Posts Tagged “muses”

At the Texas Prison Rodeo, A Color Line Dissolved

A convict hangs on to a bucking bronco c. 1940. Courtesy of Texas Prison Museum

Well into the 20th century, segregation was a fact of daily life in Texas. Black citizens were barred from attending many sporting events, couldn’t eat at certain restaurants and weren’t able to stay at many hotels.

This was particularly true in the Texas prison system, where there were segregated work crews, barbershops, showers and dining halls. Recreational activities were also traditionally segregated by race, from sports teams to glee clubs.

So while researching my book “Convict Cowboys: The Untold History of the Texas Prison Rodeo,” I was surprised to find that, as far back as the 1930s, African-American and white convicts were permitted to compete in the same rodeos, despite the fact that spectators had to sit in segregated grandstands as they watched their favorite cowboys risk life and limb.

Decades before they had the same opportunity in other sporting events across Jim Crow America, the rodeo offered African-American inmates a rare chance to compete against their white counterparts.

Destination: Huntsville

The brainchild of the Texas prison system general manager Marshall Lee Simmons, the prison rodeo began its 50-plus year run in 1931 at Huntsville State Penitentiary. It was originally supposed to entertain the local prison community and correctional officers. But so many locals began showing up that Simmons realized that if they began charging gate fees, money could be raised to help fund education, recreation and medical programs for prisoners at a time when the Texas state legislature had allocated few resources for inmates beyond basic food and lodging.

The rodeo took place every Sunday in October between 1931 and 1986 (except 1943, when it was canceled due to the war) and lasted about two hours. Except for the most incorrigible inmates, all prisoners had the opportunity to attend one October Sunday show each year, and prison administrators even developed a protocol to bus them to Huntsville from the far corners of the Texas prison system.

The prison rodeo mimicked professional rodeos in that the main events featured saddle bronc riding. But in order to draw bigger crowds, organizers added more dangerous events, like chariot racing and wild horse racing, and invented sideshows steeped in racist caricatures: comedy sketches that featured the exaggerated pratfalls of black entertainers and performances by the Cotton Pickers Glee Club, a troupe of singers selected from the prison’s farm units.

The event also added celebrity appearances to increase attendance, including cultural icons Tom Mix, Mickey Mantle, John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash. (This was the first prison Cash ever performed at.) The rodeo became so popular that the arena needed to expand, and by the 1950s, the Huntsville arena could accommodate 30,000 spectators at a time.

“They don’t draw the color line”

Beyond the spectacle and the swelling crowds, one journalist in 1936 observed a particularly notable aspect of the prison rodeo: “They don’t draw the color line in these contests,” he wrote, “Negro and white convicts being equally free to enter.”

In mid-20th-century Texas, that was a big deal.

In fact, during the 1950s, Texas would implement more new segregation laws than in any prior decade. Amendments to the state penal code required that public facilities be segregated by race, from state parks to tuberculosis wards. Voters were still required to pay poll taxes, and anyone who entered an interracial marriage could be sentenced to two years in prison.

Until the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education – which outlawed de jure racial segregation – the Texas prison rodeo was, as far as I’ve been able to discover in research, the only competitive sporting event in the South that wasn’t segregated.

It was so popular among black Texans that families would trek to Huntsville from across the state, filling the colored sections of stands. Ebony magazine, the country’s leading African-American periodical, took notice.

“Contrary to customary practices in the Southland,” one article noted, “the Prison Rodeo is not a segregated competition and usually a fourth of the contestants are Negroes.”

The February 1953 edition featured a photograph of a black couple trying on souvenir cowboy hats. In an interview, the couple said they had driven more than 100 miles from Port Arthur to Huntsville to take in the spectacle “Because of the great number of Negro participants in the annual rodeo.”

Over the years, many of the most talented riders – the winners of the coveted Top Hand Buckle – were black convicts. They include Willie Craig, who won the Top Hand Buckle in 1976 at the age of 56, and Emmett “Lightning” Perry and Alex Hill, who never won the top award.

But the best was the legendary O’Neal Browning, whom Ebony lavished with coverage.

At six feet 180 pounds, he was an imposing presence. He had witnessed his first prison rodeo event as a free man in 1946. Three years later, he’d have the opportunity to compete after being sentenced to life in prison for murdering his father with an axe.

By the 1970s, he had won the Top Hand Buckle a record seven times, despite having only one thumb. In one interview, Browning was matter-of-fact about the injury: He explained that while steer roping, his left thumb got caught in the rope loop and “When the steer jerked, it pulled it completely off.”

He enjoyed sharing this story with younger convict cowboys, usually noting that he was lucky it wasn’t his right thumb: If he’d lost that, he would have lost the ability to grip the rigging when he rode bulls, which he managed to do with only one thumb well into his fifties.

Browning would never get a chance to test his skills outside the prison walls. But other convict cowboys with lighter sentences had little chance of continuing their careers upon their release. In order to compete, they needed the blessing of the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA), which prohibited riders with a criminal record.

The Texas Prison Rodeo’s run came to an end in 1986, when the prison board in Austin finally pulled the plug, citing falling revenue and fears of injury lawsuits.

The ConversationYet to this day, its biggest legacy is one tinged with irony. Only within the walls of a prison arena were social barriers that existed in the free world able to be toppled.

Mitchel P. Roth, Professor of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The Magazine That Inspired Rolling Stone


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‘When you look back on it, where else would those articles appear? The Saturday Evening Post?’
Nick Lehr/The Conversation via flickr, CC BY-SA

Author(s): Peter Richardson, San Francisco State University

The 50th anniversary of Rolling Stone magazine has arrived, and not without fanfare. Joe Hagan’s biography of co-founder Jann Wenner appeared in October to stellar reviews, and earlier this month, HBO aired Alex Gibney’s documentary film about the magazine’s history. Wenner’s announcement that he was planning to sell his company’s stake in Rolling Stone also prompted a flurry of retrospective tributes.

Conceived during the Summer of Love in 1967, Rolling Stone was always a creature of the San Francisco counterculture. From the outset, the magazine touted Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and other San Francisco bands. Well before that, co-founder Ralph J. Gleason was featuring the Haight-Ashbury’s vibrant music scene in his San Francisco Chronicle column.

But Rolling Stone’s identity can also be traced to two other sources: Berkeley’s culture of dissent and Ramparts magazine, the legendary San Francisco muckraker.

The Berkeley influence was strong and direct. The magazine’s early staff writers were steeped in Berkeley’s ardent campus activism, and their views on politics, drugs and music informed the magazine’s coverage. Wenner wrote a music column for the student newspaper and covered the free speech movement for a local radio station. Even more significant for Wenner, perhaps, was the example of Gleason, who combined an impressive body of music criticism with public support for student activists. Wenner spent hours at Gleason’s Berkeley home, soaking up his insights on music and journalism.

Rolling Stone’s Berkeley roots were important, but the Ramparts influence ran even deeper. Ramparts was by no means a hippie magazine, but its rebellious spirit, flair for publicity and professional design would all leave their mark on Wenner and Gleason’s fledgling magazine.

A bomb in every issue

Founded in 1962 as a Catholic literary quarterly, Ramparts initially ran articles by Thomas Merton, John Howard Griffin and other Catholic intellectuals. But when a young Warren Hinckle became editor in 1964, he converted Ramparts into a monthly, shifted its focus to politics and hired Dugald Stermer as art director.

Hinckle also recruited Robert Scheer, a former graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Center for Chinese Studies, to write about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Scheer and his colleagues challenged U.S. government pronouncements about the war and routinely lampooned the mainstream media’s Vietnam coverage.

Once Hinckle, Stermer and Scheer joined forces, Ramparts achieved liftoff. It adopted a cutting-edge design, forged links to the Black Panther Party, exposed CIA activities and published the diaries of Che Guevara and staff writer Eldridge Cleaver.

A Ramparts photo-essay, “The Children of Vietnam,” persuaded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against the war, and the title of a Time magazine article about Ramparts, “A Bomb in Every Issue,” described the muckraker’s explosive impact. In 1966, Ramparts earned the George Polk Award for excellence in magazine journalism, and its circulation climbed to almost 250,000.

From left to right: Ramparts magazine editor Warren Hinckle, assistant managing editor Sol Stern and writer Robert Scheer.
AP Photo

Ramparts also became a seedbed for Rolling Stone. Gleason, who was a contributing editor at Ramparts, secured a job for Wenner at the magazine’s spinoff newspaper, the Sunday Ramparts. While there, Wenner picked up layout ideas from Stermer and encountered the work of Hunter S. Thompson, whose bestselling book about the Hells Angels appeared in 1967. Wenner also learned the value of showmanship from the free-spending Hinckle, who frequently echoed playwright George M. Cohan’s motto “Whatever you do, kid, always serve it with a little dressing.”

Ironically, Hinckle played an indirect role in the creation of Rolling Stone. Gleason had planned to write about the Summer of Love at Ramparts, but Hinckle ran his own cover article, “A Social History of the Hippies,” in the March 1967 issue without informing him. A furious Gleason resigned from the magazine, and Wenner lost his job when Hinckle shut down the Sunday Ramparts. That summer, the two men began working on their own publication. By alienating Gleason, laying off Wenner and demonstrating that a “radical slick” had broad appeal, Hinckle cleared the way for Rolling Stone.

Despite reaching a broad audience, Ramparts never stabilized its finances. After running through two private fortunes, it filed for bankruptcy in 1969. Hinckle left to start Scanlan’s Monthly, where he paired Thompson with illustrator Ralph Steadman to cover the Kentucky Derby; that article is now considered the first example of gonzo journalism.

The voice of its generation

Rolling Stone’s first issue appeared in November 1967, but the magazine didn’t come into its own until 1969.

In December of that year, the notorious Altamont free concert devolved into lethal chaos. Several Rolling Stone staff writers witnessed the mayhem, much of which was attributed to Hells Angels, but other media outlets missed the story. Gleason insisted that the magazine cover Altamont as if it were World War II, and its “Let It Bleed” issue landed Rolling Stone a National Magazine Award for Specialized Journalism.

Rolling Stone writer Hunter S. Thompson takes notes while listening to testimony at a trial in West Palm Beach, Flaorida in 1982.
Ray Fairall/AP Photo

Having established itself as “the voice of its generation,” Rolling Stone continued its ascent. After Scanlan’s tanked in 1971, Wenner recruited Thompson and Steadman, published their most notable work, and turned Thompson into a cultural celebrity. Wenner also hired Annie Liebovitz as the magazine’s chief photographer in 1973.

Gleason died of a heart attack in 1975, the same year Ramparts closed its doors for good. Two years later, Rolling Stone decamped for New York City. Although Rolling Stone’s reputation waxed and waned for decades, it retained its ability to break big stories. In 2008, staff writer Matt Taibbi’s political commentary earned Rolling Stone a National Magazine Award, and his 2010 takedown of Goldman Sachs rattled Wall Street. Since then, the magazine has collected two Polk Awards for stories on the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

Rolling Stone’s overall record is decidedly mixed. (Consider, for example, its misbegotten account of rape culture at the University of Virginia, which appeared in 2014.) But as one Ramparts staff writer observed after that magazine perished, “When you look back on it, where else would those articles appear? The Saturday Evening Post?”

The ConversationSo it is with Rolling Stone: No other rock magazine could have matched its coverage of the Manson family or the Patty Hearst saga. For all its flaws, Rolling Stone accomplished a rare feat. Like Ramparts, it created a distinctive niche in the national media ecology; unlike its precursor, it maintained that niche for five decades.

Peter Richardson, Coordinator, American Studies, San Francisco State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How Subversive Artists Made Thrift Shopping Cool

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Customers shop during at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Out of the Closet thrift store in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete/AP

Author: Jennifer Le Zotte, University of North Carolina Wilmington

National Thrift Shop Day (August 17) exists alongside other quirky holidays like Play Your Ukulele Day (February 2) and Rice Crispy Treat Day (September 18). Though intended as a lighthearted celebration of an acceptable commercial habit, the process of making thrift stores hip involved unusual advocates.

As I describe in my recent book “From Goodwill to Grunge,” thrift stores emerged in the late 19th century when Christian-run organizations adopted new models of philanthropy (and helped rehab the image of secondhand stores by dubbing their junk shops “thrift stores”).

Today, there are more than 25,000 resale stores in America. Celebrities often boast of their secondhand scores, while musicians have praised used goods in songs like Fanny Brice’s 1923 hit “Second-Hand Rose” and Macklemore and Ryan’s 2013 chart-topper “Thrift Shop.

Yet over the past 100 years, visual artists probably deserve the most credit for thrift shopping’s place in the cultural milieu.

From sculptor Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 ready-made urinal to “pope of trash” film director John Waters‘ popularization of a trash aesthetic, visual artists have long sought out secondhand goods for creative inspiration, while also using them to critique capitalist ideas.

Glory in the discarded

During World War I, avant-garde artists started using discarded objects – stolen or gleaned, or purchased at flea markets and thrift stores – to push back against the growing commercialization of art. André Breton, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst were among the first to transform cast-aside objects directly into works of art know as “readymades” or “found objects,” or to channel inspiration from such goods into their paintings and writings.

Coinciding with (and emerging from) the anti-art art movement Dada, which fiercely rejected the logic and aestheticism of capitalism, the movement surrounding that elevation of pre-owned items would soon have a name: Surrealism.

In his 1928 semi-autobiographical work “Nadja,” Breton, the “father of Surrealism,” describes secondhand shopping as a transcendent experience. Discarded objects, he wrote, were capable of revealing “flashes of light that would make you see, really see.” Exiled by the France’s Vichy government in the 1940s, Breton settled in New York City, where he sought to inspire other artists and writers by taking them to Lower Manhattan thrift stores and flea markets.

While Duchamp’s “Fountain” is perhaps the most well-known piece of sculptural art derived from a found object, his ready-made “Bicycle Wheel” (1913) appears even earlier. Man Ray’s “Gift” (1921) featured an everyday flatiron with a row of brass tacks secured to its surface. While men did seem to dominate Surrealism, recent sources highlight the importance of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, whom scholars suggest may have gifted Duchamp his famed urinal, making the “Fountain” collaboration. The eccentric and talented baroness created “God” (1917), a cast-iron metal plumbing trap turned upside down, the same year Duchamp displayed “Fountain.”

Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 work ‘Fountain.’
James Broad, CC BY-NC

An aesthetic of imperfection

Surrealism enjoyed its greatest renown throughout the 1920s and 1930s, with its precepts covering everything from poetry to fashion.
Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, New York City witnessed the rise of an avant-garde trash aesthetic, which included discarded goods and the resurrection of bygone themes and characters from from the “golden age” of Hollywood film. The style became known as “camp.”

In the early 1960s, the Theatre of the Ridiculous, an underground, avant-garde genre of theater production, flourished in New York. Largely inspired by Surrealism, Ridiculous broke with dominant trends of naturalistic acting and realistic settings. Prominent elements included gender-bending parodies of classic themes and proudly gaudy stylization.

The genre notably relied on secondhand materials for costumes and sets. Actor, artist, photographer and underground filmmaker Jack Smith is seen as the “father of the style.” His work created and typified the Ridiculous sensibility, and he had a near-obsessive reliance on secondhand materials. As Smith once said, “Art is one big thrift shop.”

He’s probably best known for his sexually graphic 1963 film “Flaming Creatures.” Shocking censors with close-ups of flaccid penises and jiggling breasts, the film became ground zero in the anti-porn battles. Its surrealist displays of odd sexual interactions between men, women, transvestites and a hermaphrodite culminated in a drug-fueled orgy.

A scene from ‘Flaming Creatures.’

According to Smith, “Flaming Creatures” was met with disapproval not because of its sex acts, but because of its aesthetic of imperfection, including the use of old clothes. To Smith, the choice of torn, outdated clothing was a greater form of subversion than the absence of clothing.

As Susan Sontag points out in her famous assessment of camp, the genre isn’t merely a light, mocking sensibility. Rather, it’s a critique of what’s accepted and what isn’t. Smith’s work rebutted the reflexive habit of artists to strive for newness and novelty, and helped popularize a queer aesthetic that continued in bands like The New York Dolls and Nirvana. A long list of artists cite Smith as an inspiration, from Andy Warhol and Patti Smith to Lou Reed and David Lynch.

Beglittered and begowned

In 1969, items from Smith’s enormous cache of secondhand items, including gowns from the 1920s and piles of boas, found their ways into the wardrobes of a San Francisco psychedelic drag troupe, the Cockettes. The group enjoyed a year of wild popularity – even scoring a much-anticipated New York City showing – as much for their thrifted costuming as for their quirky satirical productions. The term “genderfuck” came to signify the group’s aesthetic of bearded men, beglittered and begowned, a style encapsulated by the Cockettes’ storied leader, Hibiscus.

The Cockettes split the next year over a dispute about charging admission, but members continued to influence American culture and style. Former Cockettes member Sylvester would become a disco star, and one of the first openly gay top-billing musicians. A later Cockettes member, Divine, became John Waters’ acclaimed muse, starring in a string of “trash films” – including “Hairspray,” which grossed US$8 million domestically – that very nearly took Ridiculous theater mainstream. By then, a queer, trash aesthetic that relied on secondhand goods became a symbol of rebellion and an expression of creativity for countless middle-class kids.

For many today, thrift shopping is a hobby. For some, it’s a vehicle to disrupt oppressive ideas about gender and sexuality. And for others, thrifting is a way to reuse and recycle, a way to subtly subvert mainstream capitalism (though some mammoth thrift chains with controversial labor practices tend to reap the greatest monetary benefits).

The ConversationLeading the charge, artists have connected secondhand wares with individual creativity and commercial disdain. What started with the surrealists continues today with the hipsters, vintage lovers and grad students who celebrate the outré options and cost-saving potential of discarded goods.

Jennifer Le Zotte, Assistant Professor of Material Culture and History, University of North Carolina Wilmington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Soulivity Featured Artist: Yuliya Zelinskaya

This week, Soulivity Magazine is pleased to feature artist Yuliya Zelinskaya!

When you look at Yuliya’s paintings, there is no doubt of her deep connection to the world.  Her thoughts and feelings flow through the colors and textures of each piece, invoking emotions within the soul.  Narratives are included to support the understanding of the work. These experiences are a welcome treat for the soul.  Enjoy!

“Since my childhood, I have exhibited a deep interest in art, especially after my first colors merged and became a rainbow for me.”

Stand Off

Alpha… the first letter of the Greek Alphabet, which also means “the beginning,” provides the basis for the thoughts used for this piece: Which entity has the most power in a group, animals or people? This is what I identify in this work, the concept of strength in leadership. Who is showing the greater leadership? Confidence? Which is successful, in all that they do, both in business and personal life? Do they have that power and the natural qualities to retain credibility and maintain good character? Are they one who will triumph in life just by being dedicated to a task? Leaders are generous, fearless, bold, and ready to go to the end fighting. They are able to find unexpected solutions in desperate situations. Additionally, the sky symbolizes Justice and Eternity. This painting represents the power that has been here from since the beginning of Civilization, rules the world, and will continue to rule the world to come.


This colorful canvas depicts the essence and the soul of Malta. It takes the imagination to a place of solitude in the midst of the Mediterranean Seas. As she is surrounded by beautiful aqua waters, the romantic life within her harbor is brought alive, with every boat calmly rocking to the rhythm of the sea. And if one looks, every reflection on her waters is a mirror image of what is truly in Malta. It is her heart and soul, as intrinsic colors, which takes you to a place of happiness, joy, love, and peace!

The Dance of Scents 

(Dedicated to THE ONE from Dolce and Gabbana)

This painting shows the delicate dance of the scents during the creation of this fragrance. The main characters are the masculine scent of tobacco and cardamom, as they coalesce with the fresh feminine scents of oranges and blossom. The dance develops with intensity and great sensuality.


Russian painter, Yuliya Zelinskaya, is based and lives in Moscow, Russia.  She says, “The main theme of “My art” is taken from the concept that I found in theatrical productions: Theater this is the place between Fantasy and Reality. I would really like to convey the same emotions, strengthen and impressions through my art, for many viewers of my paintings.”

Make sure to follow her on Social Media:

Facebook: Zelinskaya.Yliya   Instagram: Zelinskaya_Yliya   Twitter: Zelinskaya_ART


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How ‘Game of Thrones’ Became TV’s First Global Blockbuster

The amazing journey of a well-done cable series to an internationally known hit series.

Author: Amanda Lotz, University of Michigan

Photo Courtesy of

On July 16, viewers around the world will eagerly tune into the premiere of the seventh season of “Game of Thrones.”

That phrase – “viewers around the world” – hasn’t applied to television premieres before. For most of its history, television has been a profoundly national medium. While shows like “Dallas,” “Baywatch” and “The Simpsons” all drew large global audiences, international television trade required delays: A television series could air in different countries, but it often happened months – even years – after it would air in its country of origin.

As I explore in my book “We Now Disrupt This Broadcast: How Cable Transformed Television and the Internet Revolutionized It All,” many of those practices have changed in recent years. It’s now possible for a series to release new episodes for viewers around the world, and the result is a global watercooler – a shared media culture that transcends national boundaries.

While you might think that Netflix or Amazon Video would have an advantage, it’s an HBO show – “Game of Thrones” – that’s at the forefront of this phenomenon.

Building a global fan base

Even in a golden era of television production, “Game of Thrones” stands out. HBO spends lavishly on the series – beyond what most other networks can afford – and the result is a visually breathtaking product.

Its fantasy setting takes place in a world that isn’t geographically or culturally distinctive to the U.S., which also broadens audience appeal. Television shows that aren’t country-specific – miniseries such as “The Odyssey” and “Gulliver’s Travels” – tend to be among the most successful in international trade. There was also a built-in global fan base from the popular series of novels that inspired the show.

“Game of Thrones,” however, didn’t start out as a global blockbuster.

HBO debuted the show in 2011 for its U.S. cable channel. Following standard practice, the network sold the series to channels around the world that would air the series with the typical delay. For example, Canal+ airs it in France, Sky Atlantic airs it in Italy and Foxtel airs it in Australia. There are also several HBO branded channels around the globe such as HBO Canada, HBO Central Europe, and HBO Asia. Some are owned fully or in part by HBO’s parent company; others just license the name.

By 2014 “Game of Thrones” had become the network’s biggest hit. But as the show’s popularity grew, so did its rates of piracy. While unauthorized access of video is difficult to measure with certainty, many called the series the most pirated show in the world.

How HBO pulled it off

We’d expect changes wrought by the internet to have played a key role. They did, but not in the way you’d expect. HBO didn’t use the internet to distribute “Game of Thrones” to subscribers around the world like Netflix and Amazon Video have done with their series. Instead, the internet was important to the series’ global growth because of the opportunities it gave fans to interact with one another.

The intricate, surprising storylines on “Game of Thrones” inspired instant dissection and analysis on social media feeds. This encouraged fans in TV markets outside of the U.S. to seek out unauthorized video sources: It was the only way they could avoid spoilers. While news stories about the high rates of piracy highlighted the popularity of the series – a form of free promotion – HBO certainly would prefer viewers to watch through authorized channels. Eliminating the delay in access was one solution.

In 2015, just before the start of its fifth season, HBO announced that it had deals in 170 markets around the world to air new episodes simultaneously with its U.S. broadcast. This was not unprecedented. “Dr. Who” did the same in 2013 with a 94-country simulcast in honor of its 50th anniversary – a one-time event.

Arguably no network other than HBO could have pulled it off.

Because HBO is both the producer and distributor of the series, it can adjust the timing of its international availability. Making shows (the job of studios) and presenting them to audiences (the job of channels) are two different businesses, and their interests don’t perfectly align. If a different studio produced “Game of Thrones” for HBO, the studio might be too concerned that the simulcast would diminish its ability to sell the series to other distributors. Moreover, HBO had significant international reach and relationships that provided it with a direct pipeline to viewers outside the U.S.

Not the new normal – for now

While HBO has shown that global TV blockbusters are now possible, they aren’t likely to become common practice. Internet-distributed services that are building a global subscriber base – such as Netflix and Amazon Video – have a clear advantage in this regard. They have customers around the world and can act as the producer and distributor of their series or negotiate for worldwide rights. It’s notable, however, that neither has succeeded in creating a true blockbuster hit. For example, Netflix’s “Marco Polo” had a huge budget and a premise that appealed to audiences around the world. But it never caught on.

While blockbusters can be incredibly lucrative, there’s no magic formula for making one. The odds of success are far greater when making series that speak specifically to the cultural experiences of people in individual countries or with particular tastes.

The ConversationOnce Netflix and Amazon Video have firmed up a strong subscriber base outside of the U.S. with local programming, look for them to also wade into the risky – but rewarding – business of global blockbusters.

The trailer for Season 7 of ‘Game of Thrones.’

Amanda Lotz, Fellow at the Peabody Media Center and Professor of Media Studies, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Creative Country: 98% of Australians Engage with the Arts

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Nearly three-quarters of Australians go to live art events, such as Dark Mofo in Hobart.
Stefan Karpiniec/Flickr, CC BY

Author: Jo Caust, University of Melbourne

The arts play a role in the lives of 98% of the Australian population, according to a new survey, Connecting Australians, released by the Australia Council today. That is, the majority of Australians from all walks of life – different ages, genders, cultures and backgrounds – participate and engage with the arts on some level.

While this figure is consistent with previous surveys, one major change is the national impact of new technologies on the experiencing and making of arts practice. For example, the survey found that 97% of all Australians aged between 15 and 24 engage with the arts online and 81% of Australians overall, up from 49% in 2009 and 73% in 2013. The major areas of engagement are listening to music (97%), reading books (79%) and going to live events (72%).

Australia’s arts engagement 2016.
Australia Council

The latest report is a follow-up to surveys in 2009 and 2013 that tracked the way Australians engage with the arts. The data are derived from a nationally representative sample of 7,537 Australians aged 15 years and over. The researchers also did studies with several focus groups within particular demographics to develop a deeper understanding of community attitudes and values.

Young engaging with the arts

Another important discovery in the survey is that both First Nations people and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are more likely to engage with the arts online (at 90%) relative to the general population (just over 80%).

This online participation compares with 72% of people attending arts events in person. While this might be a problem if fewer people were attending arts events, it appears that many of those experiencing the arts online are in fact new audiences – no doubt the 15-24 age group as noted above. Thus there may not be a reduction in attendance; rather, we are seeing an increase in other forms of participation.

An important change is the recognition by an increased number of people that the arts have a positive impact on their lives. Young people, again, are the group that recognises this most. This effect appears to decrease with age, as do most kinds of arts engagement.

Both aspects of this finding are surprising given that the audience age at particular forms of arts practice such as classical music or opera is older. It would seem from this data that as the population ages, there is less engagement with the arts and those engaging feel less of a positive benefit.

Signs of discontent?

There are some other areas of concern too that seem to reflect broader social disengagement patterns in the Australian population and culture. For example, there is an increased ambivalence towards public funding of the arts from around 13% of the population in 2013 to 25% in 2016 (they answered “neither agree nor disagree” to the statement that the arts should receive public funding).

Some 76% of Australians listened to recorded music online.

The percentage of those who think the arts are too expensive has also increased (from 36% to 43%). Likewise, more people think the arts attract people who are somewhat elitist, and more people think the arts aren’t for people “like them”.

The report authors see this changing perception as possibly reflecting a particular framing of the “arts” – that is, the arts are interpreted only as the “high” arts. If this is the case, there is a need for further work around how the arts are defined, as well as more consideration of skewed funding patterns versus broader cultural preferences. The survey shows that this elitist framing is generally age-defined, with younger people seeing the arts from a broader perspective.

More people see the arts as a way of improving cultural understanding and tolerance, with an increase from 36% of the population in 2013 to 64% in 2016. There is also an increase in those who believe the arts are more truly reflective of Australia’s cultural diversity – from 64% in 2013 to 75% in 2016.

The survey demonstrates the changing way that people now engage and participate in the arts. Researcher John Holden has talked at length about this with his framing of three forms of culture – publicly funded, homemade and commercial.

One of the survey researchers notes that the boundaries between art appreciation and art making are increasingly blurred. This is evidence of greater engagement in art making, especially by young people, using platforms such as Youtube, Instagram and Spotify.

The ConversationTechnology has been a democratising force in encouraging and enabling more people to both appreciate and participate in all forms of arts practice. It is likely this will continue and that is good for both arts engagement and how we value arts practices.

Jo Caust, Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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For the Record: the Vinyl Revival and a Plug-in Too Far



Vinyl is back, or so it might seem. For better or worse? I’m not so sure myself.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/NataliaDeriabina

Author: Jamie Birkett, University of Salford

Like a lot of vinyl enthusiasts, I too enjoy the ritual, the feel, the physicality of a real product in my hands. But as soon as I get to the listening part, the sound engineer in me can’t help but feel it’s all a bit of snake oil.

Following yet another successful record store day in an ever growing market, a closer look at the top 10 highest selling vinyl albums of 2017 reveals that seven out of the 10 are either re-releases from legacy artists or old soundtracks. There’s plenty that has been said about the reality of this revival on independent artists and labels but what impact has it had on the recording itself?

Although ostensibly a market driven forward by new technologies, the audio recording world has a tendency to be nostalgic for that same vintage “authenticity” that lies behind the vinyl revival. Analogue synths and reel-to-reel tape decks, although old technology, are still the holy grail for many recording engineers that yearn to capture the sounds they grew up with. And for the younger generation, a return to analogue recording ideals may well represent a rejection of the seemingly less real digital audio they grew up with.

In a market increasingly aimed at bedroom producers and “prosumers”, many of the most popular audio plug-in manufacturers concentrate on creating “in-the-box” digital plug-in versions of vintage audio hardware. These plug-ins have done wonders to advance the quality of home recorded music and even the grumpiest of old-school sound engineers would find it hard to resist the temptation of owning a piece of that classic sound at a fraction of the price. But it was only a matter of time until all this vinyl frenzy seemingly forced a gap in the market for the snake oil salesmen to jump on that wagon.

A new old sound

Recently the popular audio plug-in developer Waves released its Abbey Road Vinyl plug-in. If the “Abbey Road” moniker alone wasn’t enough to steam up your rose-tinted glasses, this vinyl emulation promises to capture the very “retro feel of a record, combined with the analogue warmth of its sound which makes vinyl a beautiful nostalgic statement”. With a reputation like Waves’ and an RRP of $249 (about £192), I can only imagine that it does come close to being a “precise model” of the original Abbey Road cutting lathe. But is that really a good thing?

Zealots on either side of the fence can argue until they’re blue in the face about whether vinyl sounds better or not. But even if we ignore that a large number of commercially released vinyl is pressed using CD quality digital files, the reality is that technically it just can’t compete. Surface noise, warping and added distortion are inherent to vinyl and all amount to a far different representation of the audio that the artists and producer intended for the listener.

The ConversationThen what does vinyl emulation hope to achieve exactly? It would seem that the soul purpose of these types of plug-ins is to actually recreate the particularly undesirable artefacts that recording engineers tried so hard to eliminate before digital audio existed. So if the vinyl revival is really driven by the music fans’ desire to have a real product, complete with the ritual and aura of a physical record, then vinyl emulation is nothing more than a degradation tool. Maybe it’s time we stopped with the nostalgia, fellow recording engineers. We’ve gone too far, time to go back. Or should that be forward?

Jamie Birkett, Lecturer, University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Soulivity Featured Artist: Vincent Mei

This week, Soulivity Magazine is pleased to feature photographer Vincent Mei!

When I go out to capture an image I never know where I’m going, nor what I’m going to shoot.  I always let my inspiration guide me.  Each photo is above all “a moment of life” and more than anything, an atmosphere.  If the atmosphere doesn’t come together, then I imagine it, I visualize it, I make it live.

(For full-size photos, please click on image to enable the lightbox)


Vince Mei is an aspiring amateur photographer, based in the city of Marseille, located in the south of France.  He believes that “A photo is not just a nice picture for the readers.  It is an art, with different inspirations, which makes it possible to escape to the place and at the moment when the photographer uses their passion for feeling all that they could absorb at that precise moment.”

Make sure to follow him on Instagram: Vincent Mei

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Did Artists Lead the Way in Mathematics?



Is there a geometry lesson hidden in ‘The Last Supper’?

Author: Henry Adams, Case Western Reserve University

Mathematics and art are generally viewed as very different disciplines – one devoted to abstract thought, the other to feeling. But sometimes the parallels between the two are uncanny. The Conversation

From Islamic tiling to the chaotic patterns of Jackson Pollock, we can see remarkable similarities between art and the mathematical research that follows it. The two modes of thinking are not exactly the same, but, in interesting ways, often one seems to foreshadow the other.

Does art sometimes spur mathematical discovery? There’s no simple answer to this question, but in some instances it seems very likely.

Patterns in the Alhambra

Consider Islamic ornament, such as that found in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Alhambra served as the palace and harem of the Berber monarchs. For many visitors, it’s a setting as close to paradise as anything on earth: a series of open courtyards with fountains, surrounded by arcades that provide shelter and shade. The ceilings are molded in elaborate geometric patterns that resemble stalactites. The crowning glory is the ornament in colorful tile on the surrounding walls, which dazzles the eye in a hypnotic way that’s strangely blissful. In a fashion akin to music, the patterns lift the onlooker into an almost out-of-body state, a sort of heavenly rapture.

Tiles at the Alhambra. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

It’s a triumph of art – and of mathematical reasoning. The ornament explores a branch of mathematics known as tiling, which seeks to fill a space completely with regular geometric patterns. Math shows that a flat surface can be regularly covered by symmetric shapes with three, four and six sides, but not with shapes of five sides.

It’s also possible to combine different shapes, using triangular, square and hexagonal tiles to fill a space completely. The Alhambra revels in elaborate combinations of this sort, which are hard to see as stable rather than in motion. They seem to spin before our eyes. They trigger our brain into action and, as we look, we arrange and rearrange their patterns in different configurations.

An emotional experience? Very much so. But what’s fascinating about such Islamic tilings is that the work of anonymous artists and craftsmen also displays a near-perfect mastery of mathematical logic. Mathematicians have identified 17 types of symmetry: bilateral symmetry, rotational symmetry and so forth. At least 16 appear in the tilework of the Alhambra, almost as if they were textbook diagrams.

The patterns are not merely beautiful, but mathematically rigorous as well. They explore the fundamental characteristics of symmetry in a surprisingly complete way. Mathematicians, however, did not come up with their analysis of the principles of symmetry until several centuries after the tiles of the Alhambra had been set in place.

Quasicrystalline tiles

Stunning as they are, the decorations of the Alhambra may have been surpassed by a masterpiece in Persia. There, in 1453, anonymous craftsmen at the Darbi-I Imam shrine in Isfahan discovered quasicrystalline patterns. These patterns have complex and mysterious mathematical properties that were not analyzed by mathematicians until the discovery of Penrose tilings in the 1970s.

Such patterns fill a space completely with regular shapes, but in a configuration which never repeats itself – indeed, is infinitely nonrepeated – although the mathematical constant known as the Golden Section occurs over and over again.

Daniel Schectman won the 2001 Nobel Prize for the discovery of quasicrystals, which obey this law of organization. This breakthrough forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.

Laser-cut Girih tiles.
Cropped from [email protected]/flickr, CC BY

In 2005, Harvard physicist Peter James Lu showed that it’s possible to generate such quasicrystalline patterns relatively easily using girih tiles. Girih tiles combine several pure geometric shapes into five patterns: a regular decagon, an irregular hexagon, a bow tie, a rhombus and a regular pentagon.

Whatever the method, it’s clear that the quasicrystalline patterns at Darbi-I Imam were created by craftsmen without advanced training in mathematics. It took several more centuries for mathematicians to analyze and articulate what they were doing. In other words, intuition preceded full understanding.

Perspective and non-Euclidian mathematics

Geometric perspective made it possible to portray the visible world with a new verisimilitude and accuracy, creating an artistic revolution in the Italian Renaissance. One could argue that perspective also led to a major reexamination of the fundamental laws of mathematics.

royluck/flickr, CC BY

In reality, the two rails of the track never meet. But, as they approach the horizon, they seem to converge at a distant ‘vanishing point.’

According to Euclidian mathematics, two parallel lines will remain parallel into infinity and never meet. In the world of Renaissance perspective, however, parallel lines eventually do meet in the far distance at the so-called “vanishing point.” In other words, Renaissance perspective present a geometry which follows regular mathematical laws, but is non-Euclidian.

When mathematicians first devised non-Euclidian mathematics in the early 19th century, they imagined a world in which parallel lines meet at infinity. The geometry they explored was, in many ways, similar to that of Renaissance perspective.

Non-Euclidian mathematics has since moved on to explore space which has 12 or 13 dimensions, far outside the world of Renaissance perspective. But it’s worth asking whether Renaissance art may have made easier to make that initial leap.

Pollock’s chaotic paintings

An interesting modern case of art that broke traditional boundaries – and that has suggestive parallels with recent developments in mathematics – is that of the paintings of Jackson Pollock.

To those who first encountered them, the paintings of Pollock seemed chaotic and senseless. With time, however, we’ve come to see that they have elements of order, though not a traditional sort. Their shapes are simultaneously predictable and unpredictable, in a fashion similar to the pattern of dripping water from a faucet. There’s no way to predict the exact effect of the next drip. But, if we chart the pattern of drips, we find that they fall within a zone that has a clear shape and boundaries.

‘Greyed Rainbow’ by Jackson Pollock.
ancientartpodcast/flickr, CC BY

Such unpredictability was once out of bounds for mathematicians. But, in recent years, it has become one of the hottest areas of mathematical exploration. For example, chaos theory explores patterns that are not predictable but fall within a definable range of possibilities, while fractal analysis studies shapes that are similar but not identical.

Pollock himself had no particular interest in mathematics, and little known talent in that arena. His fascination with these forms was intuitive and subjective.

Intriguingly, mathematicians have not been able to accurately describe what Pollock was doing in his paintings. For example, there have been attempts to use fractal analysis to create a numerical “signature” of his style, but so far the method has not worked – we can’t mathematically distinguish Pollock’s autograph work from bad imitations. Even the notion that Pollock employed fractal thoughts is probably incorrect.

Nonetheless, Pollock’s simultaneously chaotic and orderly patterns have suggested a fruitful direction for mathematics. At some point, it may well be possible to describe what Pollock was doing with mathematical tools, and artists will have to move on and mark out a new frontier to explore.

Henry Adams, Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History, Case Western Reserve University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Behind the Scenes – The Magic of Movie Soundtracks

This concert was a first on the list of big movie-based events in Hungary and we are glad to say it turned out almost perfectly.

Author: Lilla Kurta

All around the world, it is a universal truth that everybody loves movies. But, the thing that gets an even bigger platform is the soundtracks of these films.  John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard or the late James Horner are all huge names in the industry.  Here in Hungary, they weren’t really in the spotlight yet, though last year Hans Zimmer himself arrived in Budapest to give a big concert. It was a huge success, and everyone could see that people here (just like in other countries) love film music.  And, the idea for this concert was born.

Planning this event was a massive undertaking because of the age differences of the performers. Our youngest little boy was only seven years old, and he is already a real talent in playing the drums. While our oldest member was a 72 years old very nice lady, she sings as part of the choir.

The youngsters of Strém Kálmán orchestra were responsible for bringing legendary scores to life, like the theme music of Star Wars, Forrest Gump or The Lord of the Rings. Their leader, Arpad Jakobovics, teaches in the local music school. This orchestra is a local favorite and founded in 1995. This competition-winning group has a really good relationship with the Finns.

Ritmus Choir had a blast during the concert.  Their Hungarian version of the world famous “I Will Follow Him” from the movie, Sister Act, was probably one of the biggest success of the night.  And, their closing song “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt made everyone a little weepy.  Their music leader, Katalin Ernszt, was the founder of the choir ten years ago, and they still have the same people working with them. Though tragedy struck the choir in January when Katalin’s beloved husband passed away, they were right back in business after a period of mourning. Their enthusiastic dedication brought them great success at the end of the concert.

While I was the main organizer of this tribute concert event, I also took a role as solo singer, performing songs like “Beauty and the Beast” and “God Help The Outcasts.”  It was my lifelong dream to organize this type of event.  I am a huge movie maniac, and I truly believe in the power of music composers –  a movie is only as powerful as its original soundtrack.  It was a night to remember with a full house!  Shortly, we will work on another event to pay tribute to other great film composers and their wonderful melodies.

Behind the Scenes – The Magic of Movie Soundtracks





Hungarian artist Lilla Kurta tried out on a variety of art fields before the drawing and painting area.  Being a serious film addict, her pieces show this side of her heart.   She says, “to those who would like to learn to draw or paint, keep on practicing, hard work does pay out in the end.”  You find more of Lilla’s work by following her on social media: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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