TERRIBLE BEAUTY

(above) Title page from Goya’s series of etchings entitled “Caprices.” The motto reads: “The dream of reason produces monsters.”

Francisco Goya witnessed the horrors of Spain’s war with France at he beginning of the 19th century and could not stay silent. Instead of creating propagandistic art, extolling glorious military heroism, he focused on the atrocities of the armies, committed against ordinary people. He knew that when soldiers get into a killing craze, they murder and rape indiscriminately, often just for the hell of it. If there were an Iraqi or Afghan Goya working today, he or she would not make journalistic photos of the slaughter of people who just happen to be there, but would draw and paint it, becoming selective, ‘aestheticizing’ the atrocities, in order to elevate them to a serious level of reflection. The artist does not merely present us with raw material, which is always difficult to confront and understand—indeed, it is easier to dismiss it with only a shudder—but instead creates indelible images, which cannot be gotten out of the mind. For all the risks of making human depravity ‘look good,’ the human conscience needs such images in order to burrow deeply into their meanings and implications. Jesus of Nazareth nailed to a wooden cross. Goya’s nameless victims of torture and dismemberment. Contemplating these images, we can never fall into a simplistic idea of our human condition.

LW

(below) Etchings from Goya’s series “The Disasters of War:”


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