Our 16 Favorite Arts, Books And Culture Stories From 2015

The best of HuffPost Arts & Culture this year.
Priscilla Frank

It's the end of the year, and like most outlets, the editors and writers at HuffPost Arts & Culture have spent a good portion of December looking back on the stories, trends and phenomena that made 2015 such a singular year.

We pored over the critical response to Jonathan Franzen's most recent book, the influence of Instagram "It Girls," the civil rights-oriented street art that's popped up in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, and the rise of radical craftsmen. From murals to techno-optimistic sci-fi to vintage diner mugs, we reflected on all the subjects that made us buzz this year.

At the end of the day -- or, 365 days -- these are the reported pieces, essays, and stories that we were proud to publish in 2015.

1. The End Of The End Of The World by Maddie Crum

Priscilla Frank

The onscreen adaptations of The Hunger Games trilogy might've ended with a whimper this year, but dystopian stories are still cropping up everywhere; the next installment of "Divergent" is out next year, to name just one other popular example. There's a set of sci-fi writers, however, who think this trend is not only dull, but also a missed opportunity. What's the sense in pointing out everything that's wrong with contemporary society without providing solutions -- namely technological ones? I spoke with sci-fi writer and futurist Madeline Ashby, as well as optimistic sci-fi anthology editor Kathryn Cramer, about trends in solution-oriented sci-fi, and which communities benefit from it the most. (Read more here.)

2. Lonnie Holley Is The Most Genuine Performance Artist In The Mother Universe by Priscilla Frank

American Folk Art Museum

If you've ever stopped on the street to admire the way a particular piece of garbage glimmers in the light, I think you'll fall for artist and musician Lonnie Holley, whose life's work consists of turning garbage into gold. He's a visionary sculptor, musician, scavenger and prophet, whose life story is a modern-day myth and whose words are an improvised song, always ongoing. (Read more here.)

3. If You Have To Say It, Say It In GIFs by Claire Fallon

Priscilla Frank

Everybody loves GIFs! But will they take over the world and replace language as we know it? With 2015 drawing to a close, that question is still up in the air, though the learned linguists and accomplished techies who spoke to me for this deep dive can give us, I think, a pretty good idea. Plus, there are GIFs. (Read more here.)

4. Meet Audrey Wollen, The Feminist Art Star Staging A Revolution On Instagram by Tricia Tongco

Priscilla Frank

This interview with artist Audrey Wollen was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. We talked about feminism, social media, and trolls -- all fascinating subjects I probably could have talked about all day. It came about serendipitously when I saw her working at a gallery. Earlier that day, I had drafted a list of artists on Instagram to contact, and she was at the top of my list. When I relayed this to her, she said, “It’s because of the new moon" -- indeed. (Read more here.)

5. Here's Why You Should Stop Saying 'I Could Do That' About Art by Katherine Brooks

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

I was reminded of this oft-used critical response to art after watching an episode of "The Art Assignment," a weekly PBS Digital Studios production hosted by curator Sarah Green. We encounter a lot of similar comments here -- on our articles, on Facebook, on Twitter, you name it -- so it felt very cathartic to methodically explain why such a flippant reaction to a painting or photograph you might not like is, well, lazy. (Read more here.)

6. The Light Shift: How A Dutch Mom Became Her Nation's Foremost Vigilante Poet by Mallika Rao

Lumen van Stralen

The best stories, I find, come by surprise. This is especially true when traveling. I did not foresee myself finding an intriguing subject on my first night in the Netherlands this summer, as I meandered through the litter-strewn grounds of a festival. But the more I talked to the young woman projecting words in a language I couldn't understand onto the underbelly of a bridge, the more I felt compelled to write about her strange enterprise. The story that came out of our conversation is steeped in the concerns of our day -- Islamaphobia, feminism, the simple question of how to be a good human in a confusing world. In choosing my words to tell it, I tried to capture the wonder of the traveler caught between things familiar and new. (Read more here.)

7. 50 Years From Selma, Jetsonorama and Equality in Brooklyn by Jaime Rojo & Steven Harrington

Jetsonorama in collaboration with Dan Budnik. The Bushwick Collective. Brooklyn, NY. June 2015 (photo © Jaime Rojo)

One of our favorite stories of 2015 was the collaboration on a Brooklyn wall with Arizona street artist Jetsonorama and famed civil rights photographer Dan Budnick this June. By choosing just one marcher from the spring 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for civil rights, and repeating it diagonally as if to emulate a graveyard across a crimson wall, we felt Jetsonorama nailed it in a way that public art/street art/mural art can do best. He nailed our legacy of racism and he powerfully recalled how far we’ve come in 50 years -- and how far we have allowed ourselves to slip backward in the march toward a more perfect union that we know we are capable of. With the backdrop of 2015 protests by Black Lives Matter across the country, the seemingly weekly revelations in the news of abuse by police of black citizens, and the June 2013 invalidation of key parts of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, this installation resonated with passersby in a way that only art can. We were proud of this story and are glad to give it another shout-out for the year. (Read more here.)

8. That Secretive Club You've Feared Runs The World Is Real, And Hilarious by Todd Van Luling

Zachary Hilty

Sometimes you get invited to things you probably shouldn't have been. This was one of those cases. With the allure of arts and culture leaders being present, I attended what I initially thought would be a straightforward meet, greet and interview session, but instead the experience turned into an event I'm still not entirely sure was real. I chose to include this piece as I feel as if knowing about what transpired may help you retain sanity as the world appears to zoom by like a motorbike surfing a wave. (Read more here.)

9. The Humble Victor Diner Mug, An Icon Of Americana by Jillian Capewell

Courtesy of Elton Gish

This story was so fun to research: there's a fascination and nostalgia with old diner equipment, like these mugs, that is so interesting to me. There's a lot behind the creation of a mug that most don't notice when they're sitting down at a booth for pancakes and coffee, and I love the idea that there's stories and lives behind the most everyday objects. (Read more here.)

10. The Myth Of Busyness by Stuart Whatley

Jason St. Angelo

Earlier this year I wrote "The Myth of Busyness" to push back against the cliche of the overworked American in the digital era. As it happens, The Overworked American is the name of a book by Juliet B. Schor that is more than 20 years old, and the current complaints about "overwhelm" and time pressure in popular press accounts today aren't new. They also simply don't reflect the available data on Americans' use of time. We aren't as busy as we're constantly being told, but we also aren't any closer to the 15-hour work week John Maynard Keynes envisioned in 1928. Like everything in social science, it's just more complicated than that. (Read more here.)

11. Read This And Die!: An Interview With R.L. Stine by Maddie Crum

Priscilla Frank

Have you re-read R.L. Stine's chilling, classic kids' books recently? The author's clever style certainly holds up, but the plots aren't quite as scary as you might remember. In fact, they're often pretty funny! That might be because Stine got his start as a joke book writer, a job he held down for years before trying his hand as the whole horror thing. I learned this and much more when I sat down with him to talk about his suspiciously normal childhood, and the different between writing scary scenes for kids and jumpy plots for adults. (Read more here.)

12. The Radical, Life-Changing Power Of Arts And Crafts by Priscilla Frank

Outside In

I loved learning about the artists of Radical Craft, an exhibition of self-taught makers who, working in various media, challenge the dominant assumption that art is somehow more valuable and meaningful than its lowbrow companion, craft. This will definitely inspire you to make your refrigerator into a tiny flat museum. (Read more here.)

13. Is Michel Houellebecq The French Jonathan Franzen? by Claire Fallon

Priscilla Frank

More of a literary essay than one of our standard reviews or articles, this piece arose out of my frustration with reading Franzen's Purity and Houellebecq's Submission and the extensive, mostly positive evaluations of their work in major publications. I wanted to dig into the question of whether these authors, particularly Houellebecq, are as intentional and successful at using satire as many critics argue, or if this is used as an excuse for distasteful or indefensible ideas embedded in their novels. For a former English literature major, writing this essay was particularly engrossing, and since both authors are still a huge part of the cultural conversation, I feel the question addressed in the piece still resonates deeply. (Read more here.)

14. A Love Letter To My Mother, An Artist by Katherine Brooks

Katherine Brooks

My mom has spent the greater part of her adult life raising three daughters. It's easy to forget that before her chaotic role as a parent, she was an art student trying to figure out what to do with her still life skills. So on Mother's Day, I wrote a tribute to my favorite artist -- my mom -- and how she taught me everything I know about creativity and survival. (Read more here.)

15. How Comedian Kristina Wong Went Viral, Then Took Her Art And Activism Offline by Tricia Tongco

Kristina Wong

As an Asian woman, I rarely see people who look like me in the spotlight. That alone seems pretty radical, but performance artist Kristina Wong has lots of interesting things to say about race in America and internationally. She deftly tackles subjects people rarely discuss out loud and makes sharp observations with a rare mix of humor, boldness and self-awareness. (Read more here.)

16. Salute Your Shorts: A Magical Thinker Makes Sense Of The Year's Most Baffling Craze by Mallika Rao

Priscilla Frank / HuffPost

We all have our momentary ideological obsessions -- a book read so many times its pages open to our favorite worn spots as if by magic, an album whose every lyric seems bespoke. Few of us get to indulge these fascinations with thousands of words. Lucky for me, unlucky perhaps for readers looking for a quick assessment of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up -- a small book I and plenty of others fell in love with this year -- I'm one of those few. If you're feeling up for a fanatic's investigation into the latest self-help craze, you could do worse than reading mine. (Read more here.)

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