24 November 2008

The burden of Art History

The documentary the Rape of Europa is fascinating, terrifying, and humbling.

Hitler's systematic looting and destruction of the art of Europe is matched only by his systematic annihilation of life. War is brutal, and the brutality of World War II is unfathomable. But there is a sadistic brutality in the desire to not only erase life, but erase an entire culture. Hitler sought to void Western culture and rewrite it in his own hand.

Fortunately for history, there were civilians and soldiers who waged a war to save the art of Europe. To say it was a monumental task, would be an epic understatement. They are quiet saviors whose acts of heroism hang in gilded frames.

All things beautiful and mortal pass, but not art.
Cosa bella e mortal passa e non d'arte.
(Leonardo da Vinci)

I don't believe art is more valuable than a human life. I believe art is a dialogue, a conversation to be had with the past and the present. It allows us to engage in a fundamental part of our humanity. I have stood before Vermeer's "Astronomer" in the Louvre and cried over the 340 year old canvas. Why? I don't know. I was moved to tears by something I cannot properly articulate. That is why art is necessary, to remind us that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

We can survive without art, but we cannot live without it.


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