In These Desperate Times, Art Has More Power Than Ever

At a talk in Nashville, dissenter and rock star writer George Saunders gave us what for. Somehow I tied it to a Picasso.


Pablo Picasso’s 1937 Guernica is arguably the greatest work of art ever made.  One of the few statement pieces by the artist (although he refused to discuss it), it is nonetheless viewed as a true anti-war piece. He let it speak for itself. But when a Nazi officer asked him if he made it, Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

Certainly there are sublime works that raise spirits higher. This is not pretty– like war– and its grayness shows its spiritually draining result.  It’s not the only tremendous statement about war (see: Goya, etal), but this has had the most impact, and arguably the most benefit, of any work of art. It hits like a cannonball on an eternal subject.  And it’s literally a fractured nightmare. You can’t understand it as much as experience it. And it will best stand the test of time: The Cubist fragmentation and distortion are perfectly suited to depict the chaos of war through the ages.

I have been thinking about Picasso’s piece ever since I recently heard rock star author and voice of dissent, George Saunders, read at Parnassus here in Nashville a few weeks back.  I could go on about his brilliantly original book, Lincoln in the Bardo, and the equally unique way he had different people play his characters, but I was most struck by his response to a question about his frequent and well-publicized critiques of the Trump’s policies and character.

Saunders responded, “During this time, it’s more important than ever for artists to double down.”

That more than touched a nerve. I have neither said nor presented anything to the public on my opinions of the Armageddon potential of the Alt-New Wave. I didn’t want to get into it on Facebook. It’s crowded with rants, whose anger is completely understandable, but which I have no appetite for. And I don’t like speaking in the tone of the Administration.  It’s divisive at a time we need unity.

The platform of this magazine is where I will speak out until I create a work of art on the matter. And I say this: The din of denial of equal rights, racism, brutality, global warming, and basically any and all long-term consequences must be met by the louder collective voice of all of us who dissent, especially artists. Art has the unique ability to spread like wildfire– much as the “Yes We Can” poster for Obama.

But a poster is just one expression. All of us have our own expression and mediums, and our own voice. Let’s use them.

PS: All of us are artists.







1 Comment on In These Desperate Times, Art Has More Power Than Ever

  1. Love this post and how you tied everything together. Light always overcomes darkness, but we have to have the courage to shine to make this happen! Thanks for these words, really enjoyed this piece.

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