Commentary: The New Yorker

Will Robin asked me to contribute an illustration to his New Yorker blog post “The Fat Lady is Still Singing” on the persistent myth of decline in classical music.

Stories about “the death of x” are link-bait. They get widely shared because they present a scandalous picture. We wanted to ensure that our rebuttal got as much traction as the original, by making an ultimately undramatic argument (“the reality is much less exciting than it appears”) in a dramatic way.

We liked the idea of an infographic to illustrate the central premise of the piece, but wanted to avoid the common situation in which the rhetorical flourish (the graphic) gets utterly divorced from the factual source material. We felt we had a better chance of changing peoples’ minds if they could easily check every citation.

killing-classical-music-large

We settled on the idea of something absurdly big, which allows the user to see the overall picture at a glance, but also to zoom in on the sources of specific details. The graphic contains almost as many words as the article it illustrates.

The story immediately went viral (17,000 shares on Facebook and counting) and became (for a time) the most popular article on The New Yorker’s website.