Art and War

The attack on Paris on Friday, November 13th, literally shook the world. Escalated violence with these recent attacks on Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad reminds me of Picasso’s famous piece – ‘Guernica.’

He made it in 1937. This painting is Picasso’s reaction to the Nazi attack on Guernica, a village in Spain where many innocent lives were lost.

Guernica is a rather chaotic painting, painted in black and white. The lack of colors intensifies the horrific images of the painting. It clearly is a war painting, but there is no actual representation of its fight or weapons except for a broken sword. Everyone in the painting is either dead or suffering. Animals and humans stand together in agony, all faces filled with dread. The most disturbing image on the far right is a woman wailing who holds a dead child and the wounded horse in the center. The plain electric light bulb is the only sign of the modern era. This painting is filled with heavy symbolism. There are multiple contradicting interpretations of Guernica. But even for someone who doesn’t understand the signs and symbols, Guernica induces a sense of grief.

Guernica falls under a genre called cubism that Picasso and Braque pioneered. After the invention and development of photography, paintings faced a real challenge. With the availability of machine-made accurate images and copies of artwork’s uniqueness, paintings were challenged as a response to this problem, modern art from many turns. This gave birth to Impressionism which preceded cubism. Impressionism basically focuses on the viewer. It depicts things not as they are but as the artist views them. Artist’s Perspective is given utmost importance. Cubism further extended this tussle between the viewer and the view and reduced the external reality to geometric shapes. Cubism allowed multiple and simultaneous viewpoints in one image. It simplified nature and humans to a few blocks of geometry.

Picasso said, ‘painting is just another way of keeping a diary.

Any form of art is nothing but a message from its creator. One can use different modes to express oneself. The message can be interpreted differently by different people. But unfortunately, many don’t recognize painting for its true nature. When someone says ‘painting,’ a pretty landscape with lots of colors comes to mind. A painting is expected to be pleasing to the eye. With this bias, many cubism or abstract artworks are denounced to be simplistic and sometimes downright ugly. A painting can be considered successful if it can affect the viewer’s emotions or thoughts in any way. A painting is different from a showpiece because it’s not just a pretty thing on the wall; it represents someone’s version of reality and enables you to create your own.

Guernica initially confuses you, then it scares you and leaves you hopeless and bitter. It is exactly what happens during wartime. The initial confusion stage has now ended in this war against terrorism, and the world is scared beyond measures. The war is not just against terrorism but many forces like neo-imperialism, inequality, and intolerance. We’ll need all weapons at our disposal, and neglecting something as important as the art will be a grave mistake.

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