Doghouse Riley, a funny-as-hell guy who's sure to end up on the Who Is IOZ blogroll just as soon as I, you know, put him there, finds notable innumerate-illiterate-American Gregg Easterbrook twittering that his plasma screen is really awesome but, geez, does Broadway suck. Easterbrook:
Now think what has happened in technical and artistic trends in the 50 years since 1957. Scientific endeavors have made fantastic strides in quality, complexity and significance. Consumer product quality has increased dramatically--new cars are packed with features unknown in 1957 yet are far safer and more reliable, and the cell phone in your pocket and the computer you're reading this on, to say nothing of the Internet it's transmitted over, would have been viewed as supernatural by the engineers who built Explorer I. At the same time, the quality of art has plummeted. There hasn't been a musical of artistic merit to open on Broadway in many moons--right now, it's all vapid dreck. (In fact, I think the show "Vapid Dreck," based on a remake of a remake, opens at the Brooks Atkinson soon.) And although good books are still written, what truly great novel has been produced in the past decade or two?Read Riley for a charmingly cantankerous response. Here's ours.
There's perhaps more and better art today than at any time since the last opening of a century. Sarah Sze produces astonishing, complex, ethereal, meticulous constructs:
Kara Walker combines narrative, vicious satire, and historical revisionism with startlingly beautiful adaptations of the silhouette form, and she is probably now the most important and insightful documentarian of Black history in America:
Rivane Neuenschwander, a South American artist, crosses genres to produce lovely, humorous, alien art that combines pop and expressionist sensibilities.
I'm not personally a fan of Matthew Barney, but the Cremaster Cycle is nevertheless one of the most monumental endeavors of human creativity since Wagner completed the Ring Cycle:
Broadway musicals have always been categorically awful with rare moments of greatness. West Side Story was great because Berstein made it great. Quick, name another musical from 1957 without Googling. No? Yes. But by any measure today's theater is producing good and important work. To take just one example: despite niggling reviews by intellectually insecure critics, Tom Stoppard's massive Coast of Utopia, the most ambitious theatrical cycle in at least fifty years, was a monumental success, both artistically and popularly.
Have the last 10 years been poor ones for literature? Hardly. Delillo published Underworld in 1997. Chabon published Kavalier and Clay in 2000. Coetzee published Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man. Shirley Hazzard published The Great Fire. Marilyn Robinson produced Gilead.
Whatever you think of these particular artists--and I, certainly, am no fan of them all, or of all their works, the last few decades have been an extraordinarily fecund time for the arts. Note also that with the exception of one visual artist, I've only listed artists in the US and Britain (or, in Coetzee's case, Australia by way of South Africa). Let's not forgot that the rest of the world has artists too, if often fewer bombs and smaller televisions.