The Lost Art of Virtuosity

By Armond White for CityArts Light Bulb

Virtuosity–the quality that lit up the best of arts culture during 2012–turns out to be the quality least appreciated in this transitional period for technology, economics and politics. It’s ironic that artists like Steven Spielberg, Kanye West, Jay Z and Picasso (revived at a Gagosian retrospective), who had the inspiration to see past the confusion and novelty of the moment and create work that goes deeply into the essence of modern experience and our basic human needs, become the least appreciated artists. It’s as if their technique, brilliance, flair, talent, ability and expertise were held against them.
Making a diptych of Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, two distinctly different films linked by their virtuosity, carries forward the expressive efforts of all the cultural forms that CityArts regularly covers. Gregory Solman joins my account of the two films by measuring the scale of Spielberg’s achievement. It is time that pop art like cinema be regarded the same intellectual respect as the classical forms the cinema updates, thus my link of Spielberg to Gerhard Richter. (Go to for a different approach in my annual Better-Than List.)
Taking assessment of the cultural year prepares us for the cultural future. This requires bringing thinking back to the arts. If we don’t recognize the virtuoso imagination and human expression in contemporary art, our cultural pursuits will be meaningless. CityArts readers know that we depend on artists to sustain our humanity–especially when politicians and pundits don’t. Our fascination for art should be, as Capt. Haddock tells Tintin, unquenchable.
Spielberg’s great, head-spinning double image from The Adventures of Tintin shows where 20th century art meets the 21st century. It recalls how all art is civilization’s self-portrait even when the techniques and media change. Right now, Spielberg’s double-header best demonstrates that conscientious, virtuoso dynamic.

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