A few days ago, I was riveted by an opinion contribution in The New York Times entitled “A Flash of Memory”. This short piece was written by a Japanese fashion designer who survived the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. His thoughts were not of negativity, but rather of a hope that President Obama would visit the site of the Peace Bridge on Peace Day (Aug. 6) and help to extend a hand in creating a world that does not in live in fear of atomic warfare.
I thought this article was touching, but also significant. One thought that jumped out at me was that this individual turned to creativity in order to get away from the destruction that had enveloped his life at a young age. I immediately began thinking about the works of art in the past that have been inspired by tragic events and that make an attempt to understand, translate, and convey the emotions, memories and ideas that are carried with such events. The author mentioned one: the Peace Bridge, with artwork designed by Isamu Noguchi. But around the world there are so many works of art commemorating wars, massacres, and other tragic events. Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, and an overwhelming number of Holocaust memorial works are among these pieces of art. One of the largest and most famous paintings of the 20th century, Picasso’s Guernica, also deals with this heavy subject matter. The list goes on and on.
Thinking about this I realized that artists, in their own way, try not only to create a message that conveys the loss that was suffered in these acts, but also to point ahead to the future—to remind others of the mistakes of the past, to remember the cost of our actions, and to slowly and subtly try and change the course of the future. Creation is the opposite of destruction, and therefore it seems an appropriate response to wars, crimes, and devastating events. The question of this is, does it make any difference? Does this type of art change anyone’s mind about war? Does it prevent killing? Does it make us more able to cope with loss? Here I would have to agree with and extend the assertion of the author of the article, that a work of art as a symbol has meaning, but it can do nothing without people. Without the people who try and make a difference behind it, no worldly change can occur.
So, I suppose the conclusion we should reach is, kudos to those artists who are trying to say something with their art, and even more so to the people that read into it and try to do something about it.