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Art Discussions

Discussion 1: WWI Poetry

1. The overall message the soldier poet seemed to convey in poetry was that of sadness at the separation from family and loved ones in a world that only held violence and the possibility of death for the soldier. Many soldiers fought in WWI because they were proud to represent their countries and the ideals at stake. However, they had not counted on how vastly different the battlefield would be from their homes. Most saw military service as a situation of glamour and courage but were faced with the reality of desolation and death instead. Yet, they were still proud to serve.

2. I believe the wartime poetry written during WWI was accurate in depicting the emotions and challenges faced by soldiers on the battlefields. For instance, in the poem “Anthem for a Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, a soldiers’ moment of death is documented in a stark manner, with lines such as (1917) “What passing-bells for these who dies as cattle?—Only the monstrous anger of the guns”. Owen shows anger that the soldiers who give their lives to fight for their countries are subjected to lonely deaths that have no mourners or acknowledgement at the time of passing. The only witnesses to the death of soldiers are the weapons and opposing soldiers that caused the demise.

3. The words and phrases soldier poets used to create vivid images of their experiences for readers were varied. Poets such as Siegfried Sassoon utilized soft, religious phrasing to create a more spiritual portrait of death for the solider, such as in “How to Die” (1918), “The dying soldier shifts his head To watch the glory that returns; He lifts his fingers toward the skies Where holy brightness breaks in flame…” Here, Owen shows that although soldiers die in battle, they are rewarded with spiritual relief at the time of death and move on to the glory of the afterlife, which is well earned through their service. Other works, such as “Back” (1915)by Wilfred Gibson uses sparse sentences to portray the mental and emotional separation many soldiers had to employ in order to come to terms with their roles in killing, “But what can I reply Who know it wasn’t I, But someone just like me…”

4. I don’t think audiences today would appreciate poetry such as this, even if written by U. S. soldiers stationed in other countries. Because the media plays the biggest role in showing pictures of the war and soldiers who are fighting, that institution has the power to show pictures that give the messages that are most desirable and which lend themselves to other messages. Even if a soldier were to write how he or she feels while engaged in the war, the pictures have the strength and ability to overshadow those writings with different messages.

Discussion 2: Harlem Renaissance

1. Evidence of double-consciousness is shown in the following line of Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”(1947), “One three centuries removed From the scenes his fathers loved, Spicy grove, cinnamon tree, What is Africa to me?” In these lines, Cullen points to the dichotomy of having a history where his forefathers lived on the continent of Africa, a place markedly different from the continent he calls home. Although he was born three hundred years after his African ancestors, he is still defined by their experiences and origins.

Another instance of double-consciousness can be found in these lines (1947), “The tree Budding yearly must forget How its past arose or set—“ Cullen indicates here that in order for a tree or a person to continue to grow and thrive, past instances must be forgotten. He further points out that even while the past has resulted in the trees’ (persons’) current status, to dwell on those past events might hinder future budding or advancement. Cullen understands that slavery and racism have helped to shape his own life as an African American person, however, he does not feel that he should dwell on those injustices which occurred in the past. He believes he should focus his energies on creating a new identity for himself that does not mire him in the chains of a troublesome history.

2. Of the various creative professionals that worked during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, I would most like to obtain the autograph of Countee Cullen. This would afford me the opportunity to ask his thoughts on navigating a writing career as an African American person. Because he famously stated, “I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,” his frustration at his identity as a writer parallels that of modern writers of color who find their works ostracized by readers of their own ethnic group if it isn’t ethnic enough and yet discounted by mainstream readers as well because they are of a different ethnic group. I would be interested to find out if he ever came to a resolution on this matter that he would like to share with modern writers. 

3. The attraction of Harlem’s nightlife to whites can be explained by the overall message of the Harlem Renaissance, which was that of no apologies and embracing the use of the arts to promote racial integration as well as the notion of being appreciative of and pride in the “New Negro”. Because it was more of an artistic movement, the Harlem Renaissance represented breaking the binds felt by other groups of individuals in the country at that time. White artists or those who were otherwise on the outside of mainstream America felt the movement also encompassed their feelings of frustration.

The Harlem nightlife was especially attractive during the Prohibition when the restraints of the government sought to end the sale of alcohol in the country. The parties held in the Harlem nightclubs not only exhibited new forms of music that many audiences found appealing, but they also promised alcohol and an overall atmosphere of rebellion.

Discussion 1: Abstraction and Artistic Purpose

1. The painting Guernica by Picasso is an effective statement against the horrors of war because of the feelings the images evoke. Shades of gray first set a tone of subject matter that is not simply black and white but a hybrid of the two extremes, just as the topic of war is not simply right or wrong or easy to dissect and examine. The images of mourners holding the dead and animals caught in the fight are evocative of everyday life being torn apart by wartime.

2. Regardless of whether or not wartime scenes are depicted in a piece of art, I believe Picasso aptly describes the artists’ responsibility to portray societal issues that citizens should be concerned about. Also, art may show issues that the artist personally struggles against. For example, in “The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali, images of clocks appearing everywhere, drooping and yet ever present relay the message that time affects everything and cannot be discounted nor ignored. The artist lets viewers know that the passing of time is an issue about which they should be thoughtful.

3. I believe art has the power to influence thought and action. When artists create their pieces, they infuse the works with their own insights and viewpoints. Many of these ideas have never crossed the minds of the viewers, and there are times when the viewer is unaware of the issue before the viewing. Once the idea is introduced, the viewer can then develop personal thoughts and viewpoints on the images they are shown.

Discussion 2: Pop Art and Consumer Culture

1. The most intriguing aspect of Hamilton’s collage “Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” is the depiction of the residents as nude people with what the media touts as perfect bodies. This seems to indicate that the artist is aware of the influence Hollywood and the media asserts not only on our society’s perception of what it means to have the perfect home but what types of people we need to be to live in the perfect homes.

2. Hamilton’s piece ridicules consumer culture, mainly in the way the items displayed are not practical and yet desired by consumers at the same time. For instance, every man will experience the fantasy of having a beautiful wife waiting on the couch, nude, when he comes home in the evenings, nor will they all have the physical attributes of his model. Their incomes will not all allow for home cleaning services via a maid, nor will their marriages be infused with “young romance” as the wall hanging predicts. The societal expectations of what would make a modern home are unobtainable for the majority of the public.

3. I think Pop art is an artistic critique of the culture of consumerism. The more citizens have, the more citizens want. Cars and homes grow larger and larger with each passing year and without artists to show us the mistakes behind these practices, many people may never become aware of the waste.

4. I would include items such as the gas guzzling SUV’s many citizens choose to drive these days, as well as pictures of Hollywood starlets who are well below healthy weights. I would also include the mega-mansions that many people aspire to live in, along with the activities children often use to keep themselves busy while both parents work overtime in order to afford these things.

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