Statement of Intent: A Socratic Dialogue on Art, Criticism, and the City

After spending six weeks engaged in stimulating conversations with my classmates and industry professionals on Vancouver’s art scene, I have chosen to write a Socratic-style dialogue to explore some of the course’s major themes surrounding the arts: the cultural value, the local scene, and the role of criticism. The Socratic dialogue is a genre of literary prose where a dramatic or narrative dialogue occurs between two or more characters[1]. This form of prose has preserved the works of ancient Greek philosophers Plato, Xenophon, and Socrates[2]. In addition to my desire of trying to write a new form of prose, I selected the dialogue format because I was motivated by what Max Wyman[3], art activist and critic, had said in one of our guest lectures, “the purpose of art criticism is to provide the reader with a different perspective in order to start a conversation.” I thought the dialogue was the best format to showcase what I learned in this course because it mirrors some of the wonderful conversations that I have had with other classmates which further contributed to the enrichment of my learning of the arts.

Using Dorothy Dittrich’s[4], The Piano Teacher, I will begin the dialogue with a critique of the play masquerading the voices of writer and professor, Susan Sontag[5], and art historian, Linda Nochlin[6]. I selected this powerful and emotional play because of the way in which it explores the themes of personal tragedy and grief while using love, friendship, and music as catalysts for healing and recovery. Sontag and Nochlin, known for their contributions to the art world, will approach the theatrical piece from two different perspectives. Sontag, celebrated for arguing against the emphasis of intellectually constructed notions on analyzing the aesthetics[7], will explore the transcendental power of music and friendship and its impact on self-healing. On the other hand, Nochlin, a pioneer in feminist art history and theory, will approach the piece through a feminist lens, focussing on the play’s romantic and platonic relationships and its effect on the character’s recovery.

In addition to Sontag and Nochlin, I will include a third voice, a mediator who will not only facilitate the dialogue but also, question the role of the critic and its importance within the arts. This third voice is also a reflection of myself, representing questions and thoughts that emerged throughout the course of the term. At the same time, all three voices will share some of the revelations I had while our class explored the arts in further detail through the course readings, lectures, field trips, and classroom discussions. Although this Socratic dialogue may not be as philosophical as the dialogues Socrates had with his students, Plato and Xenophon, it does offer a setting conducive to exhibiting my personal journey of learning about art, criticism, and the city.

[1] Wikipedia. Socratic dialogue. Accessed June 13, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_dialogue

[2] Ibid.

[3] For more on Max Wyman, see The Canadian Encyclopedia. “Max Wyman.” Accessed June 13, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/max-wyman-emc/

[4] For more on Dorothy Dittrich, see Dorothy Dittrich’s website. Accessed June 13, 2017. http://www.dorothydittrich.com/index.html

[5] Wikipedia. Susan Sontag. Accessed June 13, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Sontag

[6] Wikipedia. Linda Nochlin. Accessed June 13, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Nochlin

[7] Wikipedia. Susan Sontag. Accessed June 13, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Sontag

 

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Langmann Gallery:  Something for Everyone

“Every painting has a story.”

Those were the opening words of our private tour of the Langmann Gallery located at 2177 Granville Street. Uno Langmann, an antique art dealer and storyteller extraordinaire, first came to Vancouver in 1955. With barely $50.00 in his wallet, Langmann started buying and selling art almost as soon as he arrived in Vancouver, with one of his first modern pieces being Jack Shadbolt’s Greek Farm. From that point on, Langmann spent the next sixty years dealing art and building his reputation as an internationally known art dealer, consultant, and influential leader in his field. He is recognized for his knowledge, preservation and promotion of arts and culture.[1]

LangmannUno Langmann with his first modern art purchase, Jack Shaboldt’s Greek Farm.

His renowned gallery contains eclectic pieces from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries such as dishware, sculptures, candlesticks, and paintings. Most pieces are European; however, he does carry pieces from Asia and North America, and even has a room dedicated specifically to Canadian and Indigenous art. As we toured the gallery, Langmann stopped at each major painting to passionately tell us about the era in which the piece was created, how and where he acquired the artwork, and of course, information about the artist him or herself. His eyes lit up as he told us about some of his favourite paintings or painters. What struck me about Langmann was his ability to remember the fine details of each of the artists such as his or her artistic influences, ancestral background, and even where he or she vacationed. In addition to a plethora of historical knowledge, Langmann also shared his personal anecdotes and interactions that he has had with some of the artists. My favourite story being the time he first met Jack Shadbolt and learned that the only piece of artwork that Shadbolt was missing from his exhibit was Greek Farm, the first Shadbolt piece that Langmann had purchased and had hanging at his home.

As I walked through the gallery, I couldn’t help but notice the substantial price tags of some of the pieces … $1500, $18,000, $48,000… and wonder, is there a market for antique artwork in Vancouver?  Someone must have been reading my mind because soon after the question was raised by someone from our group. “It’s hopeless. Only 2.5% of Vancouverites are interested in antique art, and out of the 2.5%, only 5% can actually afford it” he replies. With such an ominous response from a long-time art dealer based in Vancouver, I ask how art dealers are able to succeed in this increasingly expensive city. “Build it and they will come” he says which is exactly what he had to do to be successful in this industry. It must have been a gamble to invest in antique artwork in a city lacking art aficionados but with his knowledge and reputation, Langmann has built an extremely unique gallery, attracting individual collectors, investors, and museums buyers from all around the world.

As we ended the tour, Langmann closed the evening with, “Every good painting has the soul of the artist in it.” These are fitting words coming from someone whose soul is unmistakeably embedded in his love and passion for the arts.

If you are interested in browsing at century old artwork, purchasing a piece of art, or perhaps having an art history lesson, I recommend stopping in at the gallery and meeting Uno Langmann himself. Located on South Granville’s Gallery Row, the Langmann Gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

[1] UBC Library. Uno Langmann. Accessed June 1, 2017. http://collections.library.ubc.ca/featured-collections/langmann/about-langmann/

Long Division: Where Math and the Human Condition Meet

One tragedy, seven characters, plus a whole lot of math equals an avant-garde play portraying the complex ways in which humans are interconnected.

Through a series of monologues, the seven characters in Peter Dickinson’s play, Long Division, share their memories of events that lead to the death of a bullied, mathematically gifted high school student. Dickinson’s use of the unconventional lecture/performance style to convey the stories in a non-linear format is intellectually engaging. As a lover of games, puzzles, and play on words, the lecture series gave me the opportunity to put together the pieces of plot as each story unfolded. The mathematical metaphors which required me to delve into my long-term memory to recall my university calculus classes got my brain juices flowing trying to “solve the case”, or rather discern the underlying theme of the play, that of human interconnection. To further metaphorize the theme of math and human interconnection, as one character told their story, the rest repositioned themselves around the speaker much like particles of a particle physics theoretical framework, signifying the six degrees of separation that connects one person to another.

I appreciate the variety of characters that Dickinson’ wrote into the play. Selecting characters from all walks of life truly made the story feel more plausible and appropriate considering the diverse city in which we live. However, I feel the casting director may have played into the ethnic and gender stereotypes a bit too much – a robust lesbian bar owner (Jennifer Lines), a tall, handsome, white male business executive (Jason Clift), and of course, my favourite, the Asian math teacher (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) – how cliché. I do wonder if the playwright wrote these ethnic and gender choices into the script or if it was a decision made by the casting director? Nonetheless, the cast played their roles well, and spoke of the mathematical theories as though they were experts in the field even including some cheesy puns, to boot.

The black box set with the back drop of random 3D geometrical shapes was simple but gave the cast a lot of space for the abstract dance choreographed by Lesley Telford. Aside from positioning themselves similar to a string theory diagram, I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the intricacies of the choreography. Not because I didn’t care for it – I was just more engrossed in the dialogue and quietly snickering at the math puns.

To sum up (I can make math puns too!), Dickinson’s Long Division is a creative and well-written piece of experimental theatre that is not only entertaining but thought provoking and intellectually stimulating. Bravo.

long division