Over the past months there have been a few letters from artists with remarks about the situation in the Middle East. My first instinct was to leave the political stuff out of these letters and our Painter’s Keys service. As you may have noticed we have published a few and then gathered representative letters and published them into two separate response sections. If we include “one liners” there were about 20 who were “pro-war” and 300 who were “anti-war.” In another 10 it was difficult to tell. The heartfelt anguish of artists has brought both eloquence and rancor to our pages. The percentages are interesting.
On this dawn of another war most artists of our community are against it. Our “anti-wars” are higher than in international polls. Despite the silent majority, it looks to me as if many artists see war as a failure of creativity. As well as honouring beauty and goodness, art is a process that thrives in times of peace. Peace and the wish for it are in the hearts of artists. In spite of elements of shock, ugliness and deconstruction that are currently evident in some art, creativity is generally a builder. Creativity does not normally destroy or kill. Furthermore, creativity implies dialogue. Mankind enters a wasteland when dialogue breaks down. Dialogue is reduced to rhetoric and posturing. Simplistic “good and evil” visions get promoted. Both sides claim God to be on their side. But artists have an eye for truth. I believe that the nature of our work and our creative philosophies give some of us a kind of historical perspective. What’s disappointing to many is hearing “the same old stuff.” One of the more striking letters that we included in our responses was entitled “Art knows.” It described the recent cover-up of Picasso’s Guernica, in the foyer of the U.N. when Colin Powell was to go on camera. The painting depicts the horrific results of the Nazi bombing of a Spanish town during the Spanish Civil War. “Not appropriate,” was the reason given. There were instances of similar cover-ups, silencing of poets, denials of the freedom of information. But there, under that shroud, lost to sight, was everything that we artists honour. To let our great and our humble speak. To be seen. To make our contribution. That day, and others, there was a realization of another type of death. We do not like that. Art knows.
PS:”Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
(Ozymandias, King of Kings, by P. B. Shelley)
Esoterica: Artists are reporting distraction and lack of concentration. Some are stuck on the tube. These are sad times. We have a number of war letters in reserve — both pro and con. If you would care to add your voice, please do.
(RG note) The following represents many of the responses to the above letter. My studio assistant Carol Ann Prokop worked practically all day on Friday assembling the material seen here. My sincere apologies if your correspondence was left out. Part of the reason for this is that when ideas are similarly expressed we often take an earlier correspondence. All letters are carefully archived. In no way were anonymous letters discriminated against. Some letters, I’m afraid, were hugely long, and had to be cut down. Normal, illustrated responses to the current twice weekly letter will, as usual, be on your computer next Friday. Thanks for writing.
by Glen/Pam Knowles
Guernica, 1937, 12′ x 25′ ft. is considered one of Picasso’s greatest paintings, and one of the most important paintings of the 20th Century. It was originally commissioned for the wall of the (Republican) Spanish Republic’s Pavilion at the Paris World Fair. As Picasso was considering various themes, Franco’s planes, displaying German swastikas, wiped out the Basque town of Guernica and over 2000 people died. Spurred to action, Picasso completed the project in two months. The terror and fear of these abstract symbols are among the most dramatic ever created by Picasso. Several years after the work was painted, a Nazi general was visiting Picasso’s studio and noticed a sketch for Guernica on his wall. The general remarked, “Oh! So you are the one who did that!” Picasso shot back, “No, you are!”
by Andrea Pratt, Vancouver, BC, Canada
On the art/war topic, Guernica in particular, a book was recently published (Dutton, November 2002) called Picasso’s War, by Russell Martin. It is “…a stirring account of the town that inspired one of the world’s most celebrated and controversial paintings, and of the artist whose passion and vision altered the course of modern art and history.” There’s an interesting quote from Picasso on the jacket: “What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter? … No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”
Blank check for military
by Sharon Blake, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
As I write from my home in Santa Barbara, my 27 year old daughter sits in a detention cell in Chicago, arrested last night in front of her Northwestern Law School dorm while watching the demonstration on Lake Shore Drive.
Every morning I read our local newspapers about the school budgets cut, the lack of money for families to live in decent housing, the lack of money to fund health clinics and the lack of money to help with child care for working parents. And every morning I read about billions of dollars spent on nuclear aircraft carriers, bombers, fighter jets, missiles, helicopters. I read about billions sent to foreign dictators to suppress their citizens who object to having their natural resources looted by western powers.
This is a democracy. Why do the citizens of this country find it so easy to give a blank check to the military yet fight a national health program?
This is a corrupt country with corrupt values and I am not proud to be an American.
An ounce of prevention
by Lola Lawrence
I’m an artist against war but just as I dread doctor’s examinations I do so as needed to prevent disaster and future catastrophe.
Privilege of being here
Marion Dyck, Saudi Arabia
Thank you for your words regarding war and creativity — hadn’t heard the story about Colin Powell and the Picasso painting — very telling! As you can imagine, we are feeling very close to the war zone and are taking extra precautions to be safe, not from the war, but from the possible threats against westerners. I have just spent three hours in discussion with Saudi friends, talking about the world situation as well as Islam, extremism, etc. — these discussions are one of the privileges of being here.
War for freedom
by Richard De Wolfe
I would like to add my comment to the debate concerning the pros and cons of war. I believe it is simple. War is undesirable but freedom is essential.
No anti-war comments, please
by George Trabert, Walnut Creek, CA, USA
I prefer that you keep the anti-war comments separate from your letter. No sane person is for war. However there are times when push comes to shove. None of us has enough information to make an accurate assessment of the danger that Saddam and others like him pose to our freedom to live free and safe lives doing our art. I believe trust is the operative word here, trust of our leaders, trust of the spiritual nature and overall goodness of men and women and trust in whatever divine power one chooses to believe in.
Letter “right on”
B. J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA
Today’s letter was ‘right on’ and an eloquent description of our time and our creative spirit. I would like to see it published somewhere for everyone to read.
Appreciate issue being addressed
by Susan Johnson
Thank you so much for your carefully paced and edited response to us and the war. It is difficult not seeing the issue addressed, and it is equally difficult seeing it emblazoned everywhere and taking over all of our lives. I am essentially pro-peace, and have been devoting a good amount of every day to editing, forwarding, and participating in pro peace activities (marches, rallies, vigils, exchanges, re-examining my responses in my corner of the world; my navel is feeling self-conscious). I found your two responses eloquently “prosed.” I was not torn, churned up, nor chewing myself up from reading them. They were centered and real and all that needed to be said. It is “on my list” to be in touch with the responses you have received. Thank you for your caring and sharing. It seems to be in the same manner I note in your painting, with great care to detail and a sense of attention to evolving refinement.
Iraqi artist brutalized for “bad work”
It’s true that “war is a failure of creativity” — on both sides. I watched an interview on the News of an Iraqi artist who had escaped to Canada, and he told of witnessing a fellow artist be reprimanded for what Saddam Hussein called “bad work” by having his ears cut off. This sensitive artist spoke haltingly with quivering upper lip as he remembered the unthinkable. How can we do nothing as people are brutalized? How do we reason with a madman? Our creativity has fallen short, that’s true, as war begins…
Bumpy ride ahead
Roberta Loach, CA, USA
I remain disgusted and disgruntled beyond belief and am amazed at the number of people who just don’t think there is going to be a tricky and costly aftermath, and the prospect of things running smoothly is pretty remote when you are dealing with the factions in Iraq. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
No free lunch
by Daniel Hoffman
I wonder how the artists in Iraq were treated? Specifically, the ones that wanted to paint something other than a portrait or mural of Saddam Hussein? We have to accept that the world is a very small place now and when a country that is geographically half the globe away leaves its trash on the back porch, we wake up each morning and can smell it! War and violence I’m firmly against, but my love for freedom and democracy overcomes this and I can realize the threat our government and armed forces are attempting to deal with. I applaud them both and pray for the swift and just resolution to this conflict (war). Most of us are so busy enjoying our freedom that we forget that there were many people who had to give their lives in wars and conflicts to win and protect those freedoms. We enjoy so much abundance in America and should be thankful for it, and we must never forget that our rights and freedoms were not free.
“The True Believer”
God Bless America. The anti-war protesting groups are mobilizing out of ignorance. Know your History. Read The True Believer by Eric Hoffer.
Price tag on freedom
by Cathleen Perkins
Our freedom isn’t free, sometimes we have to defend it and pay a price. None of us likes war or killing. We have to rely on people who have access to more information than we do to make these decisions. If we didn’t go to war in WW II we’d probably be speaking German and not allowed to be very creative at all under the Nazi regime… think about that!
No one wants war, but…
by Dora G.
May I just say that without war, sometimes there can be no peace. Each situation is different. No one wants war, but for the freedoms we cherish in this country and around the world it is sometimes necessary to stick our necks out and fight so that freedom can ring. Just to clarify: Someone in my immediate family fought in every war since the Revolution.
by Alex Nodopaka
Since the Frenchies, the Deutschies and the Russkis don’t want to play ball with us in Irak we have a job for them but only after we make a bouillabaisse of the Middle East. By the way, I spell Irak with a K because Irak is an invented country by the British and stands for Iran-Arabia-Kurdistan so that after the war, were we to divide that country, we would distribute it in thin Swiss cheese slices to its original owners. The reason I include the Swiss is because Saddam Hussein’s money is there!
Count me in
by Marilyn Schutzky
I must add my voice to the 20 that are pro-war. Seems that there is a bit of “if it isn’t in my backyard, it can’t be all that bad” happening here. Somehow it seems unreal to me that terrorist attacks are not war, but fighting back is.
by Bruce Wilcox
I’m moot on the war itself, as I think it’s all crazy. But any person with enough control to allow artists to only paint pictures of himself is insane in my book. And since he’s up against someone possibly equally nuts — well hey!
by Betty Cox
I have been unwaveringly opposed to this war before its onset, and I am against it now that it has started. I believe it is a catastrophe for our nation, for Iraq and its people, for the world.
Free the artists
by Sheila LaPointe
The decision for war has been made. We have the ability to imagine that the artisans of Iraq may soon be free to create palaces, sculptures, and paintings other than of one man. Bless their hands and hearts.
Painting for remembrance ceremony
by Kathleen Tonnesen
In response to the war sadness letters, I would like to enthuse artists everywhere to have less talk and more action with brush and pen, take the huge emotion that sits within the very core of one’s being and throw it wholeheartedly into paint! Just send it out from inside and cry and send and cry until you are spent! Mixing and swirling everything you feel with no regard for how it will be viewed by others. Artists will find it very cleansing and healing to be faced with a complete picture of how they feel and come to a better understanding of how they personally, not for monetary gain, can touch and heal others who do not have the ability to ensconce themselves in canvas, but are able immediately to feel and connect with the emotion before them. To heal and understand, we like to see the beginning.
Doing nothing criminal
War is horrible. There is no denying that. But to allow any dictator to commit atrocities on humans and do nothing is like allowing Adolf Hitler to keep on burning people or to watch thugs beat up a passer-by on a city street and not come to his aid.
The effect of entropy
by Mike Lauchlan, Seville, Spain
Like it or not, the universe tends towards increased randomness. Entropy is as inexorable as the arrow of time (defines it, actually).
Human creativity brings order to chaos, temporarily reversing entropy’s arrow locally. Doing so requires energy, our energy, itself pulled from a long chain of energy sources originating with the fusion of Hydrogen to Helium in the Sun. Such local reversals create civilization, among other things, but hide the fact that the universe’s spring continues to wind down…
Society is in a constant battle with entropy; from keeping the office organized to maintaining civil infrastructure, upholding the rule of law and keeping civilization bailed together.
Internally we also experience a struggle against entropy; overcoming ritual, dogma and stagnation with curiosity, empathy and fresh perspective. Counter-entropy requires constant vigilance, thus constant energy expenditure. Seeking enlightenment is hard work, life by rote is easy.
Creative people (not limited to artists) are on the front lines of an ultimately futile battle against entropy.
Power and dominance are themselves antithetical to them, by definition imposing unwelcome dogma on a mind that needs freedom to explore. The proclamations of “Authority” ring hollow, as beauty and goodness can turn up in the darndest places (often where we’re told not to look). Beauty and goodness are of course products of consensus after all, not conquest or legislation.
War, however, is entropy’s ultimate victory. It is chaos over order, dogma over inquiry, intellectual sloth over rigour.
Entropy will ultimately win the day, it is inevitable, but thank beauty and goodness for those who put up a fight.
Art doesn’t know
by Lyn Harris
I have respected and appreciated your letters very much, and I still do… But I do not concur that “Art Knows”; implying that “art” somehow has some special insight and knows all…that “the nature of our work and our creative philosophies give some of us a kind of historical perspective” — which then gives us insight valid enough to make the type of decisions our leaders have to make. I too, believe in the beauty and truth of art. But just as “art” has not and is not always beautiful historically; it is also not always in the “truth.” There’s a lot more to this war that just historical perspective.
Lived through a war
by Edward W. Berkeley, Portland, Oregon, USA
In response to your last letter Artists’ Requiem I would like to remind the pacifists of your audience the icon of the 1930s Neville Chamberlain waving the piece of paper signed by Hitler, the latter a failed artist and a Christian, and speaking of peace with dignity, don’t also forget what an art connoisseur Goehring was. I lived through that war in London. And the ruins of 9-11 I visited reminded me of the devastation I saw as a kid in my native city.
Price of peace
by Ivan Kelly
I want to dig a little deeper beyond these glib terms of ‘pro war’ and ‘anti war.’ Scratch the surface of this current anti war movement and you will find in many cases dislike, disagreement and even hatred of America, capitalism, political conservatives and freedom. As for pro war no thinking decent and good person believes it is to be desired or glorified. Many of them know that human life is infinitely precious and unique. The opposite view is shared by killers, thugs, dictators and suppressors of true freedom. Where those in the ‘pro war’ camp differ is that we believe that true peace and freedom comes at great sacrifice and devastating loss of life. To deny this is to deny history. Yes America, Canada and Europe could have had ‘peace’ with Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany but at what cost? Would artists living in their ‘peace’ have enjoyed freedom to create anything they wanted? I think not. Again to deny this is to deny history. The Soviet Union and its satellites were at peace for almost forty years following WW2 but, did artists have leave to create and display everything they wanted?
The repression, murder, gulags and insane asylums were not reserved for those who opposed freedom, agreed with the government and made paintings of Lenin and happy peasants toiling in the collective farms were they? Surely we all know any creation whether in writing or painting not in line with the Party thinking could have serious consequences. I do not know any artists in Iraq but I feel confident in saying that they do not have true freedom to make whatever statement they want and publicly display it if it opposes the ruling class. I know that this artist has barely any understanding of the massive sacrifice of life and limb made by the ‘pro war’ in years past on my behalf so that I have been able to enjoy my half century of peace and freedom. Peace without freedom to create whatever you desire is not true peace at all. It is repression, tyranny and a quenching of the human spirit which longs for love, beauty, kindness, growth, improvement and the betterment of our lot. That is the way this ‘pro war’ artist sees it.
by Stewart Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada
We were as a world horrified when 9/11 happened and even with the explanations, it is difficult to justify where the U.S. is now. I appreciate their pain but it is as you put it, maybe a lack of creativity has gotten us to this point. I am not fully against where the U.S. is but it gives me great pain. Perhaps if George had only been a Montessori preschooler or had walked in Gandhi’s footsteps for a year instead of those belonging to Arnold Palmer he might have a different slant of how this problem could have been solved. Having said all that and held George’s feet to the fire, it must be said that no one can do likewise with the pedal digits of Saddam. He does as he likes and his people have suffered for it. I spent several months in Morocco and have seen the remnants of the creative and beautiful art and architecture of the Islamic artisans of the past. It seems to be in stark contrast with what is created in the name of Allah today. I’m not saying that change can only be brought about by wars or persecution but even after such negative events great things are possible because we are very resilient.
Good letters and bad
by Sherry J. Purvis
I have written two emails that did not see the light of day in your responses. How many of us who disagree with the moral majority have been ignored? You speak of about 20 letters or one liners coming in as Pro War. I am not pro war, but I also don’t have my head in the sand. I have never been in favor of violence, but I do know that violence cannot be left to its own devices. One of your respondents noted that we have not seen war on our streets as these other countries have — what was 9/11? How do we classify that? I’ve listened, read and followed the stories of atrocities that have come out of Iraq. Is it not as bad, if not worse than what Germany did in WWII? For those who have children, did you ever find them ignoring your warnings of punishment if they chose a certain path? Could it be that you chose to threaten and not follow through? I think that we have all been guilty of this, but it does come back to haunt us and potentially helps to make little tyrants of our children.
I love the beauty of this world as much as any other artist and I deplore the things that cause pain. I realize that all responses cannot be included, but in order to hear all of us speak, there should be a fair and equitable showing.
(RG note) While it has not been possible to publish everyone’s opinion, we have attempted to maintain the balance of pro and con of the correspondence that has come to us.
Artists in love and war
by Zoe Pawlak, Montreal, Canada
Poets, visual artists and musicians — artists of all kinds are key to the uncovering of truths and set up questions of values and motivations throughout the histories of wars and love affairs.
by Judy Lalingo
I really appreciated your comments about the effects of the current world events on artists. As happens more often than not, I’m in complete agreement with you. I’ve heard it said (perhaps here) that the opposite of war is not peace. It is creativity.
Artists being what we are, keen to observe, to feel, to respond to our environment, this sensitivity leaves us vulnerable to the uncontrollable situations that create a feeling of helplessness in the general scheme of things. The escapism of turning to my peaceful nature paintings is harder to get to… it is still possible, but I’ll admit that it is more difficult. I can’t just turn a blind eye to the fears of the present actions that have the potential of destroying the world that I love so much.
Fears treatment in France
by Ellie Snyder, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
It looks like I should not go to my scheduled class in France May 29 with Francis Pratt. I fear that, as an American, even though I totally loathe and detest what that #$%^& Bush is doing, that the French would not know and my daughter and I could be in danger.
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
You hit the nail on the head — war is a lack of creativity. World War I was referred to as “the war to end all wars.” We thought that if we had one war big and bad enough, it would solve all the world’s problems and we could live in peace forever. We have plenty of hindsight now to realize that was not true. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Although I am fascinated with the duality of human nature, I am shocked that occasionally I hear someone say with a straight face, “They should just take Saddam out, and get it over with.” Although our court systems have their flaws, we claim that we want justice via a trial by a jury of peers in order to avoid vigilantes murdering people. It is so easy to adhere to ideals when times are good — and to change those ideals when times are not-so-good.
“War artists” a dying art
by Bill Kerr
Your letter prompted me to think about how many Canadian artists from E. J. Hughes, Alex Colville, to several of the Group of Seven gained great experience, respect and confidence as “war artists.” It is hard to imagine this ever happening again.
Creativity and war
by Diana Pierce
Thank you for putting in words the relation between creativity and war. I too have been struggling with it and how dichotomous war is from how we’re designed to be.
A brief war please
by Colin McCabe
Flouting of international law with a pre-emptive strike sets a most dangerous precedent. The presentation of flawed and twisted evidence to justify their aggression fills me with disgust for the Bush and Blair administrations. Saddam is guilty of multiple crimes but the rush to war before all peaceful solutions were tried cannot be condoned. Let’s hope for ars longa et belli brevis.
War is hell
by Virginia Fonda
WAR Is Hell. War is a great tragedy both for the “Winners” and the “Losers.” In reality there are no winners, only losers. I was a physical therapist during WWII and saw the results of the war wounded. Some without parts of their bodies, others so mentally wounded that I wondered if they would ever be able to live a normal life. There were both officers and enlisted men that I cared for (and cared about). Men without noses but that were being reconstructed with a skin flap from their chest attached to an artificial bone the shape of a nose. Legless, armless, nerve and muscle damage and the blind, some only 18 years old.
This war seems to be a necessary one for a lot of good reasons and now that we are in it, the strikers would do better if they would form a prayer chain around the world to have it end quickly. We all need to stand up and cheer for our men and women in uniform and pray that they will all be back home as quickly as possible, without any scars (mental and/or physical) of war.
Where did dialog get us
by Alta Hamilton
Though you start your today’s letter intimating to be non-committal in your stand on the present conflict, it does not take long to realize exactly where you stand. It is one thing to give the results of a survey and another to defend it so eloquently and unendingly. One of the discussions was about using dialog in place of war. Where did “dialog” get this administration in the U.N., which clearly admitted non-cooperation toward disarming/showing of arms on the part of Saddam Hussein and whose representatives were so mealy mouthed in their tactics with him that there was clearly to be no end to the hassling involved. President Bush showed more patience than most by waiting prolonged periods for the same ol’ same ol’. Both sides would admit that Hussein is evil personified, yet one side (the Jane Fondas of the world) would have him to go on until he and his affiliates in time would make the bombing of 9/11 look like tiddlywinks in comparison. If only some of you would study and research the nature of our adversarial components I think you would see that “dialog” is a one-way street with them… their way.
Having had loved ones fighting in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, no one hates war more than I. No one knows better than I what the grief and consequences are; however, the Hitlers of the world must be stopped, and power is the only thing they are forced to respect. Clearly, from the current news the very first target in this conflict was toward Hussein. Our soldiers, in the invasion, are not harming the civilian population by intent… leaving homes and the population intact as much as possible. When we win this war it will be up to us as to how we conduct ourselves, and it should be with pride for our country and willingness to help Iraq build a just governmental system where they can live without fear of tyranny.
Other than your last letter I have thoroughly enjoyed your biweekly input toward art and its applications in our lives. As are most artists, I am a very sensitive person, yet I have a profound sense of right and wrong. I think we all have political opinions but they should not be manifested to take advantage of a media not intended for that purpose.
The helpless are victims
by Jan R., Georgia, USA
For those artists who have never lived in any other country than those of the free, it is hard to imagine the need for war. For these people have never been oppressed, told what not to say or do, seen family members tortured in ways unimaginable, gone hungry or seen the loss of all their toil and tears provided. It is easy to say war should never take place. Indeed, no one wants or enjoys war. Should the helpless forever be victims of those with very sick minds with sadistic selfish goals? Were it not for the struggles of our forefathers, we would not have the luxury of questioning why we need to liberate those living in tyranny.
How self-centered it is to not consider the needs of others, no matter where they may try to live. Just because one chooses not to see it doesn’t mean things do not exist. To do nothing is to condone and accept that which is. When one is struggling to survive, there’s not a lot of time to be creative! Let’s pray for the safety of those we love and those loved by others.
by Jan Zawadzki
What an absolutely delightful technicolour war. The landscape is a surreal blend of psychiatric coma and adrenaline. Camels, Bedouin, goats and Tanks. Being all they can be. The exploding bombs, framed by date palms and fluttering birds are a symphony of flame and smoke interspersed with glittering ignited flotsam. Journalists on real time. Symbols destroying symbols. It doesn’t really matter what the political consequences are, war is war, now referred to by words like surgical, psi ops, collateral damage, liberation, Freedom Fries(?), appropriated response factors, appropriate response factors (“holy shit,” “oh dear,” “tsk tsk”…etc). Too bad they can’t just insult each other like civilized people. The Arabs are absolute masters at that particular art. The Yanks haven’t gotten to that evolutionary stage yet. Maybe later. Oh, well… by the way, did anybody see what happened in Grozny? No? tsk tsk…
pssst: John Ashcroft wants to weld a bronze sheet over Meyers’ bronze Goddess of Justice’ thigh and tit… offensive, y’know. Who sez fundamentalism ain’t fun?
by Anonymous, Israel
The real creativity will have to begin when the U.N. and all willing nations begin to try to put Iraq back together again. Ethnic, religious and ancient tribal hatreds will be an impediment in the progress of democracy. Iraq could once again be a Garden of Eden, but it’s going to be a tough sell. Once, Israel beat the Arabs in a Six Day War, and then we have had and will continue to have decades of misery.
by Maureen West
Bleeding Hearts be damned. I want to add my name to the list that says going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do to get rid of a ruthless dictator that is destroying his own people’s lives. As can be seen on T.V. the selective bombing of military targets and the presidential palaces was so precise that I doubt that this war will last very long and that there will be fewer casualties than in any previous conflict. The U.S. machine is going to end this war soon in victory and restore peace and harmony back to the Middle East. Good luck to them.
No respect for diplomacy
by Sally Janover
What upsets me most about the drive to wage war on Iraq is what I see reflected in our own country. I see an administration that has virtually no respect for diplomacy, international cooperation, or the democratic process itself beyond a thin veneer of platitudes and propaganda. And I see that this attitude of “might makes right” has been encouraging and validating bullying tactics and incivility as an acceptable part of our social behavior.
A recent article in the Washington Post detailing how the administration has been threatening and undermining business, individuals and legislators who do not support our government’s policies, deepens my intuition that these strong arm tactics gradually will be used against any civilian opposition here at home. I fear that we may be headed into totalitarian control of this nation and the dissolution of what was American Democracy.
Artists rely on their intuition, and they are the ones to first see that the emperor has no clothes. Correspondingly, artists are often the first to experience repression and persecution.
Before it is too late, I believe we must speak out loud and well, as true patriots of the democracy our founding fathers fought for Not for power and wealth and corporate control, but for the rights and security provided by our constitution and our bill of rights — the only true guarantees for freedom there are in the world.
Bombard the world with art
by Faith Puelston, Wetter, Germany
A country of enormous power and resources attacks another country which has been in the stocks for ten years (rightly or wrongly) and is not really in a position to put up much of a defense. The media are being misused globally for propaganda. God is being cited as being all for it (from all sides!). It seems as though the human race, and those involved in power (political and military) in particular, have learnt nothing from past mistakes.
What really disgusts me is the use of the definition “democracy” in any country where the powers-that-be ride roughshod over people’s wishes and fears, and even insults countries who are more democratic in word and deed. Many countries in Europe, including Germany, where I live, are adamantly against the II Gulf War, mainly for humanitarian reasons. It has been clear for some months now that the U.S. war machinery was rolling mercilessly forwards towards confrontation. All the diplomatic efforts would seem to have been purely cosmetic. In the end not even exoneration has been sought, and the comments I read in the online press this morning (Friday) suggest the U.S. president is (almost) enjoying it all.
In the days before photography, it was artists who created pictorial records of conflicts by going along with the regiments and painting plein air. Far from covering up Guernica, as the U.S. authorities saw fit to do, let us bombard the world with art depicting the pain and sorrow being inflicted — not only in Iraq — on innocent people everywhere. Politicians and generals may simply have short memories and a deficit in compassion. Or just be besotted with power. Whatever it is that makes them tick, it is not in my name, for sure. One of the best comments I’ve heard recently is that war is a sign of the end of creativity. Destroying something in order to have the pleasure of building it up again actually sounds to me like sandpit stuff. Having power does not necessarily entail using it at whatever cost. I’d like to point our readers to this website: http://www.nthposition.com/
by Karen Fitzgerald
After a week of tough work on new paintings, I experienced a classic break-through that was thrilling. Not only did it signal the conclusion of these works, it also reminded me of my center in a powerful way. Painting butterflies is exactly what I should be doing now, no matter how ludicrous that seems in comparison with all the other things occurring around me and in the world.
Let it flow
by Dianne Middleton, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Yes, I find this new war commencing between the U.S., its allies, and Saddam Hussein is distracting when trying to tap into my creativity process. News of the attacks and the devastation it brings permeates through our daily lives, and cripples the joy we experience while creating our art. We see the supremacy of the weaponry the U.S. and its allies deploy, and we stand in awe, watching these destructive waves of violence, the suffering of the innocent occur on whatever media channel we happen to tune into. So my secret to keep the creative process going is to ‘tune out’ — in reality, there is nothing I can do that would have an effect on the course of this new war for the time being. So I let it be, and pray that in time there will be an answer. Keep the thoughts positive and your life moving forward. On really tough days, when it seems impossible to progress with my painting — I go about errands, projects, bill paying, family needs — anything that I can have a direct influence over their accomplishment, all the while knowing that my chance will come again to paint and become immersed in the beauty of that process. All artists know that those paintings that are created freely and effortlessly are the best — let it flow !
Time for justice
by Jim Walker, Boise, ID, USA
All of this underscores the need for preventive action now… or perhaps we are willing to wait and pay the price as millions die later… so that 50 years from now… people will wonder what was wrong with us… why didn’t we do something?
Of all people, we artists should realize that having imagination and foresight and the courage of our convictions is the only true way to realize peace. There is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the world. In my mind the greatest evil is to know what is right and to fail to at least try to set it right. Evil is pretty easy to spot… if we aren’t looking the other way.
I am sure the artists of Iraq are tired of painting portraits of Saddam… maybe now they will be free to express themselves.
No human being should have to be subjected to the atrocities the Iraqi’s have suffered under Saddam. Five thousand children a month are starving to death in Iraq while he lives in splendor and luxury. It is time for justice.
Unthinkable but necessary
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
This war may be unthinkable but necessary. I am a fence sitter though as I hear so many things on both sides that sound true. Saddam claims he has destroyed his weapons of mass destruction but then ordered out the chemical weapons when the attack began. Another says if Iraq has to destroy its WMDs what about other countries that have them such as the U.S., India, Pakistan, China, North Korea, etc. some of whom are seen a good and some evil. Who decides and why?? The moral debate of the new millennium. I immensely dislike the U.S. being the aggressor and I equally despise having to talk to my son about what to do if there is a WMD issue in the Bay Area and our family’s plan.
Then I almost feel guilty that I have not been closely watching all of this on the news. I follow it on the radio as I go about other business but then I have the luxury of turning it off. I am so busy with art that I can’t just sit and watch because I am working on the largest order I have ever received and writing an offer to a client for another significant project. Neither guilt nor war are good for creativity.
I pray this will end soon and peace will reign on earth.
Artists on the march
by Philip Koch, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
I have been participating in the organized protests against Bush’s war since the huge (and very chilly) demonstration in Washington, DC January 18th. I will be going back to Washington Saturday, March 22, and I bet to some more marches in the future. Anyone who comes to a peace march is immediately struck by the thousands of colorful homemade signs. Many of them are vividly creative. Some are hilarious, others somber and serious. But to the degree we can speak of there being a spirit of creativity, surely these peace demonstrations are the biggest and best public example of that now.
At its heart, art is about seeing beyond the surface of things, about searching for what is really going on instead of relying on accepted recipes. Artists only become good at their work when they ask questions (“should I paint that sky more violet?” or “should I move that figure more to the left?”). It is that willingness to reconsider and look again at a problem with a fresh eye that inevitably seems to propel most artists to be among the first to see through misinformation from the government and the corporate media.
I am going to keep painting in my cozy studio. But I will also keep joining with thousands and thousands of others who see through the American government’s attempts to mislead people and keep marching against this war.
Years ago when I was a young artist the war in Vietnam was raging. I remember vividly as a high school student going to my first peace demonstration in 1965 in my hometown of Rochester, NY. About 100 peace demonstrators were surrounded by a large and very angry crowd of people calling us “traitors” and advising us to “go back to Russia.” It was a little scary. The Democratic and Republican politicians got on the TV and said they would completely ignore the protesters (just like today). But over time more and more people realized the peace movement was right and started joining the protests. And I am enormously proud of how that peace movement grew from a small beginning to finally represent the overwhelming majority of the world’s people.
I made a big sign that said “Bring the Troops Home Now.” I’ll be carrying it outside the White House tomorrow. Bet I’ll see a lot of other artists there!
Peace not war
by Sandie Witbeck, Taos, NM, USA
Thanks for the invitation to the’silent’ majority… I feel as though I should paint a large piece symbol over each one of my long-labored-over paintings as well as the words PEACE NOT WAR or MAKE LOVE NOT WAR… It has closed my heart down to a great extent. I have shed copious tears as I’ve read the articles on www.truthout.com… I feel as you do, that this ‘war’… has torn up my concentration and that in the past I have attached myself to the television in similar catastrophes. Yesterday morning after watching CNN, I made a resolution for myself… that I would not watch any television for the duration as well as avoid/delete any email from CNN. Further, that I will only read ‘truthout’ articles to educate myself. The depression that I suffer and the fear that collects in me as a result of ‘plugging in’ is nothing but poison to my being and my creativity… I didn’t start this war, I didn’t vote for Mr. Bush (as a majority of citizens did not) and it seems that there is nothing else for me to do but pray earnestly for Peace to come quickly. Further that I must do the best I can and turn my vision towards my work of painting and be in contact with my loved ones and friends. To avoid warmongers… to shelter myself. This is my own isolationist policy. Some ‘Americans’ say that these words are treason… however, this is actually about ‘free speech’… something that was ‘guaranteed’ in the American constitution… and so I begin my day anew and am very grateful that we have this kind of forum especially for artists.
Support the Red Cross
by Norma Hopkins, UK
I am deeply saddened that we have had to wage another war. I believe that we should not have stopped the last one until Saddam Hussein’s rule was overthrown. He is a very dangerous man. We must not forget September 11. My most beautiful Son was in the last Gulf War. I could not pray for his safe return at the expense of anyone else’s son… anyone else’s son. The Iraqi people are suffering through him and so will the rest of the world if he isn’t stopped now. This man has no regard for human suffering or indeed life. When my son was in the last war I was studying for my teacher training and my heart was in my mouth for most of that time. I found it deeply deeply offensive that other students were asking me to sign protests to the war when my son was risking his life doing his duty, freezing in the desert while they had good food and warmth. I was absolutely distraught but I couldn’t have born the potential loss of my son without the support of my fellow countrymen and women. Let me remind everyone that we don’t yet know all that the Government of our countries know about this situation. I am devastated to hear all this protest. Those men and women are heroes. My message to those tree huggers who would stop the war is to send clothing or money to the Red Cross for the people of Iraq instead and stop clogging up the traffic. Remember the mothers of those sons and daughters risking their lives and support them. It’s a nightmare enough as it is. Pray for a swift end to the conflict and for peace. Mother Theresa said she would never protest against the war but she would pray for peace. I am taking this advice.
by Catherine Meeks
I was interested to hear that other artists are watching TV instead of making art — I’m doing the same thing, and I have an upcoming show to prepare for! I’m not watching CNN or any other news — I’m watching HBO movies, Friends, Raymond, anything that’ll make me forget about this insane war. I feel guilty about neglecting my painting (which I have very limited time to do anyway!)
Switched to pro side
I have to weigh in on the Pro War side and I can’t believe I could. Having lived through many a peace march of the sixties in California, and even fled for Europe in horror of the U.S. stance in Viet Nam, I have grown older, maybe not wiser. After reading about the marsh Arabs and what Saddam’s regime did in cementing over the wetlands around Basra just to catch a few rebels, well, something in me snapped. So this is a one-liner on the pro side.
World safer without Saddam
by Keith O’Connor
It is easy to hate the United States and England. They are democracies with mature legal systems so, in the end they really won’t hurt you. The United Nations cannot lead the world because it condones national gangsters. That is why the United Nations did nothing when the Marsh Arabs were being slaughtered — when the Kurds were being slaughtered — when the Serbs were being slaughtered — etc. etc. etc. Neither the United States nor England are perfect but they have done much to make this world a better place. Reality is: the world will be a safer place when the Butcher of Baghdad and his family are gone. Artists should stick to their painting and stop trying to blame their own creative inadequacy on being helplessly obsessed by television war news reports.
Artists can preserve vision
by John Adkins
While I do not condone war, it is something that has always been with the human race. It leaves me wondering how humane the human race is. Horrible atrocities have been committed in the name of everything from God to ethnic cleansing. Whatever the reason, the lack of respect for Life is incomprehensible. I also believe that you cannot and should not turn your eyes from the horror being committed around the world and do nothing. Cambodia, Germany, The African continent, Serbia, Iraq, the native Americans in both the northern and southern continent, the American Civil War, the list can go on and on. I know of no country that is immune to hatred, murder, mistrust, or disrespect for some other group of people. I keep hope alive that someday the vision of what humankind has done to humankind will be so real and true that anyone who has eyes can see that history should never repeat itself. I also know that a peace worth keeping is worth fighting for.
Artists are the ones that can preserve that vision and that peace. I think of the artists from World War II that captured the horror that was the reality of the Nazi prisoners and the survivors. The images, once seen can never be erased from the minds of the viewer. I was once told that artists are special people because they record moments in history. Civilizations rise and fall and all that are left of most of them is the art that was produced. It is our duty to produce those images that say to the world, “You must stop this! You must never let this happen again! Do what you can to help record the suffering, hatred and corruption of mankind, not just the goodness and love that can also be present. There are those that will read this that can not, dare not express those images for fear for their life. Those of us that can should never let the world forget the price paid for the freedom we enjoy. Nor the reason that price was paid. Whether you are pro-war or anti-war, we can all agree that images of the truth of war do more than just document the horror, they may just preserve the peace.
Pay for their own destruction
by Kim Wright
If it’s so easy to make biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, what will stop that from happening anywhere? What about all the other countries that are just as capable? Any country can. Does that mean that the U.S. can bomb any country they want just because they can produce these weapons? That means they can accuse any country and they will do just that to get what they want. The U.S. says they’ll put the Iraqi oil profits back into helping Iraq back on its feet. Whoop-tee-do, I think the U.S. should pay out of their own pockets for the destruction. I also think they must be accountable for all this and they will be. The world will never forget this.
Wish for everyone
by Marian Helsby
When I first think of the topic ‘war’ and the topic ‘art’, it’s like asking the question “How is a raven like a writing desk?” What comes to mind is the title of a book The Art of War and what that brings to mind is how, as beings that cannot stop being creative, we make even the most useless, violent and pedantic activities into an art form. The gist of this book is that life is a kind of dance in which even wars can be conducted with style and grace — it’s a stretch for me — being a pacifist — I think the style and grace of what comes out of peace is much more interesting and productive and creative to humankind in the long run. Wars have always been fought on this planet as far as I can tell and even peaceful countries like Tibet that are liable to be attacked by those more aggressive and violent. Is that because, by nature (our own and the example of the natural world) we follow a course of construction as well as destruction? — even in art there is a process of deconstructing — the topic, the theme, the line, the form, the idea, in order to rebuild. As much as I don’t like this war, it has not been conducted without thought to future form. I don’t understand the thinking behind it because it seems narrow and limited and reactive, but the immediate world I live in isn’t governed by sadistic, cruel people and I am free to think what I may and live how I may. I would wish this for everyone.
Germany, Name withheld by request
The most creative thing going on right now is the made-for-television embedding of reporters and cameramen and women throughout the dynamic battle theatre. Huge explosions in the distance and Abrams tanks on the rush. Breathtaking spectacle. America is good at this. I, however, am watching Al Jazeera internet which is showing hospital activity, etc.
Fathers are not coming home
by M. Spence
Perhaps war is more abhorrent to creative people because we value individual beauty. We see because we take the time to look, to observe and appreciate variety.
I keep thinking about J. S. Sargent’s Berbers — what an impact that world must have had on a young society painter — the light, the harshness, the coarse reality of the truly foreign. Yet the meeting of those two worlds was translated to beauty, not fear. I imagine that Sargent and the Berbers parted with a greater appreciation of each other’s world. At least I would like to think that history could be written that way — that a decent world could be built by brushstrokes instead of tears.
Grief is not political, American or Iraqi, Brit or Kurd. Fathers are not coming home.
Woman president needed
What is more dangerous to the U.S. than Iraq (what danger?), are the ordnances the U.S. Gov’t is about to unleash on American soil. In the name of “freedom”, the U.S. Government is about to take our freedoms away — they’re about to consider the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, or “Patriot Act II.” Please read this document, if you can. You can read it on the ACLU site. I don’t know how many people know of this document, but it is the single most destructive and slithery document I’ve read that places U.S. citizens in direct harms way via the erosion of the Bill of Rights. A revolution is needed to set things right.
Here’s an idea: A woman president who has more creative thought processes than Might and who hires women as military leaders. They’re simply more thoughtful when it comes to relationships and, being mother-capable, are better nurturers for humankind’s future.
by Joseph Guggino
Al Lowenstein (a New York Democrat from the ’70s) once said that he was against the death penalty, but that he recognized the necessity. I think this applies perfectly to this war as well for me. And in this case the necessity couldn’t be clearer.
Into the Guinness Book of Records
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
Guinness’ book record. Our Russian war experts said, that last night USA bombarding of Baghdad was Guinness’ book record for all history of mankind — it is much more than famous Dresden bombarding and much more as last Russian bombings of Grozniy.
Turning point in history
by Alan Ryall
With Tony Blair and President Bush, I see our position vis-a-vis Islam as a turning point in history that compels the response that is now underway. At no previous time have so many people whose only claim to fame is a burning desire to bring down Western Civilization had the potential to lay their hands on the means to do so. As Lee Harris says in a long but thoughtful essay for which the web address is given below, “All previous threats in the history of mankind have had one element in common. They were posed by historical groups that had created by their own activity and with their own hands the weapons — both physical and cultural — that they used to threaten their enemies…. But the threat that currently faces us is radically different. It comes from groups who have utterly failed to create the material and objective conditions within their own societies sufficient to permit them to construct, out of their own resources, the kind of military organization and weaponry that has constituted every previous kind of threat… What Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have in common is that they became rich because the West paid them for natural resources that the West could simply have taken from them at will, and without so much as a Thank You, if the West had been inclined to do so. They were, by one of the great paradoxes of history, the pre-eminent beneficiaries of the Western liberalism that they have pledged themselves to destroy… If the consistent application of [the liberal principle of national self-determination]permits each and every nation to develop weapons of mass destruction, then, sooner or later, the liberal world order will literally go up in smoke.” There’s a lot more in Harris’ essay, but you can read it for yourself here.
All is not innocent and pure
by Todd Eldridge, Meridian, Mississippi, USA
Many artists pursue opening themselves to a childhood spirit of discovery to act as their muse. Perhaps in this search artists hope to tap into that overwhelming sense of looking at everything as if it is new and never before experienced. To create and discover through the act of creation, not to destroy. I consider myself one of those artists, sometimes. However, revisiting some of those childhood places reminds me not all was so innocent and pure. I can remember countless stories of childhood conflict that were spawned from what seem to me now as some of the most ridiculous reasons. That same raw energy has promoted us as a society to create and maintain an enormous sports/entertainment industry. As artists we sometimes tap into this energy through our work when we use destructive processes. No matter how we feel about the current war, we must consider re-channeling that raw energy and doing the work. After all that is how we got Guernica from Picasso.
America has fallen into unimaginative and uncreative times. We are led by people who do not care to be statesmen, our heads are turned by petty celebrities, our media is filled with mentally-ill evangelists, and our nervous nation has become so wired and trigger happy that even our allies must be wary. We have now succeeded in ratcheting up the opportunity for fear to prowl further into our neighborhoods, and truth and justice are in deep danger of suffocation.
The complete poem
by Edward Taub, M.D.
Every now and then, my wife forwards me — a decidedly non-artistic physician, albeit with a literary bent — one of your letters. I’m moved by your Artists’ requiem, and find myself wishing your postscript had not skipped the beginning and middle of Shelley’s iconic poem. Sometimes minimalism works, but perhaps the times dictate re-reading the entirety of this epic, as much as viewing the uncovered Guernica.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
(RG note) I’d like to thank artists, and others, for writing. Also, I would like to apologize to those who were not included this time. All letters are carefully archived and may be used at a later date. We have many war letters in reserve. As we are winding this extraordinary page up there are more letters coming in at the rate of about one every five minutes. As events develop we may continue this dialog. Thanks for writing.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.