How Art Can Reveal Dark Impulses Under the Veneer of Civilized Behavior

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

One way that people respond to power and unspeakable cruelty is through art. German and Japanese artists such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Mishima Yukio, and Yokoo Tadanori, as well as to filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg were all affected by fascism and its terrible consequences. Ian Buruma explains why he’s interested in art that reveals the dark impulses beneath the veneer of civilized behavior. In his book Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War, Buruma looks back at World War II to explore how people respond to the horrors of history—to the Nazi occupation of Paris, the Allied bombing of German cities, the international controversies over Anne Frank’s diaries, Japan’s militarist intellectuals and its kamikaze pilots. 



Ian Buruma

Comments [9]

Ed from Larchmont

Art probably can't make us better - but it does show us the magnificence that the human person is called to. (And shows us the evil it falls into at times.)

Sep. 03 2014 02:52 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Our species has a highly exaggerated opinion of itself :)

Sep. 03 2014 01:51 PM
Dan K from park slope

I disagree and believe art can be a force behind political change. Musicians of the 60's were the poets of their time, spreading messages of peace during Vietnam, and having a great role in sparking protests against what people soon saw to be an unjust war in Vietnam. Satire has long had a large influence on political opinions from Daumier to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Photos of the cruelty of war and torture, tho maybe tenuously art, have enormous influence. 1984 has had huge influence on our political thinking.....

Sep. 03 2014 01:48 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

You can find the best art and artists working in video games today. Video games have become the people's art form for the 21st century. But so many people are still stuck in old fashioned media venues and formats, such as books, plays and movies. And more writers and actors are increasingly employed in the video game industry as well.

Sep. 03 2014 01:48 PM
Ed from Larchmont

On the other hand, as a priest said, 'Human beings by themselves can't be that bad', people do bad things with the help of the evil beings, the fallen angels.

Sep. 03 2014 01:47 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Only the human being knows sin, animals don't.

Sep. 03 2014 01:45 PM
tom from Astoria

Leutze.s Washington Crossing the Delaware was painted decades after the war, I seems art often memorializes later. I can understand the delay, because I'm an artist who was a volunteer on the pile after the September 11 attacks in order see it for myself and perhaps paint it. Still working towards the final artworks, and the passage of time may deepen the work.

Sep. 03 2014 01:42 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I think the difference btwn. humans' cruelty & animals' cruelty is that humans can understand the feelings of their victims, & that's often the object of the cruelty.

Sep. 03 2014 01:39 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

You people should learn to play video games. You've watched enough plays and movies. Get you're hands on a controller and start killing zombies or shooting Nazis in some video games. You'll find out how enjoyable virtual murder can be :)

Sep. 03 2014 01:35 PM

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