Arts and Culture in Texas
Like the state itself, art and culture in Texas is vast, varied, and often surprising. For instance, many people might conjure images of honky-tonks complete with sawdust on the floor when they think of Texas music, but the Lone Star State has no fewer than 20 symphonies, not to mention multiple ballets and world-class opera. Of course, there are also plenty of honky-tonks.
While the state has created countless music stars, it is also a titan of film. Over the decades, Texas has produced world-renowned filmmakers from Galveston’s King Vidor to Houston’s Wes Anderson. The first-ever film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, 1927’s Wings, was shot in San Antonio. Texas has also birthed literary giants like Larry McMurtry and, perhaps more surprisingly, thriller queenPatricia Highsmith.
Drawing on a mélange of indigenous and transplanted cultures from Native American to Mexican American, Texas really does offer something for everyone, culturally speaking (even for those not interested in rodeo). In fact, studying the art and culture of Texas is more like being immersed in that of a country, not a state. The most famous piece of architecture in the former Republic, the Alamo, may have fallen, but Texas culture is too unshakably diverse to be diluted or destroyed. Actually, so is the Alamo. It's still standing, and perennially remains the most popular tourist attraction in the state.
When it comes to ballet, Texas offers so much talent that it actually has two competing companies in one city. Founded in 1985, Ballet San Antonio bills itself as the only ballet in the city whose dancers are trained the Ballet Russe style. (For the record, the San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet was founded first, in 1983.)
The Houston Ballet’s Lauren Anderson was the first African American ballerina as principal at a major company. (Anderson hung up her pointe shoes in 2006.) Composed of 54 dancers, the ballet recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and has been called "one of the nation’s best ballet companies" by the New York Times. It is soon to be housed in the Houston Ballet Center For Dance, a 115,000-square-foot, $53 million facility scheduled to open in spring 2011. Other companies of note include Texas Ballet Theater, which employs 38 professional dancers and operates two ballet academies in the Dallas–Ft. Worth area, and Ballet Austin, the 15th largest classical ballet company in the country.
Texas is no stranger to the symphony either. Amarillo, Fort Worth, El Paso, Lubbock, Plano, Waco, and other Texas cities both large and small can claim their own orchestras. Founded in 1911, the Austin Symphony Orchestra is Austin’s oldest performing arts group. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra is even older, launching in 1900 under the direction of German-born conductor Hans Kreissig. TheHouston Symphony, in operation since 1911, performs roughly 170 concerts for more than 350,000 each year.
Opera is similarly well represented in the Lone Star State. Since its first production, Salome in 1955, theHouston Grand Opera has grown into a cultural behemoth with a current annual operating budget of $20 million. Based out of the Wortham Theater Center, it is widely regarded as one of the world’s principal commissioners and producers of new operas and has been home to 39 world premieres and six American premieres since 1973.
Other notable Texas opera companies include the Dallas Civic Opera, which opened in 1957 with an inaugural concert by legendary soprano Maria Callas; the Fort Worth Opera (the oldest in the state, opening in 1946); and the Austin Lyric Opera, which staged the North American premiere of Philip Glass' Waiting for the Barbarians in 2007.
In terms of the arts, music is arguably what Texas is most known for. It’s hard to think of a state that has produced more music greats, from Janis Joplin to Beyoncé Knowles and from George Jones toNorah Jones. The list is seemingly endless: add to the above Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, T-Bone Burnett, Ornette Coleman, Steve Earle, Gene Autry, "Lead Belly," Lyle Lovett, Roy Orbison,Elliott Smith, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt.
Many of these musicians have attained legendary or near-legendary status for their only-in-Texas innovations. In particular, Kristofferson, Nelson, and Van Zandt can be credited with the pioneering of a subgenre known as Texas Country (see Historic Art Movements section below). The legendary Holly was responsible for the "Lubbock Sound," a blend of countrified, early rock n' roll.
The late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin typified a Texas blues-rock sound, with Joplin adding gospel to the mix. Coleman was a major innovator in the 1960s "free jazz" movement, and Huddie William "Lead Belly" Ledbetter was legendary for his hybrid of folk and blues in the 1930s and 1940s. Today he is commonly referred to as the "King of the 12-string Guitar."
Austin in particular is a music stronghold. Its eclectic scene, embedded in Mexican, German, and colonial origins, is home to more original music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world, earning it the nickname "Live Music Capital." The city hosts the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) each year, drawing promising talent from around the country and the world for an audience of music fans and industry bigwigs. Begun in 1987, SXSW has grown to become one of the largest and most influential music festivals in the U.S., with over 1,400 performers playing in more than 80 venues around the city.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
Theater is not particularly well represented in the Lone Star State, but only comparatively speaking—Texas has still managed to produce its share of world-class talent. Famed choreographer and activistAlvin Ailey, Jr. hailed from Rogers, Texas. Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. His dance piece Revelations is believed to be the best-known and most often seen modern dance performance.Like Ailey, Tony Award-winning dancer, actor, and choreographer Tommy Tunehad to leave his Texas home to make it big on the stage. Other stage notables from Texas include actor and comedian Carol Burnett (The Carol Burnett Show) and actor/dancer Cyd Charisse, who, after recovering from polio as a child in Amarillo, studied ballet and went on to co-star in classic musicals such as Singin' in the Rain (1952).
Texas does have some in-state facilities for those looking to make a stage career in the state, or simply take in an evening of entertaining theater. The University of Texas-based Texas Performing Artspresents music, theater, and dance performances in Austin. Houston’s Society for the Performing Arts is the largest nonprofit organization of its kind in the Southwest. The Opera and Performing Arts Society (OPAS) at Texas A&M University presents musical theater productions like Les Miserables and Rent.
FILM AND TELEVISION
The most iconic Texas films are generally the ones that portray the state’s vastness, frontier spirit, and perhaps even the loneliness that emerges in the wide-open, flat landscape. Filmed in Archer City, the birthplace of its writer, Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show (1971) is steeped in the heavy atmosphere of a dying frontier town in West Texas. Although directed by a New Yorker, the film has become a cultural touchstone for themes of the larger-than-life West.
So has Hud (1963), a film in which Paul Newman portrays the title character, an outlaw antihero in spurs who pointlessly rebels against the weight of his own cowboy myth. Hud was also based on a novel by McMurtry, one of Texas’ pre-eminent writers (see Literary Arts). The 1956 film Giant also looms large in the mythology of the Lone Star State. Starring James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor,Giant deals with the great Texas Oil Boom of the early 20th century.
Texas has also produced its share of filmmaking talent that has little interest, if any, in stories about cowboys and windswept plains. The rather cosmopolitan directors Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, John Cameron Mitchell, Wes Anderson, and Mike Judge all make extremely contemporary films. Many still live in Texas, almost all in that artistic hotbed of Austin (Illinois-born auteur Terrence Malick resides there as well).
Not surprisingly, Austin hosts Texas’ most important film festival, the SXSW Film Conference and Festival. A sister to the SXSW music festival, it offers local and world filmmakers opportunities to network and get their films seen by potential buyers and backers, as well as savvy, film-loving audiences. Other major festivals include the Thin Line Film Fest, the only documentary festival in the state; The Dallas International Film Festival, founded in 2006 by the Dallas Film Society; theTexas Black Film Festival; the Flatland Film Festival; and the Austin Film Festival.
For the most part, film productions in Texas are shot on location, taking advantage of the state’s often awe-inspiring geography. Those filmmakers looking to shoot their movies in a controlled environment usually shoot in Austin Studios, which is operated by the Austin Film Society. The 20-acre film production facility includes five wireless stages and a total of 10,000 square feet of production office space. Films shot at the studios include Stop-Loss, Grindhouse, Friday Night Lights, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Life Of David Gale, The Rookie, and Miss Congeniality.
Beloved Texas visual artist and Taylor native Frederick Bean "Tex" Avery was famous for producing animated cartoons during the Golden Age of Hollywood animation, creating the iconic characters Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. (A popular catchphrase at North Dallas High School during the days Avery attended, "What's up, Doc?," later became Bugs Bunny’s calling card in the 1940s.) Avery’s subversive, anarchic, artistic spirit continues to be an influence in animation today, from Spongebob Squarepants to the various characters of the Cartoon Network’s "Adult Swim."
Celebrated television soap opera Dallas ran from 1978 to 1991. The first 11 seasons were primarily filmed on location in Dallas as well as at Parker's Southfork Ranch.
Texas has distinguished itself as the birthplace of some formidable writers, including two of the most renowned female scribes of the 20th century. Born in Fort Worth in 1921, Patricia Highsmith was a novelist and short-story writer known for her psychological thrillers. Highly cinematic and fraught with tension, much of her work has been made into movie adaptations, including her first novel, Strangers on a Train, which Alfred Hitchcock famously adapted in 1951. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and fiction writer Katherine Anne Porter’s novel Ship of Fools was the best-selling novel in America in 1962. She is also well known for her critically acclaimed short stories. Ship of Fools, an allegorical drama about ship passengers traveling from Mexico to Europe, was adapted for the screen by Stanley Kramer in 1965.
The writer most associated with the social fabric of Texas, Larry McMurtry, is probably best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1985 novel Lonesome Dove, which follows ex-Texas Rangers on a cattle drive from the Rio Grande to the Montana frontier. Like his novels The Last Picture Show and Hud, LonesomeDove was also adapted for the screen, although this time for a 1989 TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. McMurtry has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and is a past president of the literary society PEN.
Principally focused on historical drama about frontier life and the cowboy myth, McMurtry’s work nonetheless feels as relevant and resonant to modern-day Texas as anything written by his more urban contemporary, playwright Terrence MacNally. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally found fame writing plays for the Broadway stage. His work, including 1994’s Love! Valor! Compassion! and 1992’s Tony-winning musical adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman, often features gay characters and themes.
Other Texas literary greats include the "Dimestore Dostoevsky" James Myers (Jim) Thompson, who wrote more than 30 "pulp" crime novels in the mid-20th century and is now considered a giant of the genre. Robert Ervin Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird) have also earned a place among Texas writers.
The Lone Star State’s renowned visual artists range from lowbrow populists to esteemed darlings of the New York art world. Born Milton Ernst Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1925, painter and sculptorRobert Rauschenberg gained fame during the 1950s transition from abstract expressionism to pop art. Rauschenberg’s three-dimensional "combine" painting-sculptures’ use of nontraditional materials and objects like oil, house paint, pencil, paper, fabric, metal, buttons, nails, cardboard, printed paper, photographs, wood, paint tubes, and string (all found in his piece The Canyon), blurs the lines between art and the everyday world. It can even be said to harken back to Texas folk and outsider art, with its similar use of found materials.
Another Texas art phenomenon is Julian Schnabel. Actually born in Brooklyn, New York, Schnabel relocated to Brownsville, Texas, in his youth. In the mid-1980s, Schnabel became a major figure in the neo-expressionism movement. He has since moved on to directing films, including the Academy Award-nominated The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).
More regional Texas visual artists include Janet Eager Krueger and Julian Onderdonk. Known for her large-scale oil paintings of South Texas ranch life, Krueger is also an associate art professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Born in 1882 in San Antonio, the late Onderdonk was an impressionist often referred to as the "father of Texas painting." President George W. Bush decorated the Oval Office with three of Onderdonk’s paintings, and the Dallas Museum of Art has several rooms dedicated exclusively to his work.
The state’s vastness, coupled with its wide variety of cultural influences, has historically led to a wide range of architectural styles being represented in Texas. The first non-Native American architecture in the state came in the form of Spanish missions; San Antonio de Valero mission, which came to be known as the Alamo, is the most famous example of the Mission style. Mission Revival continues to be popular throughout Texas and the Southwest.
Shortly before Texas became a state, the Greek Revival style exploded in popularity. The quintessential example of this architectural style can be found in the Governor's Mansion in Austin, which was built in 1854. Later, the Italian Renaissance Revival-style Texas State Capitol, also in Austin, was curiously billed as "the Seventh Largest Building in the World" at the time of its construction in 1882, and retained that title through 1888.
In the early 20th century, architect David R. Williams developed the signature style of the Texas ranch house. A proponent of the regionalist movement, Williams emphasized a response to the environment with designs based upon his study of indigenous architecture in Texas. Born in Pink Hill, Texas, O'Neil Ford further developed Williams’ regionalist principles in the mid-20th century, merging European modernism with early Texas architectural details. The architects’ famous collaboration, theHugh Drane residence, is located in Corsicana.
Modern Texas boasts some of the tallest skyscrapers in the country, including the 75-story JP Morgan Chase Tower, the tallest building in Texas as well as the tallest five-sided building in the world. Significantly smaller yet no less eccentric is the MADI Museum in Dallas, which draws upon the MADI art movement, known for bright colors and bold geometric forms. On a more historical note, the Texas Theatre in Dallas, which was opened in 1931 by industrialist and film producer Howard Hughes, became infamous as the place where local police captured Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Texas can claim an impressive array of folk and outsider artists and art forms. Mexican American folk art includes traditional, handcrafted pottery, Day of the Dead art such as papier maché mask work, religious art, and hand-loomed rebosos. Other Texas folk artists work in a variety of media—traditional handicrafts in the state include saddlemaking, quilting, pine needle basket construction, and even whittling.
Born in 1912 near Seguin, Texas, African American artist John Willard Banks didn’t have his first solo exhibition until the age of 72. Banks’ distinctive style—which included outlining figures in pencil or ballpoint pen and shading with pencil, crayon, and felt-tipped marker—often included depictions of black rural life, such as church meetings, baptisms, farm life, and Juneteenth celebrations.
Banks’ contemporary, painter and sculptor George White, was born in Cedar Creek in 1903. Of African American, Mexican, and Native American heritage, White’s sculptural reliefs made of wood, leather, and other materials often depicted Texas frontier life. Other notable Texas folk artists include Eddie Arning, whose crayon and pastel drawings were inspired by magazine illustrations, and Fannie Lou Spelce, known as the "Grandma Moses of Texas."
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
Inspired by outlaw country bad boys like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash, Texas country music is known for combining traditionalist country sounds with no-nonsense everyman themes. Primarily a response to the slick Nashville sound, the "outlaw country" movement of the 1960s and 1970s was known for its lyricism as much as anything, and Texas country music is no different. In fact, it’s often hard to differentiate where the two genres diverge: two of the three of the aforementioned outlaw country godfathers, Jennings and Nelson, hail from Texas. More contemporary Texas country musicians include Steve Earle and Joe Ely.
Coming to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Texas impressionism sought to render the Texas landscape with the visual effects of European impressionism. This new painting style encouraged artists to relocate to Texas, and Dallas became a center of the new Texas School. Artists working in Texas impressionism included Jose Arpa (1858-1952), Robert Wood (1889-1979), Rolla Taylor (1871-1970), and Porfirio Salinas (1919-1973). Modern-day artists who have been influenced by the school include Dalhart Windberg and Larry Dyke.
Emerging shortly after Texas impressionism in the era of the Great Depression, the visual movement ofLone Star regionalism used darker, more evocative colors to portray uniquely Texas subject matter. Everyday scenes were depicted, and ordinary experience was stressed. The movement also included literature, with J. Frank Dobie arguably its most successful writer. Standout visual artists includedTom Lea, Clinton King, Thomas Hart Benson, and Constance Rourke. Reflecting the necessity of the times, Texas regionalists painted on railroad cars, burlap, and virtually any other surface they could find. In this way, like much of Texas art, the movement could be characterized as outsider or even folk art.
-World Trade Press