Warning: an image attached to this blog may be offensive to some; if you're easily offended, please don't view the images or just skip this blog.
I (Chuck) didn't do well in Art Appreciation in college. I like to think it was because I was a freshman and it was a 9:00 class on the complete opposite end of campus from my preceding 8:00 class. I was consistently 10 minutes late to class, which seemed to always be the time when pop tests were given or important test material was divulged.
One thing I did manage to get out of the class, however, is that art is used to evoke emotion. Sure, there's also art for the sake of beauty, but that's not the topic of this particular blog.
On our must-see list for Madrid was the Reina Sofia museum of modern art, and in particular Picasso's Guernica. Picasso painted "Guernica" in response to the bombing of the Spanish town of the same name during Spain's devastating civil war in the 1930's. In many ways, the Spanish Civil War was the dress rehearsal for World War II. In April of 1937, with the blessing and request of General Francisco Franco, German and Italian forces carpet-bombed the Basque village.
Prior to that attack, there had never been a carpet bombing before. It was unheard of that mankind could wipe out an entire village of people in one fell swoop. Now–with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of carpet bombings in the history books, two atomic bombs, and dozens of entire other wars behind us–we are sadly desensitized of that fact. We Americans like to say that we lost our "innocence" with 9/11, but unfortunately (as humans) we've been losing our innocence for quite some time now, starting with Guernica in 1937.
Picasso intended for "Guernica" to capture the horror of that moment, and I was surprised at how effective it is even decades after the event. It's a stark scene, all in gray, as if the jumble of distorted figures are covered in a gray ash or dust. Everywhere you look there are images of people screaming, limbs stretched out, people and animals alike falling or dismembered.
Perhaps the most emotional of the images is that of a woman clutching a baby, her head grotesquely and unnaturally bent back, her vacant eyes distorted in a lifeless stare, the baby still in her arms.
It succeeds–effectively–in leaving you with a sense of horror, disgust, and dismay.
Standing there with the throngs studying Picasso's scene of destruction, I was reminded of another emotion-evoking piece of art I once came across. My brother-in-law and I were walking through Milan, Italy and came through a square to find a striking sculpture, the creator of which we do not know. It's of a massive hand making what most people in the western world would consider an obscene gesture. But upon closer inspection, the unfortunate subject isn't purposefully making an obscene gesture at all: their fingers have been cut off, leaving only the middle one, and the depiction is complete with blood on the statue and it's massive stone stand. The imagery of mutilation can be disgusting, but the resulting message is startling and obvious: if you maim and mutilate me, all you'll accomplish is leaving me filled with hate for you.
You don't have to like it or "Guernica's" message, but if it tweaks you just a bit, the artist achieved their goal.