“These seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures. My colleagues and I analyzed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies (comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources). We found that these seven cooperative behaviors were always considered morally good.”
Scientists have been at this question for several years, studying people’s activity online and revealing interesting trends as to what makes content eye-catching and more likely to go viral. Emotional arousal is one key determinant. After analyzing 7,000 articles from the New York Times, Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman from UPenn found that one of the main factors driving readers to share a story via email was how much it stirred them up.
“I am very aware that I make my living with a weird grab bag of skills that probably shouldn’t add up to anything. My primary skill is that I’m a good editor. That’s the main thing I do all week. From the start it was the one thing in journalism I had a natural talent for … an easy command of. I also have a bunch of showbizzy skills that go into packaging material into a program – pacing and flow and humor and emotional arcs. Stuff I learned basically in high school musicals and as a teenaged magician at children’s birthday parties.”
“There is a sense that history’s alleged tendency to repeat itself is particularly pronounced in the cultural value debate, and with respect to efforts to ‘demonstrate’ the value of arts and culture. Have we made progress in the past 30 years, or is it true that we have been going in circles? … Patrycja Kaszynska, the lead on the Cultural Value Scoping Project, spoke to Ian David Moss, founder of Createquity, about ideas and emerging trends in cultural value research.”
What has changed is not so much the level of noise, which previous centuries also complained about, but the level of distraction, which occupies the space that silence might invade. There looms another paradox, because when it does invade—in the depths of a pine forest, in the naked desert, in a suddenly vacated room—it often proves unnerving rather than welcome. Dread creeps in; the ear instinctively fastens on anything, whether fire-hiss or bird call or susurrus of leaves, that will save it from this unknown emptiness. People want silence, but not that much.
Weaponized classical music is just the next step in the commodification of the genre. Today, most young people encounter classical music not as a popular art form but as a class signifier, a set of tropes in a larger system of encoded communication that commercial enterprises have exploited to remap our societal associations with orchestral sound. Decades of cultural conditioning have trained the public to identify the symphony as sonic shorthand for social status — and, by extension, exclusion from that status. The average American does not recognize the opening chords of The Four Seasons as the sound of spring but the sound of snobbery.
The author says she can’t remember what provided the inspiration for the novels, and that she definitely did not have everything plotted out from the beginning: “I never plan my stories. A detailed outline is enough for me to lose interest in the whole thing. Even a brief oral summary makes the desire to write what I have in mind vanish. I am one of those who begin to write knowing only a few essential features of the story they intend to tell. The rest they discover line by line.”
This is quite the feature. Yikes: “It is the kind of bitter farce that might result if August Strindberg were to emerge from the grave to watch the dandies from the academy pelt each other with champagne glasses. And Strindberg, whose path to early 20th century literary greatness in Sweden was filled with hatred and scorn, likely wouldn’t even find it possible to hate them, as consumed as he would be with disdain.”
A book publicist took action after Barnes & Noble in the Bronx – the last bookstore (at that point) in the borough – shut its doors. But it took social media to make it real: “Fennell put out a call on Twitter, where most of her followers are people in book publishing and other media professionals. The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of people donated to her Kickstarter campaign, which met and exceeded its $30,000 goal in just over a week. Authors and publishers stepped forward to join her planning board, helping her confirm speakers for the event.”
There is a world that exists—an uncountable number of differently-flavored quarks bouncing up against each other. There is a world that we perceive—a hallucination generated by about a pound and a half of electrified meat encased by our skulls. Connecting the two, or conveying accurately our own personal hallucination to someone else, is the central problem of being human. Everyone’s brain makes a little world out of sensory input, and everyone’s world is just a little bit different.
That all-important ability is called “working memory,” and it takes considerable mental effort. That is, unless you play a musical instrument, or speak a second language. New research suggests that, over time, engaging in those challenging activities effectively rewires the brain, allowing it to complete complex assignments with greater ease. A 2017 meta-study found musicians have stronger working-memory skills; this research provides a likely reason why.
The researchers found that chronic isolation leads to an increase in Tac2 gene expression and the production of NkB throughout the brain. However, administration of a drug that chemically blocks NkB-specific receptors enabled the stressed mice to behave normally, eliminating the negative effects of social isolation. Conversely, artificially increasing Tac2 levels and activating the corresponding neurons in normal, unstressed animals led them to behave like the stressed, isolated animals.
It’s dispiriting to see how ‘what’s on’ listings pigeon-hole music by genre – classical, jazz, pop, folk, world – and then realise that your music doesn’t fit comfortably into any of these categories. Our large-scale shows contain elements of opera, musical, lyric theatre, but none of these accurately characterises their form.
“Showcasing dance, without the audience’s necessarily seeing it, is [blind performer and choreographer Mana] Hashimoto’s life’s work. Her performances and workshops bring dance, a medium with a strong visual component, to those without sight while also providing a new experience for a sighted audience.”
Surprised (happily) by a reader outcry that The Washington Post didn’t cover Washington National Opera’s performances of The Barber of Seville last month, Anne Midgette explains the limits she and the paper have on how much can be covered, how she decides which events among those on offer will get reviewed, and the unusual run of bad luck that affected critics that particular weekend.
A dozen years ago, the casino mogul punctured the famous Picasso in his collection, Le Rêve, with a wayward elbow. (His peripheral vision is impaired.) So when word got out this week that another of his Picassos, Le Marin, was pulled from its scheduled auction because it had been damaged, folks wondered if poor Mr. Wynn was humming “Oops! I Did It Again.” But it seems he’s not the culprit this time, as reporter Katya Kazakina learned from a source.
Last week, general director William Florescu resigned unexpectedly, just a few days before a Magic Flute production he was directing opened. (Two years ago, he had renewed his contract through 2023-24.) Now the company’s board has revealed publicly that Florescu’s departure was because of “violation of the Florentine Opera’s policies and prohibitions concerning sexual misconduct.”
“Pintilie directed plays at the prestigious Bulandra Theater in Bucharest in the ’60s and early 70s. However, his work was censored by the communists and one film was personally banned by Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu. … U.S. theatre director Andrei Serban, who was born in Romania, told Pintilie last year: ‘You were the first person to give me the courage right from the start, that with courage and theatre you can do anything.'”
The trustees of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which opened in Cape Town last September, suspended executive director and chief curator Mark Coetzee had just been suspended pending an investigation after he “failed to respond to questions about the institutional practices at Zeitz MOCAA.” There had been reports of concerns about “an alliance between Scheryn Art Collection, a fund that works with collectors to purchase works, and the museum and Coetzee.”
Picasso Fiasco: CultureGrrl Q&A with Mike Kosnitzky, Lawyer for Steve Wynn’s New Company
In my previous post about the astonishing news that unspecified damage was done at Christie’s on Friday to Picasso‘s Le Marin, 1943 (which had been estimated to bring around $70 million … read more
AJBlog: CultureGrrl Published 2018-05-17
My Art Encounter With Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe, who died this week, was not exactly a favorite person in the art world (or the literary world, for that matter). In a modern era, he was a throwback, a man who preferred … read more
AJBlog: Real Clear Arts Published 2018-05-17
Preminger And Garcia Play Chopin
Noah Preminger, Rob Garcia: Dead Composers Club Chopin Project (Connection Works Records)
If I were going to be in New York City tomorrow evening — alas, I won’t be — I would be at … read more
AJBlog: RiffTides Published 2018-05-17
No matter who emerges the victor in what promises to be a prolonged series of courtroom showdowns, both companies will be profoundly affected, and the broader media landscape fundamentally transformed.
The aftershocks of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the backlash that followed are with us. We are still looking at dystopian and apocalyptic fantasies, still running from zombies, still watching cities erupt, still fighting over basic human rights. The movies have been conscripts in this continuing culture war and to look back at 1968 is to understand what has and hasn’t changed.