Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Place, people, and property

Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

History is a messy business, an exercise in imposing order on contradictory information, a series of provisional efforts to select signal from noise, and is best understood, as Steven Shapin wrote about the sciences, “as if it was produced by people with bodies; situated in time, space, culture, and society; and struggling for credibility and authority.” That said, the conceptual legacy of imperialism, with its underlying assumption that “we” can put the land and its bounty to better use than those who live there, seems particularly difficult to unlearn. Witness the contorted reasoning in this article on why the Elgin marbles have stories that can only be told at the British Museum and that returning them to Greece, where the Acropolis Museum is ready and waiting to tell the stories in their proper setting, “would only feed the beast of ideology and nationalist myth.”


A Poem for January

Friday, January 10th, 2014


Listen to this poem here

In Winter

January’s sun is
snared, bled of color,
in black hackberry
branches, alive
with robin wings.

In summer
so solitary,
they now flock
to feast on
raisined fruits,

darker than their
rust-red bellies
or the lean fox
the pasture’s edge.



From Flesh Becomes Word, published by Dos Madres Press, 2013

Poems by Brian Volck and illustrated by John Volck

See my brother’s work at

The Gift of Limits

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

It’s now been quite some time since I last posted. April was the climax of a ridiculously busy spring, and the downslope toward a saner, more manageable schedule has been long and slow. The whole, mad, busy time, however, got me thinking about art, obstacles, and the nature of creativity.

Early in May, on a rare night when my wife and I were in the same city and otherwise unscheduled, we heard the Cincinnati May Festival performance of Mozart’s Requiem, that astonishing work commissioned in strange fashion and left unfinished at Mozart’s deathbed, circumstances that have inspired two centuries of speculation. What is now known of the Requiem’s history is rather less the stuff of film noir than Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus makes out, but the fact remains that Mozart, whose pen flowed so effortlessly across the staved page, completed or revised two great operatic works, La Clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute, as well as the luminous A major Concerto for (basset) clarinet in the six months following the mysterious commissioning, yet died with half the Requiem unwritten, his last additions sketched out on his bed the night before he succumbed. His widow, who desperately needed the money due on completion, turned to other composers to finish it. My wife and I heard the Sussmayer version, familiar to anyone who pays attention to such details.

The performance was as moving as ever – the orchestra focused and ever so slightly restrained, the chorus a mighty unified instrument, the soloists expressive but not showy. Conductor Robert Conlon lowered his baton at the end of the Lacrimosa, the last partially-completed section of the Requiem, and stood stooped shouldered and unmoving long enough for everyone to reflect that precisely here, Mozart ran out of time. (more…)

Beauty and Suffering

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

I learned today, via the UK’s Telegraph, that I share with newly-elected Pope Francis a favorite painting: Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion. We also share an appreciation for the film, Babette’s Feast, his favorite, though I’d place Gabriel Axel’s masterpiece just behind Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and Roland Joffe’s The Mission in my personal cinema trifecta. All of them stand at the intersection of beauty and suffering, and while Babette’s suffering – and that of her two patronesses – may be subtler than others, we nevertheless feel it through the medium of art.

Pope Francis and I may find meaning in these works for very different reasons, I don’t know. Perhaps one day, after the fuss, scrutiny, demands, and accusations now directed his way grow routine, if not necessarily manageable, he’ll share some thoughts on art and film. I, for one, am interested in the aesthetics of this highly educated son of an immigrant railway worker, a bishop from the global South who cast aside trappings of power for simplicity and solidarity with the poor. (more…)