I tend to be pretty judgmental about art – on many levels. I am by no means an expert, as I hold to the old adage ‘I know what I like’, but I do have some specific expectations of art. It should cause me to pause, initiating reflection, both on the piece and how that piece affects me. As I am married to an artist I have a unique and expanded view of art. I have watched her process and her progress from the wink of an idea to the finished piece, watching each step – the technical and creative – along the way.
So I have expectations of art. It must have a purpose, being pretty doesn’t count, at that point it is decoration, not art. The purpose does not have to be complex, it can be as simple as causing the viewer to stop and reflect on the purpose behind it, the inner workings of the piece, or the subject matter.
Every so often I am struck by a piece or series that has an immediate impact, adding a new facet through which I view our world.
National Public Radio aired an amazing story this morning about an artist in Cologne, Germany who is memorializing the individuals persecuted by the Nazi’s during World War II. The artists, Gunter Demnig, researches the individual victims, (Jews, Gypsys, homosexuals, the disabled among others) and creates a brass plate which denotes the name of each individual, their date of birth and information about their deportation or murder. This small plate is then attached to a paving stone which is set into the pavement in front of the building where they used to live.
Whoa. This blows me away. Not only is it a moving tribute, but it goes far beyond what so many previous memorials present to the public (I mean no disrespect to the other holocaust memorials). The individual is brought to the forefront. Not only do you learn that this person was persecuted during the darkest period in history, you are given a glimpse into their daily life before that life was turned upside down.
As each year passes, and new generations are born, we lose more and more of those who experienced the events. People of my generation were lucky enough to hear some first-hand accounts, and there are some amazing documentaries and books covering the subject from every possible angle. But we don’t have those daily reminders. We need them.
Having a name, a birth date and the information as to how this person was deported, sent to Auschwitz or simply disappeared, brings their presence to our world; but unlike large memorials you see that this person lived in the building a few yards away.
The victims are not anonymous.
One day I hope to travel throughout Europe. I now have another reason to go to Germany. Another reason to remember our past.