Writing history is an act of interpretation. Creating art about history further separates past events from the final.
What happens when an artwork tells a story that distorts an actual event? What if that “distorted” artwork communicates a historical “truth”?
Below is a famous image from a civil rights protest in Birmingham. The image tells a powerful story. It turns out that the actual events leading up to the image and the people involved tell a much different story than one we would infer simply by looking at the image.
There is a sculpture, based on the above image, that tells an even more dramatic story pictured below. What does it mean if the artwork, though powerful, does not accurately tell the actual story of the events it is depicting? What if it tells the truth of the brutality of the crackdown on the civil rights movement through inaccurately depicting an event? What does all this say about the power of artwork? The connection between history and art?
Below is a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast that discusses these issues.
“Artists can certainly capture crises via their own aesthetic sensibility, and can use their platforms to draw a different kind of awareness to specific tragedies. But in doing so, many artists like Ai have had to figure out how to balance their own perspectives as emotionally invested outsiders with respect for their subjects. Often, the most resonant art they create are works where the excesses of self-expression have been peeled back; in the cases of pieces like Laundromat, they allow the evidence of the crisis to connect with viewers as directly as possible.”
“But as Hitler understood, artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism. Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value. Like the proverbial court jester who can openly mock the king in his own court, artists who occupy marginalized social positions can use their art to challenge structures of power in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible.”
“We will never stop looking at the art of the Russian avant garde, nor should we. Yet we need to place it in its true context. It is a lazy, immoral lie to keep pretending there was anything glorious about the brutal experiment Lenin imposed on Russia – or anything innocent about its all-too-brilliant propaganda art. Perhaps the Royal Academy is about to open that very show, but its shallow title seems all too happy to cash in on revolutionary chic.”
“Conceptual art gets a bad rap. It’s the butt of endless jokes. Works of this genre that were nominated for the high honor of the Turner Prize were called BS by the U.K. culture minister. Shia Labeouf used it as an excuse to put a bag over his head. So why is conceptual art so confounding? How do curators make it palatable? And what are we even talking about when we talk about “conceptual art”?”
“The trouble is that, as with most clichés, “Poetry teaches us what it means to be human” does contain an element of truth. Like maths, or political theory, poetry is a form of thought. It is a way in which human understanding goes on. This being the case, we might expect good poetry to understand more, or more deeply, than bad verse does, just as professional mathematicians can discover what high school students can’t. Sure enough, we find William McGonagall’s odes implausible and hilarious but read William Shakespeare’s sonnets for insights into lovers’ behaviour.”
Is censorship of artwork ever appropriate? If so, under what circumstances?
“A controversial mural of Hillary Clinton will be allowed to remain after the artist modified it from depicting the politician in a revealing swimsuit to one where she is wearing a burqa instead.”