Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Voices of Experience

Among the members of an on-line group to which I belong, as in many other places, the "discussions" of late have been running on regarding the response to the devastation of the Gulf Coast brought on by Hurricane Katrina. As the subject of the group is ostensibly woodcarving, yesterday, Old Joe, the list owner, mentioned he was thinking of doing a carving of "a person- or several- up to their waste in water, waving and carrying a small sack of belongings, a pet or a child."
This got me thinking of the appropriate artistic response to this incident. The list postings showed, if nothing else, the strong feelings this situation has engendered in most everyone.
I looked for a precedent in Art for something that was appropriate to the matter at hand, and immediately thought of the one piece that is widely known, that both is fitting, and might also help some better understand Art.
That piece is Guernica by Pablo Picasso.
Guernica was a small town in Spain, a normal ordinary town where people went about their lives doing normal things, until it was destroyed most violently by Franco in the Spanish civil war.
On the PBS website, it is described thus: “On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler's burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.”
Picasso used his medium to capture the horror of this- and all war- not in particular details or individual incident, but with an overall visual poem of the incident in stark vicious imagery that bypassed the familiar and cut directly to the soul. Looking at it is very troubling. It creates feelings of horror, fear and despair in the viewer. It captures the horror of what was done. It is not pretty. It is Art.
Another example that can be readily seen is Knox Martin's Whaling further down in this blog, though I think it has now shifted to the next page. Again, the familiar imagery is minimized to bypass the usual visual categorization and reach the soul.

Thinking about the effects of Katrina on the people and communities of the Gulf Coast, the artist must reach beyond the usual symbols and create something ‘bigger’ if he is to convey the enormity of an event such as this. He must invent a new language, a new imagery, he must create from his own soul to affect the souls of others. That is the job of the artist.

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