the Hole,” we ache for a small boy... Read more
Pianist Maria Asteriadou: Classical Music Can Deeply Satisfy Us
Pianist Maria Asteriadou believes that classical music can reach us emotionally, powerfully, and directly, such that it can be deeply satisfying—whatever people’s walks of life... Read more
Poet Betsy Hughes: Classical Poetry Offers Us Strength
A sonnet by Betsy Hughes offers unmistakable relief; you can actually understand what you are reading. Words in glistening, clear images form ideas, which gather... Read more
Piano Accompanist Raymond Beegle: The Classics Are Our Hope
“The primary function of great art, that is classical art, is to convey the feelings, the deeper feelings of one person to another. This kind... Read more
Costume Designer Rachel Healy: Classics Connect Us to Our Humanity
Costume designer Rachel Healy believes the classic arts—ballet, classical music, theater, literature, and the fine arts—are a reflection of the truth about ourselves. Through them... Read more
Pianist Michael Scales: The Classics Make Shared Experiences Live
Two classical forms are Michael Scales’s mainstay: classical music and ballet. As pianist and music director for the New York Theatre Ballet, he believes classics... Read more
Director John Langs: Classic Themes and Forms Have Undeniable Power
For director John Langs, both the universal themes of classic texts and the vehicle delivering the themes make them relevant; more than relevant, they make... Read more
Ani Art Academy: Classics Inspire Virtuosity
What artist Kevin Moore of Ani Art America finds valuable about classical art is that it inspires the artist toward virtuosity, and virtuosity arises from... Read more
Theater of War Founder Bryan Doerries: Classic Texts Are Ancient Technology
All four hundred people seemed to lean forward in their seats. Eight hundred eyes locked on the four actors sitting behind a table in front... Read more
Ballet Company Founder Diana Byer: Classical Ballet Offers Us Perspective
What classical ballet can offer, not only to dancers but to the general public, is an idea of what came before us, says Diana Byer,... Read more
Painter, Songwriter Eloy Torrez: Classical Arts Spark Growth in Artists
Painter, muralist, and songwriter Eloy Torrez says the classical arts, both art and music, have inspired him to evolve as an artist. It is not... Read more
Artist Robert Florczak: Classical Ideals Give Culture Depth
For artist Robert Florczak, the ideals of classical art are what is worth preserving. Unless we build on the standards and ideals of past masters,... Read more