Somebody posted this piece of art in a Modern Art FB group. It was created by Adolf Hitler.
No need to give a personal history. We all know who this man was.
He was the biggest terror on earth during the 20th century. He slaughtered uncountable people, attempted to wipe out an entire race, and dragged the world into the Limbo of Global War.
But looking at the painting itself, I must say it was a decent piece of artwork. It was by no doubt a solid study piece: the beautiful blending of colors, balanced values, intriguing perspectives…
Surely, this was no masterpiece. Yet this was no sloppy, worthless, self-satisfactory art either. To say the least, I saw skills reflected in this piece.
So I left a comment: this was a good painting.
And believe me, this opinion was supported — just not by the mass imbeciles on facebook.
Here’s what Peter Beech said in his article for The Guardian:
Hitler’s paintings are amateurish, but they certainly aren’t an abomination — that came later. In fact, they’re quite sweet. The man who dreamed up the death of the Jews proves to be a surprisingly dab hand at sunlight on stone walls. They show him nearly getting it right, or at least not getting it very wrong. (Beech, 2009)
So let me take this one step further:
If the original poster didn’t write down the painter of this work, but instead, say, he wrote “Painter unknown), the reactions would have been much more different.
What this tells us, is perfectly summarized, again, by Beech:
Hitler’s paintings, if we look at them, hard, should help us dismiss any lingering belief that we can learn in a moral sense from something that demonstrates technical accomplishment. (Beech, 2009)
An evil person can also be a brilliant artist.
And funny enough, one of the gentlemen who started to attack my personal integrity tried to bring down my argument by steering towards Chairman Mao and Stalin.
I don’t know much about Stalin.
But fortunately, as a Chinese person, we studied plenty of Mao’s poetry.
And regardless of my hatred against what Mao did (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up “cultural revolution in china”), as someone who had studied ancient Chinese literature, I must admit that Mao was quite a brilliant poet.
But clearly, that was too much for others to understand.
“How could you say Hitler’s art was good.”
People’s reaction, they reminded me when Van Gogh was found out to be a terrible person when he was alive.
I couldn’t recall the exact time or situation. But for a few weeks, the art dept was stirred up by this whole “Van Gogh was horrible” rhetoric.
A few of the students claimed: I never really liked his art, now I seriously detest them.
Some also said: I used to think his stuff was cool. But not anymore. He didn’t deserve to be an artist.
And that blew my mind.
One of the first articles I learned in Literature I was The Death of The Author. Since this was also the requirement for nearly all English general education courses, it’s most likely that over 80% of college students, especially those major in Art, English or Communications have read this piece.
In this article, Barthes argues that reading and criticism should not rely on the author’s identity, including his political views, historical influence, or even demography and psychology.
This was extremely difficult to do — that I agree.
But how could humans evolve without taking on challenges?
Ultimately, Barthes wanted readers and critics to take on a piece of work from the technical level: structure, grammar, choices of words…
And that’s what I did with Hitler’s painting.
But I think this should be taken beyond the point of literal or artistic criticism. In fact, what Barthes argued should be used in nearly all analytical behaviors.
Now back to my comment.
Just to stir up the effect a bit (because who doesn’t enjoy seeing snowflakes on the internet meltdown, especially on a sick day), I also pointed out: that Hitler was indeed self-disciplined and intelligent. We actually studied his rhetoric works during college — regardless of the evil he had done, the man was quite a speaker.
And people blew.
Some called me insane. One man dramatically replied: God save you.
The amount of fear my comment triggered was simply pathetic.
Now, let me just be clear…
I by no means believe Hitler was in any terms a good guy. He was, in fact, by definition evil and sociopathic. What he did was an unforgivable crime that went far beyond dictatorship or murder.
It was a genocide, a slaughter of humans’ own being, and not to mention all the beautiful historic landscape and artworks stolen and destroyed during the war.
However, just like the creator’s identity had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of a painting…
A person’s conduct should not affect our judgment about his strength
— this has nothing to do with Hitler being a sociopath, just let me clarify this one more time —
— and if anybody thought about killing people, no matter how many people, that’s messed up —
But just think about this.
Think about Hitler’s outstanding power of rhetorics.
Think about his (twisted yea, sure) personal charm that successfully attracted so many followers.
And think about his ability of self-discipline: he did not drink, smoke, or buy prostitutes. He was a perfect candidate for running — it’s just sadly under the perfect surface hid an evil soul.
But what if someone could learn from the way he spoke, the lifestyle/discipline he maintained, and use it on something good?
Isn’t it what history is all about? For people to learn from so we can make this world a better place?
It is no coincidence that many sociopathic or psychopathic people are also the most decent, outstanding and respected members of their communities.
They can be a huge donor for a charity cause, or the old gentleman who never married but spent his time helping orphans…
Instead of fearing them, learn from them.
Empower ourselves, instead of crying like powerless babies when somebody points out the fact that a serial-killer is far more intelligent.
You could strike for that intelligence without ruining people’s lives.
You could learn the power of rhetorics without manipulating people into doing bad.
You could learn to discipline yourself and manage your own life to achieve bigger goals, such as Yoshida Honami, who went to Havard while caring for five kids and working a full-time job — you don’t call that self-discipline?
So here’s the thing…
If you deny the strength in those who had done bad, you would never learn from them and do bigger good.
If you refused to study a piece of art because it was created by a murderer or a sexual offender, you would never find the technique laying underneath.
To grow, you must look straight into the darkness and beat your fear. You must trace the power behind every incident and turn it into your own.
Don’t afraid of the evil humans are capable of doing.
That same power could be steered towards benevolence.
And the scared little people will never understand how much beauty of human capability and kindness they’re missing.