history in art

People don’t listen to a Beethoven symphony and ask “Is this true?” 

Yesterday evening I went to hear Yann Martel speak at an event put on by the Vancouver Writers’ Festival.  I got more food for thought in that hour than I have in any other single hour lately; he is articulate and passionate about the questions he asks through his art and it was inspiring.

I went to sleep thinking about the differences in popular response to different forms of art, and whether the differences are detrimental to one form over another.  Martel spoke of his current work and its treatment of a historical episode that sees very little variation in representation in art.  He discussed how, over the years, when writers have written about the Holocaust in a realist style but used largely fictionalised details they have been critically attacked and discredited.  Why this is so leads to many interesting conversations – a number of which are circulating in my head.

Martel used the example of Beethoven, but, on the subject of war, I might substitute Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”  We don’t wipe the tears from our eyes when the last note dies away, look at the program notes and then cry out indignantly because the man who wrote it had not been to war.  The work of art is stunning and its meaning is created in the interaction with the reader/listener/viewer.  The same could be argued for the literary arts.

This is a question I will carry with me for a while.  Are there certain historical events that are immune to the full spectrum of artistic representation?  or is it us who are resisting?  Am I part of the problem?  Is there a problem?  What might the long-term effects be on our culture?

I have not done these thoughts justice.

Yann Martel also showed and talked about the art in the new illustrated version of Life of Pi as well as his campaign of sending Stephen Harper (Canada’s Prime Minister) a ‘good book’ every two weeks. Check out www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca.

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