Brutality, Solidarity, Art

“We’re always both: the state and the terrorist.” – Gerhard Richter

My friend Sheryl would say that nothing makes me happier than a good book about trauma or depression.  Today I’m sitting and reading from an assortment of such good books: Alex Danchev’s On Art and War and Terror; Stephen K. Levine’s Trauma, Tragedy, Therapy: the Arts and Human Suffering; Paul Williams, Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities.  There is a purpose to this; I’m preparing two upper-level classes, one on Art and Trauma, the other on Museums and Collecting.  The former class demands an ethics regarding (and a sensitivity to) the suffering of others.  And it must point to a way to continue living even if the events endured are incomprehensible or unspeakable.

To return to the everyday, there is a lot of media coverage of bullying.  There is an attempt to clearly delineate the victims and the perpetrators.  Yet, what is absent in this discussion is the fact that there is a spectrum of bullying and we’re all on it somewhere.  It’s not so straightforward that there are bullies and there are the bullied.  People both bully and are bullied, in varying degrees at various moments in their lives.

Now extrapolate to the bigger picture and the “banality of evil,” or “the psychopathology of everday life” or whatever you choose to call it.  There are spectrums of oppression, intolerance, coercion, and state authority.  How else does one explain proliferating atrocity?  There just aren’t that many 100% evil people in the world and that is a fact difficult to swallow.  We like to demonize; we like our monsters.  Yet people reject the complexities required to understand the spectrum because ultimately this is more disturbing, this is where things get extraordinarily uncomfortable.  However, our own actions will haunt us (as will our inactions).  It’s the problem of history – the problem of the perpetrator and the problem of the victim.

Yes, it’s easy for me to sit in the safety of my own home pondering these things.  Trauma, though, spares no one.  We all have proximity to the sinkhole that is the world we’ve engendered.  We are all complicit in the creation of our reality no matter how good, how sensitive, how brave, or how innocent we are.  And we all have to climb out of this sinkhole in solidarity or not at all.

Where is the hope?  According to Gerhard Richter: “I perceive our only hope – or our one great hope – as residing in art.”  Art, that activity as ancient as we are, that persists in the face of intense censorship, and that is currently suffering the abuses of funding cut-backs.  Art has never been elevated to the status it should have in critiquing, unsettling, or disturbing humanity, in its radical questioning of the status quo and its demolition of established belief systems, in its exposure of horror, in its call for morality, justice, and equality.  Could that be the link to solidarity and action, could art be what helps us live with, albeit never fully comprehend, trauma and atrocity?  Well, imagine a world without art.  You can’t, can you?  Because a world without art is incomprehensible.  So why don’t we pay more attention to this unsung facilitator of our own redemption?


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Feb 08, 2013 @ 19:49:33

    Wow, thanks for the points to ponder! And 3 posts in 2 days? Yippee


    • Sandra Seekins
      Feb 08, 2013 @ 22:59:52

      I know! One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try to Blog more! I’m really enjoying Mike’s e-mails-he’s really experiencing something rare and special. Coffee this weekend?

      Sandra Seekins Faculty, Art History Department Capilano University 604 986-1911 local 2288


  2. sherylmcdougald
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 03:05:04

    “The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

    I agree with you totally… but if art is the savior, why is there Tracy Emin? We are in big trouble…..

    What a great day that must have been… remember Ashley’s and then the Porpoise Bay pub? You had a stack o happy depression that day – it was fun!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: