Portraits of the Artist

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Hollywood’s obsession with stories about creative types has resulted in familiar tropes—namely that of the tortured artist, whose fanatical devotion to his craft makes him an enigma to those around him—and story formulae like the bio-pic, which runs through the beats of its subject’s career like a Wikipedia entry. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how some of the year’s buzziest films subvert our expectations of art about artists. “Maestro” is “a fantasia on Leonard Bernstein themes” that focusses on the toll that the legendary composer’s charisma exacts on those around him. “May December,” directed by Todd Haynes, is “a dark satire on certain tendencies in method acting.” And Cord Jefferson’s début feature, “American Fiction,” pairs a critique of the publishing industry’s hollow nods toward “diversity” with a quiet family drama. The hosts also consider other, more deliberately unglamorous depictions, such as that found in Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up.” The movie, which follows a sculptor struggling to make ends meet, raises the question of a much rarer archetype. “It seems to me a figure that can take more plumbing,” Cunningham says. “I want to see what that new figure, the everyday artist, can unfold to us about what it means to have a life in art.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

“Adaptation” (2002)
“American Fiction” (2023)
“A Conversation with My Father,” by Grace Paley
Just Kids,” by Patti Smith
“Maestro” (2023)
“May December” (2023)
My Struggle,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard
“New York Stories” (1989)
“Showing Up” (2023)

New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.

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