Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: scribbles, screening, strikes and more.

The editors

May 8, 2023

Scribbles on a canvas: Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, and Marcel Duchamp, all twentieth-century artists with lasting influence on art theory and history, are the centerpiece of the most recent Harper Review essay, in which Renee Ricevuto explains why we’re terrified of modern art. When we accuse abstract artists of being insincere money grubbers playing the market, Ricevuto writes, it is less an incisive aesthetic analysis than a projection of our own insecurities about the results of hard work. One cornerstone of twentieth-century art is the artist’s individuality laid bare on the canvas, exemplified by Rothko, whose work often evokes deeply emotional responses. But the world of art can reveal that we, too, pour our souls into our work, and risk mixed, lukewarm, or even hostile reception—and we lash out at artists to assuage our own fears.

Why we are restless: If we live in an age of unprecedented prosperity, why does it seem like we see signs that our pursuit of happiness has been fruitless everywhere we turn? Benjamin Storey will seek to answer this question and more at a discussion of his book Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment held by The Seminary Co-op. The book, which he coauthored with his wife Jenna Storey, draws on the insights of Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, and Tocqueville to examine the dissatisfaction so present in modern life. The Storeys, both research professors at Furman University, argue that the philosophy we have inherited from these thinkers produces homogeneous and unhappy lives despite pretending to allow us all to live as we please. The event will take place on Friday, May 12 from 6 to 7 p.m.

Screened screens: Over the weekend, King Charles made an unexpected gesture during his televised coronation: he ducked behind a screen for Anointing, a private blessing concealed in a noticeable way, at once hidden and in view. Mary Harrington writes about this new push for privacy in a culture that encourages its participants to “bare everything.” This movement to preserve authenticity might not be as genuine as it seems. But in a world where lip service is paid to openness at any cost, private people may still be able to work creatively with what’s not said in a given situation and preserve their interiority. Read more in her article for UnHerd.

Scriptwriters on strike: The Writer’s Guild of America is on strike for the first time since 2007, and more than a few folks outside Hollywood are wondering what all the fuss is about. Don’t writers get paid well? Don’t they make residuals on reruns? In this primer in GQ, Eric Thurm explains what’s at stake for writers in Hollywood, where long-standing traditions have been overturned by the boom of streaming and rise of AI. Streaming companies have slashed the number of creators brought into writers rooms, condensed writing schedules, and slashed opportunities for young writers to collaborate on-set. Unlike television, streaming services don’t pay residuals—meaning the writers behind popular sitcoms see almost no returns when streaming services buy their shows. Thurm explains that as revenue has boomed, it’s executives that are walking away with the cash.