The New Yorker / by Doyle Armbrust

What is the point of making beautiful things, or of cherishing the beauty of the past, when ugliness runs rampant? Those who work in the realm of the arts have been asking themselves that question in recent weeks. The election of Donald Trump, and the casual cruelty of his Presidency thus far, have precipitated a sense of crisis in that world, not least because Trump seems inclined to let the arts rot. Headlines along the lines of “What is the Role of X [music, dance, poetry, hip-hop] in the Age of Trump?” have proliferated. (Is it necessary to aggrandize the man by giving him an Age?) Competing tactics of response present themselves. Do you carry on as before, nobly defying the ruination of public discourse? Or do you seize on a new mission, abandoning the illusion of aesthetic autonomy? Many artists report feelings of paralysis. “Engaging isn’t working and neither is disengaging,” the Chicago musician and critic Doyle Armbrust writes, in an arrestingly unconventional program note for a recent Budapest Festival Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

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