The Classics: Looking Back, Looking Forward

At the end of the 19th century, following the emergence of technological invention, surging cities, and thinkers like Darwin, Freud, and Marx, disruptive rumblings—foreshocks—shook the world of the Western arts.

By the 1920s, the philosophical and aesthetic earthquake of modernism had separated artists from their artistic forebears.  Impressionism made clear that art was a self-conscious act; the “-isms” that followed became increasingly abstract. Musical composition meandered from harmony; literature no longer presented reliable narratives; and dance, theater, and even opera distanced themselves from straightforward storytelling.

Fine art, literature, music, theater, and dance turned to innovation as a primary aesthetic creed and Ezra Pound’s “Make it new” defined the movement.

The arts suffered a major aftershock in the 1960s when feminists and minority voices, long underrepresented, surfaced. The healthy influx of voices revitalized the performing, visual, and literary arts, but further separated art from its roots.

Today, that rift may be closing a bit. Classical music blogs are offering complete works rather than snippets; opera singers like Joyce DiDonato are reinvigorating the public’s appetite for baroque music; the Atelier movement in New York is re-exploring representational painting; and Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, is captivating audiences with spectacular all-male productions of Shakespeare, to list a few examples.

But the more than 100-year disruption to the arts of the past provokes questions: Are the classics worth holding on to? Do they have a place today?

This series of articles asks practitioners of the classical arts—actors, musicians, singers, writers, dancers, painters—as well as those associated with the arts—curators, galleries owners, producers, educators—to respond to why they think the texts, forms, and methods of the classics are worth keeping and why they continue to look to the past for that which inspires and speaks to us.

Complete Coverage
  • Painter George Ceffalio: Using Classic Techniques Makes Our Lives Better
    Painter George Ceffalio: Using Classic Techniques Makes Our Lives Better
  • Philosopher John Henry Crosby: The Classics Protect the Fullness of Our Humanity
    Philosopher John Henry Crosby: The Classics Protect the Fullness of Our Humanity
  • Historian Jason Goetz: Reclaiming Our History to Mend Our Culture
    Historian Jason Goetz: Reclaiming Our History to Mend Our Culture
  • Conductor Tim Ribchester: The Classics Achieve Both Breadth and Depth in Their Impact
    Conductor Tim Ribchester: The Classics Achieve Both Breadth and Depth in Their Impact
  • Pedagogist Cassia Harvey: The Classics Are Our Collective Memory, Our Cultural DNA
    Pedagogist Cassia Harvey: The Classics Are Our Collective Memory, Our Cultural DNA
  • Entrepeneur: Classics Anchor Us in This Transient World
    Entrepeneur: Classics Anchor Us in This Transient World
  • Pianist David Dubal: The Classics Are a Balm for Our Spiritual Wounds
    Pianist David Dubal: The Classics Are a Balm for Our Spiritual Wounds
  • Classical Music Producer Leonid Fleishaker: The Classics Lead Us to See the Colors of Life
    Classical Music Producer Leonid Fleishaker: The Classics Lead Us to See the Colors of Life
  • Suzuki Instructor Devin Arrington: Classical Music Training Can Break Down Barriers
    Suzuki Instructor Devin Arrington: Classical Music Training Can Break Down Barriers
  • Polyphonic Music: Classics Worth Treasuring
    Polyphonic Music: Classics Worth Treasuring
  • Organist Paul Jacobs: The Classics Give Purpose to Humanity’s Suffering
    Organist Paul Jacobs: The Classics Give Purpose to Humanity’s Suffering
  • Educator Jeremy Tate: The Classics Can Help Us Build a Better Future
    Educator Jeremy Tate: The Classics Can Help Us Build a Better Future
  • Composer William Vollinger: The Classics Keep Artists Humble
    Composer William Vollinger: The Classics Keep Artists Humble
  • Pianist Maria Asteriadou: Classical Music Can Deeply Satisfy Us
    Pianist Maria Asteriadou: Classical Music Can Deeply Satisfy Us
  • Poet Betsy Hughes: Classical Poetry Offers Us Strength
    Poet Betsy Hughes: Classical Poetry Offers Us Strength
  • Piano Accompanist Raymond Beegle: The Classics Are Our Hope
    Piano Accompanist Raymond Beegle: The Classics Are Our Hope
  • Ballet Company Founder Diana Byer: Classical Ballet Offers Us Perspective
    Ballet Company Founder Diana Byer: Classical Ballet Offers Us Perspective
  • Artist Robert Florczak: Classical Ideals Give Culture Depth
    Artist Robert Florczak: Classical Ideals Give Culture Depth