Artwork depicts bombing of Guernica

Published 9:11 am Friday, August 31, 2012

Picasso’s famous work “Guernica” reflects the ravages of war. -- Submitted

by Leigh Anne Chambers

I spend a significant amount of time writing grant proposals where I talk about “the benefits of arts and culture to a community” so much that it has become rote.

And then being in a community that has faced so much adversity, I wondered, how important are the arts really when people are trying to just meet their basic needs? Then I found quotes by various contemporary business leaders, and I got inspired.

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
— Steve Jobs, in introducing the iPad 2 in 2011

“In my own philanthropy and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities. …the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery and achievement in our country.”
— Paul G. Allen, co-founder, Microsoft

“We need people who think with the creative side of their brains — people who have played in a band, who have painted… it enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea, or how to get a job done better, less expensively.”
— Annette Byrd, Glaxo-SmithKline

So I thought since I am the director of the Rawls Museum Arts why not begin a dialogue about art through the local paper. The Tidewater News graciously accepted my proposal to write about art on a regular basis, and although I am certainly not an expert on everything that is art, I definitely have an opinion.

If you will bear with me, I plan to touch on different aspects of art and the influence on contemporary society as I see it.

So where to begin?

Let’s start with art criticism.

When looking at a work of art, here are some basic questions to ask.

• What is the artist trying to do?

• Did the artist achieve this goal?

• Was it worth doing?

This is where it gets fun because we are talking about art and not science, so there is usually not one correct answer. But, let’s begin with a piece that is pretty straightforward.

Take for example Picasso’s famous work “Guernica.” This piece reflects the ravages of war. The work is abstract, meaning the artist began with objects, but distorted and changed them so they do not clearly represent anything from the “real world.”

But you get the sense that these beings — animal or human — are in agony and distraught with mourning.

OK, so what was the artist trying to do? He was expressing his outrage with some aspect of war.

Was this achieved? Consider the scale of the work (the scale refers to the size in relation to the norm, so something either really large or really tiny). The work is over 25 feet long so the viewer would be engulfed by its presence. This alone would promote a physical response by the viewer.

To view the figures in the piece it definitely communicates horror whether you can understand what you are looking at or not. (By the way, it was not important to Picasso that anyone could identify what was in his piece.)

If you need more clues to what the artist had intended, you can refer to the title of the piece, in this case “Guernica.”

“Guernica” was painted in response to the Nazi’s casual bombing practice that devastated the town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. Sometimes you can just “Google” the title, but with less famous or contemporary works it is important to research the artist and look for an artist statement.

Finally, was this worth doing? In my opinion, yes, this was a very worthwhile endeavor. It brought the event to light and eventually made the world aware of the bombing of Guernica. Not to mention that it is one of the most famous antiwar pieces of art ever created.

LEIGH ANNE CHAMBERS is executive director of Rawls Museum Arts in Courtland and can be reached at