If we are lucky, our work becomes larger than we are and takes on a life of its own. Sometimes we know this at the outset and sometimes we come to know as the work moves forward. I’m thinking here of Walt Whitman and his Leaves of Grass, which started as a slim and youthful volume of poems. Whitman revised this modest book until, on his deathbed, book had grown weighty, to over 400 poems. Over his lifetime, as Whitman had hoped, the work had grown with him. Pianist Jonathan Biss might similarly be embarking on this sort of life’s work. At 33 he is undertaking to record all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, a project scheduled to take nearly a decade.
I was taking a MOOC on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and thought I would do a little extra reading on my own. The simplest Google search brought me to a book written by course’s instructor, Jonathan Biss. At $1.99 it didn’t seem like much of a risk, so I downloaded it. I didn’t know who Biss was before I took the course, so I had no idea what to expect. Beethoven’s Shadow is an odd little book. It is not a full-length collection of essays; it is not a full-length book at all. Instead, it is a long essay, a meditation really, on what it feels like to play Beethoven. Biss opens the book with an anecdote about one day in the recording studio in which he became completely unmoored by the experience of recording Sonata Opus 109. Biss writes:
“The microphone is so often likened to a mirror not only because it exposes flaws, but because it is so passive in its judgment — it offers no response. An audience can be an intimidating thing, but it feels, and one can feel it feeling. But the microphone has no feelings, no agenda — it is merely one’s own doubt reflected back.”
The book continues in this vein, addressing what it is like to interpret a genius. I don’t know if Beethoven was a genius or not. I don’t really care. What is interesting, though, is reading the someone who experiences transcendence with Beethoven’s work. This is a good thing, because Biss is scheduled to record all of the sonatas over the next nine years, a project he looks at with a bit of trepidation. To complete this task, Biss who is now only 33 will have to set aside nearly a whole decade to Beethoven. Our laser focus on certain things, perhaps we might call these our passions, by extension must exclude other experiences. Part of the subtext of the book is Biss’s asking the reader to question our own choices. What is it that we love? What art moves us beyond reason? What is it that we exclude in our pursuit of that which we love? And lastly, is it worth it?
Biss is an excellent writer and does a great job of placing the reader somewhere they might not otherwise have been, like a recording studio or on the stage at a concert hall. At the end of this book, I knew a little more about Beethoven, but a lot more about the what it means to undertake a creative project that might truly end up being a life’s work.
Beethoven’s Shadow, by Jonathan Biss
Rosetta Books, Kindle Single
56 print pages
January 18, 2013 · Print This Article
I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here. I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.
Some changes should be apparent already — others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers — those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that end I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.
Here is something of a loose schedule:
Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien — writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.
Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and João Florêncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).
On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau, Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.
Thursdays herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’s Top 5 Weekend Picks and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes Göransson whose writing you can also find here.
Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.
WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.
My last note is this — there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.
Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
November 22, 2011 · Print This Article
Ah yes, it’s that time again! Time for another panel discussion on art criticism in Chicago. Luckily for y’all, this one is filled with great folks who really know their stuff. AND: it’s been organized in celebration of The Essential New Art Examiner, a compendium edited by our friends Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith of the best writings from the venerable Chicago-based art journal. Born and Griffith will appear on tonight’s panel, along with BAS’ fabulous pal and dapper man-about-town Abraham Ritchie (Chicago editor of ArtSlant), Lori Waxman (Tribune), Jason Foumberg (New City), Steve Ruiz (The Visualist) and Ann Wiens, former New Art Examiner editor, all of whom represent different yet equally vibrant aspects of the Chicago critical scene. The whole shebang is moderated by critic and SAIC faculty member James Yood. So there you have it! Go go go! The panel takes place tonight, Tuesday, November 22nd at 6-8 pm in the Second Floor Ballroom of the MacLean Center (112 S. Michigan Avenue). The full, official-like press release info follows below.
The panel discussion “Art Criticism in Chicago: Past, Present, Future” will occur 6-8 pm on Tuesday, November 22 in the Second Floor Ballroom of the MacLean Center (112 S. Michigan Avenue). Organized in memory of distinguished art critics Kathryn Hixson and Polly Ullrich (both SAIC faculty and alumna), this wide-ranging investigation into the challenges and triumphs in art writing in Chicago also honors the recent publication of The Essential New Art Examiner, a compendium of essays originally printed in the most significant Chicago-based art publication of its era (1973-2002). The panel will move forward from that to assess the current state of art criticism in Chicago, both print- and web-based, and analyze the rapidly changing milieu for arts conversation in Chicago.
The panelists are Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith, editors of the “The Essential New Art Examiner”, Jason Foumberg of Newcity, Abraham Ritchie from ArtSlant: Chicago, Steve Ruiz from visualist, Lori Waxman from the Chicago Tribune, Ann Wiens, former editor of the NAE, and James Yood, moderator of the panel and former editor of the NAE. (Griffith, Waxman, and Yood are members of the SAIC faculty, and Foumberg, Griffith, Ritchie, Waxman and Wiens are SAIC graduates.) The event is free and open to the public, and is supported with the assistance of Lisa Wainwright, Dean of Faculty, Paul Coffey, SAIC Vice Provost, and Candida Alvarez, Dean of Graduate Studies.
Our latest post on Art:21 blog is up today; check out Terri Griffith’s piece on the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, a hidden gem on the outskirts of Chicago containing some surprisingly good public art (and a few plops, but that comes with the territory). A brief excerpt below; check out the full post on Art:21 blog here.
Living in a fabulous art city like Chicago, it’s easy to become urban-centric when it comes to contemporary art. But there’s a place just on the border of Chicago that will make you forget the frenzy of the city, where you can immerse yourself in a forest of contemporary sculpture. The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park is situated in an unlikely place, a narrow strip of land between the North Channel of the Chicago River and the super busy, five-lane McCormick Boulevard. Technically, the park runs two miles and is the westerly dividing line between the City of Chicago and the Village of Skokie, but a less official sculpture park continues on southward back into the city limits, and to the north into Evanston, though there are many fewer sculptures on the northerly end.
This charming park hugs the North Channel and winds alongside like its own little verdant river. Most of the park contains two bike paths—one on the McCormick Boulevard side that runs straight and will get you where you need to go, and the second on the river side that is much quieter and farther away from the traffic. Because the park is so linear, it is from this serpentine tributary of the path that the sculpture is most enjoyable. There are benches and big stretches of grass, conducive to a fun afternoon outing. (Read more).
December 22, 2010 · Print This Article
Check out Caroline Picard’s interview with the Chicago writer (and Bad at Sports’ literary correspondent) Terri Griffith on The Lantern Daily about Griffith’s book So Much Better. Here’s a brief excerpt from their conversation; read the full interview here.
CP: Could you talk a little about what your process for writing this book was like? How long were you working on So Much Better? How did you “discover” the characters? And really, what’s up with a credit union?
TG: So Much Better is my third stab at trying to write about a story I read in the Seattle Times, or maybe it was the Post-Intelligencer. It was about a woman, a middle class, white woman, wearing nice department store clothes and high-end make-up, who was found dead in a hotel room. She had committed suicide and had been dead a few days before they found her. The thing about the article that struck me was what the detective said. He said that about once a year, woman just like her turned up dead. A woman who by all outward measure wouldn’t be considered disenfranchised, but somehow was. A woman who was never reported missing. This is the idea that plagued me. How do you live in this world and arrive at a place where no one would know you are gone? What about work or family? Oddly, I still haven’t written this particular story. But certainly my protagonist Liz knows exactly what it means to have no ties. The Credit Union? My girlfriend worked for a credit union. She was a really bad teller because her drawer never balanced at the end of the day. Just off by a penny or two, but they don’t care in banking. It didn’t matter that she blew everyone out of the water on the Federal regulation tests. At the end of the day, your drawer has to balance. Credit Unions are really popular in The Pacific Northwest. I’ve been a Credit Union member for twenty years. Actually, I still do all my banking at my college Credit Union. I am crazy obsessed with people’s job. I love to listen to people’s work stories. Work is like our second family, and for some people it’s their first. There needs to be more stories about office life. Netflix tells me my favorite shows are “witty workplace comedies.” There are a few books that I really love that I consider in the same vein as So Much Better. Something Happened, by Joseph Heller. Death of the Author, by Gilbert Adair. Also Julie Hecht’s Do the Window’s Open? They are all empty books, with isolated protagonists who are tied to their work. (Read More).