Alex Ross on Making Art in a Time of Rage

In a thought-provoking post for the New Yorker yesterday, Alex Ross considers that ubiquitous Bernstein quote on replying to violence with music and takes a look at whether “in a time of crisis, the ordinary rituals of making art must cease.”

If artists everywhere were to give themselves over to agitprop, something essential would be lost. To create a space of refuge, to enjoy a period of respite, is not necessarily an act of acquiescence.

Ross goes on to note that “artists of integrity will have no choice in how they respond” and touches on the past examples of Copland and Julius Eastman and–more recently–Ted Hearne and Steven Schick. He concludes with a meditation on Wallace Stevens’s 1941 lecture “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” which leads him to the proposition that perhaps in such circumstances “art becomes a model for the concerted action that can only happen outside its sphere.”

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One thought on “Alex Ross on Making Art in a Time of Rage

  1. Michael Robinson

    My sense is that we have committed great violence upon our children by denying them meaningful music and arts education in both public and private schools, and lacking such orientation, bolstered by the strangling commerciality of radio and television programming (yes, much of this still drives what’s absorbed online), communication and a sense of connectedness suffers, including embracing the glories of divergent cultures and Nature itself as a living entity fragile as a newborn child. I knew someone who claimed to be part of the ruling class, and he admitted that generating income was the modus operandi, and for his set the thought of any compromise over that passion would be like an artist giving up painting, or a musician giving up music.

    While a student at Tanglewood, I had opportunity to interact with Leonard Bernstein, including sitting front row center during a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. During an exposed passage towards the end of the First Movement, the French horn soloist cracked a note, and the violence I felt from Bernstein’s body in instantaneous corporeal reflex was frightening. So yes, we also must learn to sublimate our anger, including all social classes, led by pertinent and persistent swaths of creative rather than conformist artistic milieus forming an essential core of our education leading to qualities and actualities we insist upon in life and liberty.


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