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The Forum > Article Comments > Politics and the art of war > Comments

Politics and the art of war : Comments

By Greg Barns, published 31/8/2007

Are we so immune to the shock of conflict that there is nothing for the artist to say?

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A thought-provoking article. The arts seem to have lost their prophetic power to denounce, challenge, illuminate, explain and heal. Maybe it’s not war or life that have lost their power to shock, but the arts themselves. Puerile courting of controversy like the current “Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross” episode has desensitised us to the tragic by overplaying the shocking and grotesque.,23599,22338677-421,00.html

And the output of contemporary artists does not achieve the power or depth of those giants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. For anyone interested in how political, military and cultural/artistic currents intertwined in Europe around WWI I’d strongly recommend “Rites of Spring” by Modris Ekstein.

Incidentally, the Owen quote should read “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”
Here’s the whole thing:

Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,--
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of the boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Posted by Rhian, Friday, 31 August 2007 8:01:55 PM
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I'm not very impressed with the background research for the article. At the very least it should have mentioned the visionary Australian visual artist and documentary filmmaker George Gittoes (whose Soundtrack to War provided some of the material for Moore's Fahrenheit 911). Not to mention our solidly brilliant novelist Tom Keneally, whose finger is has been on the geopolitical pulse for decades and is -- literally! -- the only Westerner I know of who has made the effort to familiarise himself with Sudan in order to understand that country's troubles.

I daresay most of the art inspired by recent wars is produced in the war-torn countries themselves, in the native languages of the people who live there and whose lives have been torn asunder by war. We don't see it much (yet), but only because our curators and correspondents haven't made the effort to seek it out.

There has indeed been a loss of innocence since the days of WWII, but I think it's more that people going to a war zone -- invaders and reporters alike -- are better informed. They know what to expect before they get there. It's less of a surprise, even if it is still shocking. And sensitive artist-types from safe Western countries are correspondingly less likely to go, voluntarily or by conscription.

Gittoes is a noble exception who gets far too little exposure.
Posted by xoddam, Tuesday, 4 September 2007 12:59:35 PM
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