Letters to the Arts Editor

Keep viewers in suspense

Mark Feeney’s “Luck’’ review is well written and really smart and insightful . . .

But I wish he hadn’t given away whether the season had a happy ending or not (“Lots of thoroughbreds, but a stumbling start,’’ g, Jan. 27). In the context of serialized cable TV, that’s actually a spoiler, especially with creators as dark as David Milch and Michael Mann, where the show can go in any direction, where there’s a lot more unpredictability and stakes. If you want to tell us that a Disney movie has a happy ending, that’s OK. We know that going in. But if you want to tell us that nine weeks from now, this season of a dark, serialized show by two creators who wouldn’t be afraid to end on something more tragic doesn’t do that, well, then you’re giving it away.

After a tough week of strain and stress, I take a lot of pleasure from the unpredictability of these shows, so that was a bit of a bummer.


Los Angeles

Criticism and cleverness


Sebastian Smee’s recent review of the deCordova Biennial was over the top: a boy showing off, at the expense of others (“True good works amid false steps,’’ g, Jan. 27).

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If he feels, as he says, that he has better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than to view an art performance in a museum, then perhaps he is in the wrong profession.

I find his writing so pompous, so full of HIMSELF, that I can barely get through a review. He consistently states, “I liked . . .’’ or “My favorite . . .’’ Isn’t art criticism about more than what you like or dislike?

But it’s his cruelty in the name of a fancy turn of phrase (his metaphor about butt acne notwithstanding) that most makes my skin crawl. He gets a charge out of making fun of people. He is, as he described himself in his own words at his former newspaper, a bully on the playground:

“Just as children attracted to the police force are, naturally, weaklings desperate to wield power and exact revenge, critics are bookish nerds with bullying instincts. . . .


“And, of course, we’re hobbled by jealousy. Don’t doubt it for a second: critics envy artists. Inside every critic is a painter, photographer or sculptor fantasising about the opening of their own sell-out show.’’ (The Australian, April 26, 2008)

So the question is, what does this do for art? This kind of “criticism’’ by humiliation only discourages risk-taking, which we know is the essential component in creating groundbreaking work. If Smee could spend more time looking thoughtfully and less time writing reviews “coddled in cleverness’’ (his words) we might all learn something.

RACHEL PERRY WELTY GloucesterMacDowell Colony Fellow 2009-10

Growing a Third Ear

I applaud Jeremy Eichler’s new Third Ear biweekly column, which should add a great deal to the Globe’s cultural coverage (“Widened listening, a forgotten songbook,’’ Arts, Jan. 15). I particularly appreciated this column as I am about to teach a graduate course on the Weimar Republic, about which I have researched and written. I look forward to future columns.

PAUL BOOKBINDER History DepartmentUniversity of Massachusetts Boston

A vintage film, overlooked

I enjoyed Mark Feeney’s piece on the films of 1962 very much, but I think he left out one entry that was at least the equal of any of the movies he mentioned: “Lonely Are the Brave,’’ with Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, and Gena Rowlands, written by Dalton Trumbo, directed by David Miller (“Very golden anniversary,’’ Movies, Feb. 5). It holds up extraordinarily well today. It was bracketed in many reviews with “Ride the High Country,’’ which Feeney did mention, but I think it was by far the better movie of the two.

In any case, I hope Feeney continues to write this kind of piece! The younger generation is sadly ignorant of American film history.

DAVID KAISER Jamestown, R.I.

Gehry’s house? Thumbs down


It was with great interest I read Robert Campbell’s article on the Gehry house in Santa Monica, Calif. (“Frank Gehry’s house, designed for living,’’ Arts, Jan. 22). I was there in the house around the time Campbell was, in ’79 or ’80, and although I hadn’t started my career in building as of yet, the house struck me differently. I felt it was a disconnected mess. At the time, after seeing this house, I wondered what all the hoopla was concerning this architect. His cardboard furniture had just become a smash in some circles - he was gaining attention. I shook my head and walked away from that visit only to see him rise over the next decade or so to dominance in architecture.

As much as I admire Gehry’s work (when people ask me who my favorite architect is, it’s Frank), I would not even consider this house worth an award or mention. I am inclined to agree with Jeremiah Eck, whose work I also admire, that it is ridiculous for the AIA to have given this award for this house. I believe Gehry deserves our accolades on a daily basis, but not for this building.

DEBORAH PAINE Provincetown

A signature as madeleine

Sebastian Smee’s enthusiasms are contagious, as proven again by his article on The New Yorker’s first art critic, Murdock Pemberton (a name that in itself conjures an era) (“The eye of the critic,’’ Arts, Jan. 15).

When I began working at the Museum of Fine Arts nearly 45 years ago, my mentor respectfully showed me one of the great Stieglitz photographs in the collection in its original frame, and after a moment of quiet admiration, turned it around to show the back of the frame. There on the back was that bold, unmistakable handwriting of Stieglitz reproduced in Smee’s article - a perfect evocation of his persona. Can a label exude both an era and an aura? Even though I was much too late (in the ’60s) ever to have had anything to do with a time in American art that in the rearview mirror seems heroic, seeing that writing again almost made me feel as if the lead phalanx of critics and artists who redefined the word “modern’’ - and gave it a capital “M’’ - had just thundered by, leaving fresh hoof prints.