Another shooting. Artists, help me grieve.
My job is to look. I want no subject to be taboo. If it is a face, I will look. If it is death, I will look. Looking is how I peacefully confront, learn, maintain engagement. This blog thread is how I share. The images below are fine art paintings of gun violence. I hope I do not contribute to the aestheticization of it. My feelings about them are mixed. Forgive me. There was another shooting. I could not post a landscape today.
Wiki: History of Aestheticization of Violence in Art
Plato proposed to ban poets from his ideal republic because he feared that their aesthetic ability to construct attractive narratives about immoral behavior would corrupt young minds. Plato’s writings refer to poetry as a kind of rhetoric, whose “…influence is pervasive and often harmful.” Plato believed that poetry that was “unregulated by philosophy is a danger to soul and community.” He warned that tragic poetry can produce “a disordered psychic regime or constitution” by inducing “a dream-like, uncritical state in which we lose ourselves in …sorrow, grief, anger, and resentment.” As such, Plato was in effect arguing that “What goes on in the theater, in your home, in your fantasy life, are connected” to what you do in real life.
Aristotle, though, advocated a useful role for music, drama, and tragedy: a way for people to purge their negative emotions. Aristotle mentions catharsis at the end of his Politics, where he notes that after people listen to music that elicits pity and fear, they “are liable to become possessed” by these negative emotions. However, afterwards, Aristotle points out that these people return to “a normal condition as if they had been medically treated and undergone a purge [catharsis] … All experience a certain purge [catharsis] and pleasant relief. In the same manner cathartic melodies give innocent joy to men” (from Politics VIII:7; 1341b 35-1342a 8).
When a person views an isolated painting, photograph or cartoon, they are viewing a static image. If a photographer takes a still photo of a police officer’s struggle to arrest a young man, for example, the denotative meaning might be “there was a man dressed as a police officer placing his hand on the shoulder of another man of a certain age whilst a photographer took a picture.” On the other hand, the connotative meanings might range from, “law enforcement in action” to “a heroic fight to subdue a dangerous terrorist about to releasesarin gas,” to “police use excessive force to arrest non-violent protesters,” to “fancy dress party ends badly.” The attribution of the specific subtext is left to the caption writer, the text accompanying the photo, and the audience.
Critic Susan Sontag argued that, through repeated exposure, certain well-known photographs have become “ethical reference points,” such as the many images depicting the victims and liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (1977). From this perspective, the subtext of such images, though still connotatively open to interpretation, has been somewhat restrained by familiarity, predominant cultural beliefs regarding the Holocaust, and perhaps by overusage.