Guernica by Pablo Picasso
It’s one of the best known paintings of the Modern era. Expatriate Spaniard Pablo Picasso created Guernica in response to an atrocity that occurred during the Spanish Civil War, an episode that was a harbinger of the ruthless slaughter of the Second World War.
On April 26, 1937, the Condor Legion, a corps of German Luftwaffe pilots who had volunteered to assist the Nationalist forces fighting in Spain, launched a raid on the defenseless Basque city of Guernica. Multiple waves of airplanes bombed and strafed the civilian population of the town. The total number of casualties is disputed, but hundreds were killed.
An early experiment in the terrorizing carpet bombing later refined by the Nazis, the Guernica bombing demonstrated the callous brutality and effectiveness of twentieth century warfare, and the willingness to reach beyond the conventional battlefield to strike at enemies. The world recoiled in horror, but even worse events were yet to come.
Picasso was moved by the tragic assault to make what is probably his most famous piece of art. The work is mural sized, eleven feet high and over twenty five feet long, rendered in somber grays and boney white suggestive of the starkness of photojournalism. Although its initial reception was somewhat mixed, in time Guernica has become accepted as a powerful statement against war. As such, it is often referenced by those who emphasize art as a political act. This is an attitude very prevalent in establishment artists today.
Picasso was clear on his intentions about the painting as a statement, but what he put in the canvas is a different story. Is the impact Guernica has as art due to a political stance, or has it endured due to articulating more universal, human concerns?
What ideological side is there to be chosen amongst those tumbling ghosts and stricken animals? The power of the piece has nothing to do with a particular time or viewpoint. The details are an anachronistic mix, ranging from a sword to a lightbulb. The audience does not need to know anything about the Republic, the Condor Legion or white phosphorus to feel the horror.
We bring external knowledge to the piece, being aware of the circumstances of its creation. Apart from the title selected by the artist, there is nothing in that piece that makes it specifically about the bombing of a Spanish town or the power struggles of the 1930s. It tells a universal story of the tragic violence in life.
Don’t forget, our impressions of the Spanish Civil War, noble Republicans versus evil Nationalists, are largely a Marxist driven myth. Author George Orwell fought alongside the Communists there. What he learned from the tactics of his comrades informed his dystopian books Animal Farm and 1984; he saw their brutal totalitarian intentions in action. Orwell’s works transcend politics to act as dire warnings about the consequences of man’s covetousness nature run amuck.
We think of the painting Guernica as a political piece not because of what we can actually see, but because of what we are told about it. We are expected to squint through filters of received knowledge and officially condoned attitudes to reach the Correct conclusions. As a result, it’s easy for the painting’s presence as art to be diminished into mere propaganda.
There’s a lot of that going around these days.
As I state in my 2018 book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization:
“There are important distinctions between art and propaganda. Although both are forms of visual communication, their aims are completely different. Great art explores the mysteries of human experience. Propaganda seeks to influence an intellectual decision by stirring up obscuring clouds of emotionalism.
“Strong art reaches universal, shared experience by honestly presenting the results of self-exploration. Propaganda seeks to substitute that universal appeal with the presentation of ideology it assumes to be commonly held by all right-thinking people.”
Propaganda is distortion, intended to drive the audience into a pre-determined conclusion. It is far removed from the mysterious communion genuine art provides.
Despite the popular pose struck by many contemporary artists, who fancy they are bold rebels making a stand against injustice, the ideas advocated by most of today’s political art are actually advancing the values of the doubling dealing so-called elites they pretend to criticize.
The contemporary art scene was weaponized by the Postmodern deconstruction of reality, where The Narrative and the will to power matters more than truth. There are no consequences for hypocrisy in the Postmodern mindset. Any actions are permissible to the select few, as long as the correct ideas are publicly endorsed.
Enduring changes start in the arts. The power of art to define our way of life, to show us how to be, has been tragically underestimated. The Postmodern corruption I first observed in 1980s art school has seeped out and tainted our entire society. Our cultural institutions no longer provide us knowledge, education, real news, or responsible governance. We are enmeshed in an entire ecosystem of lies, sustained by the media, the academy, Big Tech, sellout corporations, and traitorous politicians. The monopoly is enforced by censorship and retaliations. You would think by observing the actions of the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected, our Constitutional Republic is dead; all that remains is for them loot and oppress the rest of us into oblivion.
One of the ways to counter this ruthless assault is with art. Not the bait and switch artifice which the establishment has pulled, substituting leftist activism for creativity. There is no chance newly created real art will receive institutional support these days. Based on the art world news I follow, the Inner Party has decreed the mission is now supposedly countering racism through the flaunting of blatant and despicable racist behaviors and attitudes. All the museum, gallery and artist sheep are dutifully baaing along. It’s all just another manipulative social engineering project, like everything the Cultural Marxists produce. This will do nothing but further alienate the people from the resources real art provides.
The elitist-driven degeneration of art into propaganda denies our society the inspiration to live up to ideals; the encouragement to think and feel deeply; the yearning to harmonize with truth and beauty. The establishment blocks real art from us because they know how weak we are without it.
We need art as the timeless experience which is as old as humanity itself. For, as President John F Kennedy noted, “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”
Elitists went scorched earth against civilization in their pursuit of unaccountable power. Their attempt to replace all means of communication with propaganda is supposed to keep us from noticing. Our credentialed classes react to truth like a vampire does to a crucifix. So that is why it will be important going forward to independently cultivate art which fulfills the John Keats insight about the visual expression of Western philosophy: “”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
There is a huge opportunity here. Establishment mismanagement has driven the arts out of relevance for the majority. But the human need for it persists, just like all our other instinctual appetites. Creatives can contribute to rallying the human spirit in resistance against the darkness being imposed on us from above. What a glorious way to out-evolve our stifling, would-be rulers.
The elites can’t stand beauty because it shows their ugliness. They can’t stand truth because it exposes their lies. They can’t stand individual expression because it’s outside of their control. They can’t stand talent honed into skillful expression through dedication, because it reveals their own mediocrity, incompetence and laziness. They can’t stand art because it demonstrates the human spirit as created in God’s image, as creators articulating divine order.
The elites can’t beat real art, only suppress it. Let’s make it impossible for their propaganda to gain any traction by presenting a powerful alternative.
My wife Michele Bledsoe has written her own inspirational book, Painting, Passion and the Art of Life.
Remodernism Video: BEFORE THERE WAS FAKE NEWS, THERE WAS FAKE ART
Visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.
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Update: Welcome Instapundit Readers! Enduring changes start in the arts. Renew the arts, and renew the civilization.