Why would an artist not try to weave immediate dissent into his or her works, be it painting, music, film, plays, etc? For me the need for art in the world is great, and during times of strife, upheaval or war, it is, in my opinion, most important, appropriate and even obligatory.
With the premise of responsibility one might explore the following questions:
1. Are artists obligated to create, pro or con, art that touches upon aspects of current wars?
2. If artists do not are they basically forgoing some unwritten rule of their particular craft?
To explore these questions one must, I suppose, first consider the definition of war and the feelings it may illicit.
Wikipedia, defines war as "...a reciprocated, armed conflict, between two or more non-congruous entities, aimed at reorganizing a subjectively designed, geo-politically desired result."
Merriam Webster defines war as "...a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations."
In his book, On War, Prussian military theoretician Carl Von Clausewitz calls war the "...continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means." He goes on to add that war is like a duel, but on “an extensive scale”.
Clausewitz’s description of war is certainly vivid and concise (if not somewhat flippant), but is it valid? Is war so easily defined and at the same time so difficult to bring to a close once it's waged? How can something so simply defined create such epic bloodshed and long lasting destruction? As a poet and playwright these questions swim beneath most, if not all, of my works.
From Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Michael Gelven writes, "...war is intrinsically vast, communal (or political) and violent. It is an actual, widespread and deliberate armed conflict between political communities, motivated by a sharp disagreement over governance."
Gelven's definition, and any other definition I could find, made no mention of an artist's obligation, as a matter of fact, the word art was nowhere to be found in any of them. Perhaps then, art is the antithesis of war, much like peace? And if that is the case, then artists, so it would seem, do have an obligation to resist or, at the very least, explore such thoughts during wartime.
I know this; my conclusion, may not necessarily balance out or prove that the artist indeed has an obligation, but, given the definition of art from the same Wikipedia source, I would conclude that it actually doesn’t matter… "Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.
The definition and evaluation of art has become especially problematic since the early 20th century. Richard Wollheim distinguishes three approaches: the Realist, whereby aesthetic quality is an absolute value independent of any human view; the Objectivist, whereby it is also an absolute value, but is dependent on general human experience; and the Relativist position, whereby it is not an absolute value, but depends on, and varies with, the human experience of different humans. An object may be characterized by the intentions, or lack thereof, of its creator, regardless of its apparent purpose. A cup, which ostensibly can be used as a container, may be considered art if intended solely as an ornament, while a painting may be deemed craft if mass-produced."
Perhaps this definition gets to the heart of art and responsibility. If art, by definition, appeals to the senses and emotions, surely this thing called "war" will and should elicit emotions regarding the state of humanity, which are or will ultimately be seen, in the artists work, intentional or otherwise. Art may well be the only avenue for expressing or releasing such feelings for both the artist and the viewer at large.
For me, artists do have an obligation to create something that delivers war in a form that is easier to digest than raw statistical data, corporate news or political spin, but, as I wrote earlier, it may not matter if an artist feels obliged, because the idea of obligation or duty for the artist during wartime might actually be unconscious and therefore the art rendered will naturally capture these emotions without being obligatory.
Many works of art throughout history have given us the strength, the compass, if you will, with which to direct ourselves away from the gloom and doom of war and into a realm of deeper thought. Yes. It has shown us heroes and valiant chivalry and, in some cases, been the only actual depictions or accounts of certain battles. But art has also shown us the evil, the torture, the grave human toll, the mass murder, and the wrongheadedness of many, if not most, wars throughout history. I would also proffer that art is history. It may not actually give us the "facts" of a particular war or battle, but it most assuredly leaves an emotional account of the mood of us humans before, during and after. In many instances art joins us in the our collective breath and with the same involuntary human response to war.
Let us then hope that peace might soon begin its own unconscious journey within us.
© 2009 mrp/thepoetryman