Art As a Response to... Everything

"If you are a fighter, you fight. If you are a hero, you die. If you are a painter, you paint." (A Picasso, by Jeffrey Hatcher)

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, 1937. Painted in response to the Nazi bombing of Guernica in 1937. 

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, 1937. Painted in response to the Nazi bombing of Guernica in 1937. 

Those words stopped me in my tracks. They were among a few of the featured quotes in the playbill for a (Jacksonville, FL)  local showing of "A Picasso," and I had to see it. At the time, my husband was deployed and I decided to go alone, the first time I had ever done anything like that without the company of someone else. I think it made the experience even richer!

The play is set during WW2 and the entire script is a single dialogue in one room, between Pablo Picasso and a lovely "cultural attache" known as Miss Fischer. The play starts out as a conversation between the two of them to determine which "Picassos" were authentic for an upcoming show. As the plot progresses, there reveals ulterior motives which brings out an entirely new and completely beautiful layer to the characters.  I so very much want to tell you more details, but could not bear to ruin it for you. If you appreciate art's role in history, coming of age stories, or in particular, art's role in World War 2, you will absolutely love this play. 

Anyways, at one point, it is clear the Nazi movement is influencing this meeting and Miss Fischer demands to know why Picasso painted "Guernica," a horrific anti-war mural aptly named for the bombing of the city in his native country. Tension builds and finally, Picasso retorts, "[when something like this happens], if you are a fighter, you fight. If you are a hero, you die. If you are a painter, you paint."

In the play, Picasso is not a fighter, nor a hero, nor a politician, a composer, a baker, or a florist. He is a painter. So when something like that happens close to home, he paints.


This beautiful concept of "art as a response to everything" is why in viewing art, listening to music, or experiencing any other cultural expression, it is important to consider what that response is. If you are an artist (which I believe all of us are, in some way!) think of your own work in that context as well. What is it in your life or in the world around you that you are responding to? I seek to answer that question on this blog for my own art, and often times it's as simple as my own relationships or events in my life. What about that painting you've seen in your local gallery that you don't understand why it's hanging on the walls? I am the first to admit that while I can appreciate it's place in society, I don't *like* every genre or art movement (I'm pretty picky about what I will actually say I like!), but before I give my preference, I am learning to first try to describe, then analyze, and understanding context is important to be able to do that. 

Some other examples in art can be seen in the progression in art history from the Renaissance until now. During this time, art went from flat looking figures with little perspective to dramatic, romantic, and of high contrast... from divine worship, back to celebrating humanism... from status icons for the wealthy to honoring the average folk too... from intricate realism to fabricated pops of color to expressive interpretations... from portraits to landscapes to still lifes to confusing forms of anything at all... (and on that note, while I don't necessarily like urinals on my wall either, just consider what the 20th Century brought to society: Widespread  wars, nuclear advancements and horror, and the ability to share information in unprecedented ways... ) In the meantime, we have circumnavigated the globe, established trade all around the world, figured out the printing press, put men on the moon, seen the rise and fall of countless civilizations, and many of us now hold the iPhone X in our pockets (I'm still waiting on my 6 to die!). 


What are some of your favorite artists (musicians, dancers, playwrights, etc!) that you discovered you loved only after understanding more what their work was responding to? I am passionate about this topic and would love to learn myself!