By RICHARD HUNTINGTON - News Critic
Paul Cezanne, who holds the uncontested title of Big Daddy of Modern Art, warned us at the beginning of the century. "Never the brain's logic: if (the artist) succumbs to it, he is lost. Always the logic of the eyes. If he feels correctly, he will think correctly."
After about 1960, nobody much listened to the Master of Aix. The century began with great eyes and ended with mediocre minds.
Painting, the most optical of arts, is now considered a corruption, a dangerous left-over from a colonialist and anti-feminist age. Currently, an artist doesn't "make art," he or she assumes a "strategy." Solitary "geniuses" are no more. Today, the artist has his fingers in everything -- ethnography, commerce, ecology, philosophy, entertainment, fashion, politics, medicine, you name it. How an art work looks is incidental. Like petty gifts, it's the thought behind it that counts.
This great divide between "retinal" (Marcel Duchamp's word) and "mental" art makes the reduction of 20th century art to the Top 10 greats -- a ludicrous proposition in any case -- a very lopsided affair. All "the greats" come in the first half. The second half is more about momentous events -- censorship, the alliance of art and money, the computer's appropriation of image making, the "digitalization" of experience, the museum as entertainment palace and so on. These are likely to be the things that will change the art of the future, not the work of individuals, no matter how meritorious.
What this means is that, as we move beyond mid-century, the list will become increasingly arbitrary and capricious. It's very likely that one of your all-century favorites is missing. Does he or she deserve to be on? Probably. Just like about 683 other worthies. But as Clint Eastwood said in "The Unforgiven" as he was about to kill a pleading Gene Hackman, " "Deserve' has got nothing to do with it."
Here's the list, complete with kick-off dates for critical creations or events.
1. Henri Matisse, 1905: Paints "Woman With a Hat," a conventional subject done in jolting reds, greens and blues made even more jolting by highlights of the most acid yellow. Causes scandal at the Salon d'Autumme. Like a "virgin delivered up to wild beasts in a Roman circus," writes one critic. The Fauves (wild beasts) are born. Matisse goes on into the century to gloriously prove Cezanne's idea that the "logic of the eyes" possesses "correct" -- that is, great and deep -- feeling.
2. Pablo Picasso, 1907: Like everyone else, feels the overwhelming impact of African art. Paints the brutal, sharp-edged "Les Demoiselles D'Avignon." A "philosophic brothel," Apollinaire calls it. The following year, with Georges Braque, invents cubism. For the next 66 years, continues one of the most brilliant (and often violent) dialogues with art the world had every witnessed.
3. Piet Mondrian, 1915: Reduces the universe to a perfected system of horizontals and verticals. "Like religion, Art is superhuman," he says. Creates an art absolute. Later, his most serene designs wind up on blouses and backdrops for TV personalities.
4. Marcel Duchamp, 1917: Submits a urinal to the Society of Independents in New York City. Titles it "Fountain." A marvelous dadaist joke, demonstrating that choice -- a simple declaring -- not visual taste, is the point. For the rest of the century, artists will work out its ramifications.
5. Walt Disney, 1928: Creates Mickey Mouse. With the other Disney characters, Mickey becomes the most universally known visual images of the century. Influences artists from Roy Lichtenstein to Claus Oldenburg.
6. Barnett Newman, 1948: Paints "Onement I." A single vertical stripe on a dark red ground, it sits like a silent meditation on all that came before it.
7. Jackson Pollock, 1948: Executes drip-painting "Black and White." Dismantles all previous ideas about what makes a painting a painting.
8. Andy Warhol, 1962: Paints Campbell Soup cans, thereby forever joining high art and low art. Sounds the death knell for art as expressive vehicle for personal or social values.
9. Maya Lin, 1983: Designs the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Once this profoundly moving public sculpture was installed, it was impossible for anyone to again accuse minimalism of being only an art of remote emotions.
10. Andres Serrano, 1989: Serrano's visually mild but provocatively titled photograph, "Piss Christ" is assaulted by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Begins the slide toward art censorship by politicians and NEA gutting. Century's final example: New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani pulling funding for the Brooklyn Museum over the "Sensation" exhibition.
Rock 'n' Roll
By ANTHONY VIOLANTI - New Critic
Rock 'n' roll was born in the 1950s as a youthful and rebellious musical blend of race, youth culture and sex. Almost five decades later, rock is still that way.
The roots of rock go back to what was called race music, a polite term for black music. Such artists as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and James Brown made the big beat come alive in the early '50s. But they couldn't lead the rock revolution. Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records in Memphis knew what was needed for that job: "a white guy who sounded black."
And that's why Elvis Presley changed the world in 1956.
"Before Elvis, there was nothing," John Lennon once said.
Lennon's band, the Beatles, were influenced by Elvis and the '50s rockers and added a sense of art and intelligence to lead the music into its golden era of the '60s.
By the 1970's, disco arrived and brough a new dance sound to pop music. During the 1980s, MTV and Michael Jackson changed the style of mainstream music, turning songs into little movies.
The same era also sparked a punk revolution. Eventually, that punk movement was transformed during the '90s into grunge and alternative rock. Rap also became a mainstream force.
As the decade, the charts are filled with teenybopper favorites and hip-hop metal bands.
Naming the 10 most influential acts in rock is just about impossible. But it's the time of the season for lists and so we offer one more:
1. Elvis Presley: Once the king and always the king. Elvis is the most important figure in rock 'n' roll.
2. The Beatles: Listen to "Meet the Beatles." Then listed to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band." That is an artistic journey over four years that no other rock band can match.
3. The Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards understood that black music is the essence of rock. The Stones used R&B and melded it with rock like no other band.
4. Jimi Hendrix: Rock's number one guitar innovator. He melded blues, rock, r&b and jazz and transformed the instrument -- and rock music.
5: Bob Dylan: Dylan brough poetry to rock. He influenced the Beatles and just about everyone else. When Dyland plugged in, rock turned on.
6. Motown: Barry Gordy's record company set a standard for "the music of young America." Motown gave rock and pop soulful grace.
7. Bruce Springsteen: The Boss had a rocking heart and the soul of a folk singer. Springsteen took his listeners on joyous rides but also make them think about suffering people left behind.
8. Tina Turner: Her soulful, gritty vocals and hip-shaking dance moves oozed a blatant sexuality usually reserved for only male rockers. Tina not only shook, she sizzled.
9. Michael Jackson: It's hard to believe that his career stretches back to 1969, as a kid singer with the Jackson 5. Jackson's videos like "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" popularized MTV and helped him sell more than 40 million copies of his album, "Thriller."
10. Nirvana: Nirvana combined punk with metal and rock and came up with an alternative grunge sound.
By JEFF SIMON - News Critic
Movies were the defining art form of the 20th century. It's that simple. In the 19th century, Walter Pater said that all art forms aspired to the condition of music. In the 20th, all roads lead to the movies -- Hollywood movies above all. They changed every other art form.
At the end of the 20th century, impressionable young people still yearn to see their lives as movies. We know now that the massacre at Columbine High School was perpetrated by kids who wanted a story big and gory enough to be told in a movie by Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg. (To understand them, see Neal Gabler's remarkable book "Life: The Movie.")
The great movie figures in the century about to end were, as often as not, monsters. It's their work and their influence that created the movie century and still compel us.
The great cinematic figures of the 20th century and the movies that explain why:
1. D. W. Griffith and "The Birth of a Nation": "History written with lightning," Woodrow Wilson called Griffith's history of the Ku Klux Klan. "Appalling, disgraceful racism," it's widely called now. Griffith wasn't the first epochal artist to be a horror when seen out of his time and certainly won't be the last. But Griffith invented the basic grammar of narrative film. There are moments of oceanic power in "Birth of a Nation." It isn't Griffith's version of history we cherish now, it's the lightning that David Wark Griffith channeled into aesthetic electricity for everyone who came after.
2. Charlie Chaplin and "Modern Times": He was the first truly great film comedian as well as the first to see himself as so much more. Nickelodeons were built to house his audiences. Later, movie palaces were. He, too, hasn't aged well. Buster Keaton seems so much more modern and classic at the same time.
3. Orson Welles and "Citizen Kane": What Griffith invented, he reinvented to bring it into the sound era. Welles was the archetypal film genius.
4. Akira Kurosawa and "Seven Samurai": "Seven Samurai" is the first great international film. It begat John Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven," which, along with Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," begat the Spaghetti Western which, in turn, begat the delirious Romantic genre epic of which Coppola's first two masterful "Godfather" films remain the greatest examples.
5. Jean-Luc Godard and "Breathless": It took a French intellectual (actually a cafe full of them) to let the world know how sweepingly powerful American genre films would always be. Godard was film's first great retro-romantic revolutionary. The Bogart-worshiping "Breathless" is the first major movie to use other movies as its content.
6. Alfred Hitchcock and "Psycho": The modern film aesthetic was born out of Hitchcock's neuroses and sadism. Out of his own neurotic needs, in "Psycho," he directed the audience as much as he directed the film. It wasn't his actors who were cattle in "Psycho," it was us. With "Psycho," Pavlovian audience manipulation became the goal of mainstream movies. Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies, "Die Hard," "Twister," "Armageddon," every clockwork thriller and blockbuster you can think of, were all born from the tyrannizing shower in "Psycho."
7. Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and "Easy Rider": A country and a self to discover simultaneously on a change-purse budget, all away from the boardroom dictators and accountants. The American independent film was officially born with "Easy Rider."
8. George Lucas and "Star Wars": The Blockbuster Era begins. Conglomerates get a whiff of the astounding hundreds of millions of dollars that can be made from a single film and its merchandising. Movies would never be the same again.
9. Oliver Stone and "Platoon": Now a horror, Stone once wrote real history with lightning. He made the only American movie that ever healed a gaping national wound. Until Stone's "Platoon," no one could quite reconcile the horrible polarities created by the Vietnam War. Vietnam vet Stone codified the healing mainstream position on Vietnam: anti-war but pro-vet. A nation could love its soldiers again while still despising a wretched war. And all because a movie showed everyone how.
10. Steven Spielberg and "Schindler's List": The greatest cinematic practitioner of the Blockbuster Era performed a radical act that generations of his forebears were terrified to even hint at. In what is probably the greatest narrative film about the Holocaust, he publicly wore the mantel of Judaism that all the old Hollywood moguls and big shots were terrified to wear in public, lest they awaken the sleeping giants of bigotry. In doing so, the Blockbuster King liberated Hollywood filmmakers from all sorts from fear.
Jazz and Blues
By MARY KUNZ - News Staff Reviewer
1. Louis Armstrong: Jazz's first superstar, he set down many of the hallmarks of jazz -- the scat singing, for instance, and the break, which paved the way for jazz solos. His phrasing, vocally but more importantly in his cornet and trumpet playing, influenced both instrumentalists and singers.
2. Norman Granz: With his Jazz at the Philharmonic series, this impresario made jazz mainstream. Booking such artists as Nat Cole, Oscar Peterson and Lester Young, millionaire Granz took the high road, battling segregation and paying artists well. His record labels Verve and Pablo changed the face of jazz recording. Granz dealt insightfully with artists, allowing pianist Art Tatum to play things in his unique way while propelling Ella Fitzgerald to record a series of "songbooks" -- a tribute trend that continues to this day.
3. John Hammond: In the '30s, his "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts defied segregation to popularize jazz, spotlighting such artists as Big Joe Turner, Count Basie and Big Bill Broonzy and boogie legends Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. (In the second concert, featuring Benny Goodman, black and white artists shared the stage.)
4. Lonnie Johnson: When Robert Johnson was playing Delta juke joints, he used to call himself "one of the Johnson boys," hoping to be associated with the great guitarist Lonnie Johnson. New Orleans-born, Lonnie Johnson had a jazzy, virtuosic style that vitally influenced not only virtually all blues guitarists who followed (from Robert Johnson to T-Bone Walker to B.B. King) but jazz guitarists as well, starting with Charlie Christian. His smooth, crooning voice anticipated Nat "King" Cole.
5. Al Tinney: A longtime Buffalo resident, he was at the root of the be-bop revolution in New York in the '40s. Chuck Mancuso, in his book "Popular Music and the Underground," describes how Charlie Parker quit Jay McShann's band so he could stay in New York and listen to Tinney -- a story corroborated by jazz authority Leonard Feather. (After Tinney introduced him to this new sound, Parker became his sideman.) The drummer Max Roach recalled, "When we were working at Monroe's Uptown House, Bud (Powell) wasn't the dominant force like Allen was. He (Tinney) was the piano (player) of note." Dizzy Gillespie, in his memoirs, cites Monroe's as the birthplace of bebop. It is argued by scholars that without Tinney, be-bop as we know it might never have been born.
6. George Gershwin: Dozens of his songs are jazz standards. His harmonies, too, were ground-breaking: In Mancuso's book, Tinney (who helped with the Broadway premiere of "Porgy and Bess" in 1935) argued that Gershwin's contributions to jazz have been under recognized by historians.
7. Bessie Smith: In 1924, she was the highest-paid black entertainer. Intensely emotional, with a huge voice, she claimed a massive influence: Every blues singer who follows owes her an artistic debt, and so do jazz singers (Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, etc.).
8. Muddy Waters: Moving to Chicago in the '40s, he successfully and almost single-handedly combined the old country Delta blues styles he inherited from Charley Patton with the new citified, sax-driven blues. The result was the Chicago blues style anchored by Chess Records.
9. Frank Sinatra: His suave singing influenced not only singers but instrumentalists. Songs became popular because of Sinatra. And this was his doing: he frequently chose to sing songs that had been around for a while, defying the habit that singers used to have of singing only brand-new material.
10. Duke Ellington: He began with growly "jungle" sounds at the Cotton Club in the '30s -- and went on to push the limits of jazz in every way. He treated his orchestra as an instrument, writing material with co-creator Billy Strayhorn to suit the players' strengths. And he attracted legions of legends, from Al Hibbler to Paul Gonsalves to Johnny Hodges. As for his legacy of compositions, it's impossible to imagine jazz without it.