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Sebastian Smee (Photo: Boston Globe)

What great news—Sebastian Smee, art critic for the Boston Globe, has won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Hats off!

Smee is the first art writer at the Globe whose opinion has mattered to me. His reviews are carefully crafted and thoughtful. And as knowledgeable as he is about contemporary art, his writing is engaging for anyone to read. With the current oversupply of mandarin, self-referential, “for the cognescenti only” art criticism, Smee goes against that trend. In their announcement of his selection, the Pulitzer board pointed to Smee’s “vivid and exuberant writing about art’’ and his knack for “bringing great works to life with love and appreciation.’’ All true. Refreshingly so.

On a more personal note, I have been carrying on my own “dialogue” with Smee over the past few years on Slow Muse. So much of what he has written has been noteworthy to me, and the following posts all make reference to his writings:

Chilhuly at the MFA
Mark Bradford: Silent Strength
Stella, Smee and Subjectivism
Bad Art Poisoning
Liang at the ICA
The Intuition Deliminator
The Fundamental Geometries
Fascination of Feeling: Pick One
That Damned Underbelly
Fairey: The Conversation Continues
Elizabeth Peyton: In Between
Tara Donovan

For those of you who are not familiar with Smee, here’s his bio from the Globe:

Sebastian Smee is the Globe’s art critic. He joined the paper’s staff from Sydney, where he served as the national art critic for The Australian. Before that he worked in London, where he was art critic at the Daily Telegraph and a contributor to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Art Newspaper, Modern Painters, and Prospect magazine. In 1994 he received a bachelor of arts degree, with honors, in fine arts from Sydney University. He reviews books regularly for the Spectator and is himself the author of books and essays on the British painter Lucian Freud as well as “Side by Side: Picasso v. Matisse.”



Naturally it is night.
Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way
Which has a strange sound.

This way the dust, that way the dust.
I listen to both sides
But I keep right on.
I remember the leaves sitting in judgment
And then winter.

I remember the rain with its bundle of roads.
The rain taking all its roads.

Young as I am, old as I am,

I forget tomorrow, the blind man.
I forget the life among the buried windows.
The eyes in the curtains.
The wall
Growing through the immortelles.
I forget silence
The owner of the smile.

This must be what I wanted to be doing,
Walking at night between the two deserts,

W.S. Merwin

Congratulations to Merwin for winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Merwin has published over twenty books of poetry and nearly twenty books of translation. His honors include the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, the Bollingen Prize, a Ford Foundation grant, the Governor’s Award for Literature of the State of Hawaii, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the PEN Translation Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Wallace Stevens Award, and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation.



This is such good news—composer Steve Reich won the Pulitzer Prize for his Double Sextet. Reich’s music has played such a significant role in my life. Back in 1976 I was living in Manhattan and I heard my first live performance of his legendary Music for 18 Musicians that year. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before, and through my love of his music I was introduced to an entire gallery of minimalist/experimental composers and musicians. Because of his affiliation with MIT, he has been an important presence during the years I have lived in Boston as well.

This posting is from NPR. Go to the link to listen as well.

In honor of Reich’s career, here’s a look at another of his most celebrated works.

Sometimes, we only know a revolution has succeeded when the ideals it fought for have become so mainstream that it’s impossible to imagine it was ever revolutionary in the first place.

The surprising appearance of the style called minimalism in the late 1960s and early ’70s has had an enormous influence on the music written since then, not only in concert halls and opera houses, but even in film scores, TV shows and commercials.

Minimalism was a different sound from the music classical composers were writing in the 1940s and ’50s — music that was criticized for its academic chilliness and atonality. Following that, the deceptive simplicity of minimalism seemed to spring from nowhere.

At its essence, minimalism is about repetition. But commentator Rob Kapilow, in conversation with Performance Today host Fred Child, says that beneath the surface of the music, there’s a lot going on.

“This music was composed out of a profound rejection of all that complexity that came before it,” Kapilow says. “It’s an attempt to recapture the value of a single chord, a single addition to a melody, a single change of texture, and also the pure vitality and drive of rhythm.”

Kapilow takes Steve Reich’s Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (from 1973), opens up the hood and shows just how the engine of minimalism runs.

“This music has a motor,” Kapilow says. “And once the motor starts, it doesn’t stop. Every single measure has this pulse, and the motor is provided by three mallet instruments — marimbas and glockenspiel — and each one plays a different one-measure idea over and over. And while that is happening, another marimba is gradually developing a six-note pattern that duplicates the others but is out of phase, adding one note at a time.”

The organ part in Reich’s piece provides an important layer. It rolls out slowly, while everything else whizzes by. And, it couldn’t be simpler to play.

“This is an amazing rejection of the music of the first 50 years of the century,” Kapilow says. “All it is is two chords for three and a half minutes. It’s the kind of thing would make a young guitar student ecstatic. In fact, the piece — over 17 minutes long — only has four chord pairs in the entire thing, each one lasting three or four minutes.”

Minimalism is often thought of as a dreamy, hypnotic haze of repeated notes. That description couldn’t be further from the truth for Kapilow.

“It’s not trance music,” Kapilow says. “It’s edge-of-your-seat listening music — to hear each tiny change happen, as it happens. And they are all happening simultaneously. This is music that’s about making us alive to the differences that are everywhere beneath the surface, if we only listen closely enough.”