Arthur Lubow has worked as a staff writer for Newsweek, People, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and for the last five years or so, as a freelancer, he has written mainly for the New York Times Magazine, where he is a contributing writer, Inc. and Smithsonian. I recently caught up with Lubow to talk about his start in journalism and experience researching and writing "Bernini's Genius," a feature in Smithsonian's October issue.
How did you get your start in arts journalism?
After college I spent a year at Cambridge University, studying British cultural history of the Industrial Revolution—totally impractical. When I came back to New York, my hometown, in 1975, I was lucky enough to get a job as a feature writer for a now defunct national biweekly called New Times. There I could write long pieces – from 4,000 words to as long as 12,000 words – on everything from Gerald Ford's environmental policy, new German cinema, recombinant DNA, the then unknown singer-songwriter Nick Drake, animal intelligence, sex on television, the IBM antitrust trial–and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. It was a fantastic job, and a realization that for me, the wonderful thing about journalism was that I didn't have to specialize. I could keep learning new things. Eventually, I focused primarily, but not exclusively, on the arts, defined broadly to include architecture, food, music (both classical and pop) and literature, as well as the visual arts.
What was the most surprising thing that you learned about sculptor-architect-painter-and-playwright Gian Lorenzo Bernini?
For me, the main revelation in researching this story was discovering how much intellectual content there was behind these sculptures that are such breathtaking achievements of virtuosity. Bernini was a thinker as much as a craftsman. The plays he wrote are mind-boggling when you hear about them—they sound so modern.
What do you like and dislike about Bernini's work?
Like many people of our time who have some knowledge of the Italian Baroque, I had been much more intrigued by Bernini's rival, the architect [Francesco] Borromini, whose formalist ingenuity is so appealing to the modernist sensibility. I still love Borromini, but I can now appreciate what Bernini was attempting and how original his mind was. Although I confess I prefer Borromini's churches to Bernini's, because I like my spiritual feeling to be a little more abstract and less literal, the audacity and brilliant execution of Bernini's sculptures–both the colossal works in the Villa Borghese and the great portrait busts of Scipione Borghese and Costanza Bonarelli–are high on my personal list of favorite works in that medium.