Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 20, No. 4, 2021
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
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Diane Gordon
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Mady Bourdage
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Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

casualties of mythology



Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website: www.nickcatalano.n


Readers might ask themselves if they’ve ever heard of the following figures. Composers: Gerald Finzi, Max Bruch, Francesca Caccini, Johann Hummel, Dora Pejacevic, Cecile Chaminade. Renaissance Painters: Del Piambo, Gaddi, Altichiero, Orcagna, Pontormo, Patinir. Classic writers: Gilman, Zweig, Zamyatin, Mitford, Bassini, Fontane, Marai.

If I were a betting man I would wager that very few people reading this list would recognize more than one or two of the names. And yet even cursory critical reading reveals these artists to be brilliant talents worthy of comparison with their better known peers. So what exactly goes into the evaluation of an artistic reputation?

Quality in any art is elusive. Art appeals to the individual senses, pleasures, feelings and emotions. Recognition of outstanding art too often depends on variables external to the work itself like its attribution, the artist’s body of work, geographical origin, and the work’s relationship to correlatives in the genre. Recognition and value are determined by a network of ‘experts’ -- critics, historians, curators, collectors, art dealers, media commentators and other self-styled authorities. And in many prosperous countries reputation and notoriety often depend on mere celebrity or momentary publicity.

History teaches that enduring greatness in art is really only observable when substantial time has elapsed and instantaneous and insignificant critical commentary has faded. If the art work is, generations later, still treasured by huge audiences everywhere then, at least, it has some longevity and much early critical commentary needs to be dismissed.

But in this an imperfect and often convoluted process, reputations are often embellished, sunken, distorted, or as the cases of the artists mentioned above forgotten.

Irony abounds and inconsistency reigns. "The Man with the Golden Helmet," an 18th century painting attributed to Rembrandt, was Berlin’s most famous artwork for decades. Once evidence emerged, in the 1980s, that the painting was not by Rembrandt, it lost much of its artistic and economic value, ‘even though the artwork itself had not changed.’ In the early 70s ersatz writer Clifford Irving got McGraw-Hill to pay in excess of $700,000 for his biography of reclusive millionaire/aviator/producer Howard Hughes. Soon after the entire project was revealed as a hoax; Irving quickly admitted his offense and served a year and a half in jail. But because his name was paraded across the media for months, he emerged a ‘celebrity’ and obtained considerable status and even respectability as a writer for many years.

The distortion and ironic process of artistic recognition morphs into the wider spectrum of much historical fact in all areas falling prey to the interminable encroachment of mythology.

How many times do you encounter a situation where you thought something was factual and beyond doubt only to discover that your knowledge was incorrect. Examples all over history abound: Dr. Guillotine was not the inventor of the infamous instrument used to execute victims during the French Revolution. Three hundred Spartan soldiers alone did not hold off the Persian hordes at Thermopylae; they were aided by some 5000 troops from many other towns in Greece. The island of Manhattan was not purchased for $24 but actually 60 Dutch guilders or roughly $1000 in today’s currency. Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb; he improved the gadget that over 20 other inventors had previously developed.

The process of spectacular historical discoveries becoming mythologized is long in the tooth. John Milton, the legendary poetical genius who wrote Paradise Lost, naively chose the ancient earth-centered Ptolemaic theory of the solar system in his famous epic. Even though Nicolas Copernicus had proven and Galileo had added incontrovertible evidence of the heliocentric facts over 100 years earlier, Milton strongly motivated by powerful religious authority could not bring himself to accept the new factual astronomy. When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 scientists in universities everywhere endorsed his theory.

The notions of natural selection and evolution had been studied and explored for many years and Darwin’s publication served to underscore thinking that had long been in vogue. It was only decades later that creationists, spiritualists and religious adherents began to raise objections and deny the evidence. And, incredibly, their denials and proclamations took root and, even to the present day, have gained credence among millions who would rather believe untruth rather than accept rational, proven, scientific evidence.

After countless analyses by impeccable sources the notion, initiated by Donald Trump, that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” has been summarily refuted. But millions of Americans will not accept the facts. The publicized success of COVID vaccines has been repeatedly underwritten by scientists everywhere and reliable government authorities. But, again, millions of Americans refuse to accept reputable evidence.

The tradition of inevitable mythologizing in most human contexts is inextricably tied to the essences of human nature i.e. emotions, imagination, senses, all of which unfortunately undermine rational thinking so often. How then can truth emerge and wisdom be attained?

The pitfalls encountered in our learning experiences are many. Too frequently people have inadequate understanding of how scientific knowledge is achieved. Unjustifiably huge expectations, and impatient desires accompany announcements of scientific discovery. Few can grasp the slow imperfect progress that science takes and are quick to dismiss progress of any kind. Unless there are immediate and accessibly complete answers to a problem many will walk away thinking that the scientists have failed. Cancer is a major worldwide tragedy. But when great strides were made in the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma and related blood cancers, the response was tepid. Brilliant scientists working around the clock produced the principal COVID vaccines in just a few months and yet their identities and discoveries are buried in tons of controversial and often mythologized news stories.

For many only exposure to any phenomenon whether it be artistic creation or scientific discovery, that is studied with tried and true philosophical, mathematical, aesthetic and scientific methods in solid academic institutions can develop intellect and enhance wisdom. Unfortunately, far too many early schooling and college or university curricula are watered down versions of real education. Cursory examination of a college freshman’s schedule will often show no math or science requirement, no foreign language requirement, and no philosophy courses tracing the progress of human civilization, no training in logic, and no courses in ancient history . . . and tuition at these institutions is beyond astronomical.

One of the reasons why people accept and support fake news, unsubstantial commentary, prejudicial opinionizing and false advertising claims is because in school they have not been taught to think properly and rationalize. Many substandard schools should shut their doors and parents must learn to shun the exaggeration and distortion inherent in their advertising claims. The search for quality higher education is becoming quagmired by such items as attractive dormitories, exotic food menus, excessive leisure activities and idiotic courses. There is a school in Florida that grants baccalaureate degrees for tennis playing and another that awards degrees in circus management.

The return to classically structured education is imperative if our societies wish to flourish.



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By Nick Catalano:
Terror in China: Cultural Erasure and Computer Genocide
The Roller Coaster of Democracy
And Justice for All
Costly Failures in American Higher Education
Trump and the Dumbing Down of the American Presidency
Language as the Enemy of Truth
Opportunity in Quarantine
French Music: Impressionism & Beyond
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. II
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
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Intersteller (film review)
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Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
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