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Jewess » Non-Jewess Art Interview

Non-Jewess Art Interview


by Rebecca Honig Friedman

Check out my interview with Iconia’s Menachem Wecker on the concept of “evil art.” It’s on The Docent, the resident blog of The Jewish Channel (TJC), which for those who don’t know is where I spend my non-blogging working hours (though sometimes I blog there, too). Here’s a bit of what Menachem has to say about people who do bad things but make good art:

I think we need to be open to the possibility that art might be the last shred of goodness and creativity that remains in some very destructive people.
Human sacrifices happened on very beautifully made altars. They were simultaneously awful and evil and beautiful. This shouldn’t scare us, and we shouldn’t worry about humanizing evil. I think evil is not to be pushed away as Other.
Art lets us see that very often people who are destructive also create sometimes, and rather than seeing that as a liability of creativity, or as evil creations, we should see it, at least sometimes, as a struggle within that person.

Check out the other posts on The Docent for discussion about and insight into cultural and political topics relevant to TJC’s programming.

8 Responses to “Non-Jewess Art Interview”

  1. I think his final thought is borderline evil in itself: “…and we shouldn’t worry about humanizing evil. I think evil is not to be pushed away as Other.” But Evil is the Absolute Other, the Great Dehumanizer and if perpetrated as art, it may allow the Evil One to feel good about what he/she is doing. The next step is, if one feels good, one thinks then that he/she is doing good and “good” needs to be mutiplied. And then, an act of art or a cultural presentation, is translated from the canvas, the stage, the page into the real world and some people will view a body hanging from a rope as an artistic episode.

  2. I’d be very interested in hearing even one shred of evidence for the sort of chain reaction you describe.

  3. Well, this past September at the Chicago Foundation for Women 22nd Annual Symposium there was a session on “Violence in Language, Art and Culture: Images to Die For?” and the impression I gained was that the links of your chain reaction were firmly in place. An indy art exhibit last February in Boston called “History Recalls” had this statement which I think supports my position: “[it] wants to establish an evolving dialogue on conflicts around the world. The art encourages viewers to foster an empathetic reaction to a type of violence that Americans too often associate with sanitized news broadcasts and video games.” If art can do that, it works both ways. Here’s something I found at the University of Pennsylvania: “Representations of Violence / Violence of Representation. Our Spring issue of ‘Working papers’ will be devoted to exploring the chiasmic relationship between representation and violence. We encourage graduate students to attend to the ways that cultural products such as art, literature, and film both manifest and perpetuate violence.”

    I could go on but I think that my case that such a chain reaction is possible and perhaps probable is made.

    Over to you, Menachem.

  4. One more: “A new report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorses claims that TV violence can increase violent behavior in children, and that existing parental controls are ineffective at limiting child exposure to violent programming.” (http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-07-50A1.pdf)

  5. Rather than get into the somewhat hackneyed debate about whether violent video games make for violent teens, why don’t you defend the position that a violent painting can inspire violence in its viewers. Has there been scholarship you’ve seen on that? I’d love to read more about that. I think there could be something more interactive and self-projecting in video games in a way that there isn’t in fine art…

  6. Hackneyed? Video games? Menachem, please read what I wrote and the references I pointed to. The FCC report was based on scholarship. The UPenn bit specifically called attention to visual representations of various kinds and violence. The Chicago workshop advanced that indeed art promotes violence, in their case against women. At Madison University I found this course: “The purpose of this class is to take a critical view violence designed and promoted by commercial, graphic and video artists. Does putting art that portrays violence in museums make the violence art? How is violence designed, why is violence promoted, and what role do commercial, graphic, video and street artists have in crating an aesthetic of violence? This course requires readings, viewings, research and art journaling and art making”. Again, if art is used to help those who have been traumatized, it is only logical that art can go the other way.

    Take a few minutes, google the cases I wrote, search for others and then, in a calm manner, reconsider your words and than maybe write, “well, I didn’t exactly mean…, etc.” I don’t want to think any human, let alone a Jew, could dance around the proposition that we need not worry about humanizing evil. Sure we do. Very much so.

  7. I did read your references. If you will note, this discussion was about violent paintings. I would like to hear any data about how likely people (whether young or old) who see a violent painting are to try to copy what they see. I think the discussion about video art is entirely different. The suspension of disbelief is different in a film than in a painting. Sorry you are not going to get a calm mannered “well, I didn’t exactly mean…, etc.”

    Additionally, I am surprised at your comment, “I don’t want to think any human, let alone a Jew, could dance around the proposition that we need not worry about humanizing evil. Sure we do. Very much so.” What are you saying is the risk of treating evil perpetuated by a human as man-made evil? People do evil things, and when they do evil things they don’t cease to be people and become monsters.

    You say “it may allow the Evil One to feel good about what he/she is doing.” By the capitalized Evil One are you referring to Satan? To an evil person? I tend to think evil people commit evil acts independently of their work being cataloged in a painting…

  8. Violent paintings only? But you spoke of “art”. You’re changing the subject. Video art may be different only in the sense of a greater probability. We just had a suspected pedeophile picked up in Jlm for perhaps extradition to NY and one of the “proofs”, then and now, was possession of video material of a sexual nature. The police, you would say, were wrong? Suspension of belief is capable of working through hardcore still photograph pornography as well as 35 mm films. Nazi Germany art, i.e., paintings, especially the naked male form or, funnily enough, Hitler in shining armor can be stimulating.

    Your second paragraph is totally incomprehensible. You are arguing backwards. You wrote we don’t need to worry about humanizing evil and then you write: “when they do evil things they don’t cease to be people and become monsters”, no, they don’t but they also surely become monsters by their evil deeds. Once evil, if an artist seeks to humanize them, that’s evil I would maintain. You wouldn’t?

    No, Menachem, the “Evil One” is the Yetzer HaRa. This is a Jewish blog.

    And yes, people can do evil separate and distinct from their painting or as a result of a painting, and they can do evil because of art.

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