Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Documentary Frames Graphic Art’s Political Ferment

• March 02, 2012 • 9:00 AM

A stirring compilation of instances where the pen, or brush, was equivalent to the sword raises the question of whether it can compete with the keyboard.

Back in the day, being a socially committed graphic artist was a particularly dangerous undertaking.

Honoré Daumier was imprisoned for his work, and died impoverished. Käthe Kollwitz and Otto Dix had their work declared “degenerate” by the Nazis. George Grosz was arrested for allegedly insulting the German army. And so incendiary were Francisco Goya’s masterpieces, Disasters of War, the aquatint prints were not published until 35 years after his death.

“In the past, the documentation of these artists had a terrific effect, which was why back then it was more dangerous to do it,” says Manny Kirchheimer, director of Art Is: The Permanent Revolution, a new documentary about politicized graphic artists.
[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Moving Pictures

MOVING PICTURES
An occasional look at movies that matter.

[/class]
“At least the establishment thought [these works were dangerous],” he continues. “They jailed these people, or sent them into exile.”

Kirchheimer’s film, currently in New York and soon to open around the country, operates on two levels. It is first a look at three graphic artists — etcher Sigmund Abeles, woodcutter Paul Marcus and lithographer Ann Chernow — as they create works protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, the documentary is a fascinating look at the minutiae of the artistic process, as the creators discuss the pieces they are making and their motivations for doing so.

But Kirchheimer intersperses these sections with montages of works by great political artists of the past — everyone from Picasso and “Guernica” to lesser known graphics stars like the early 20th century Mexican master José Guadalupe Posada — featuring voiceovers describing the trials and tribulations many of these geniuses have encountered because of their unyielding artistic visions. As these brilliantly savage images of war, torture, poverty, and the excesses of predatory fat cats roll by, the film becomes a fascinatingly offbeat history of political conflict.

Art is . . . THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION from Manny Kirchheimer on Vimeo.

“I am socially engaged, so I’m drawn to artists who do these sorts of things,” says the 80-year old Kirchheimer, who spent years working as an editor on TV documentaries before making his own films. “I grew up with Käthe Kollwitz’s pictures in my house. Most artists don’t take [political] positions, and then there are those like Daumier who took positions and were punished for it, and that attracted me. I felt it took a lot of courage.”

Or, as the Belgian artist Frans Masereel once said, “We don’t have the right to be silent.”

Maybe so, but Art Is: The Permanent Revolution offers a portal into the question of whether or not this kind of art is even relevant in today’s Internet-inflected world.

Documentary Frames Graphic Art’s Political Ferment

Otto Dix's "Stormtroopers Advance Under Gas," as seen in the new documentary "Art Is: The Permanent Revolution." (First Run Features)

All three artists in the film relate to their work as high-end propaganda, and one talks about how politically committed works depict the human condition in “all its glories and struggles.” What this means, says the film’s voiceover, is that “woodcuts and lithographs may not stop bullets, but they stir people’s minds.”

And, it should be noted, throughout most of the Western world (but not necessarily the rest of the globe, today’s politicized artists will not be jailed or exiled like so many of their predecessors. (The film can be criticized for its absence of non-Western works. Kirchheimer says he rejected a lot of pictures “that people would have to interpret,” that he was looking for art that “says something immediately.”)

Which means that, ultimately, Art Is: The Permanent Revolution reaffirms the cliché that what works artistically is in the eye of the beholder.

How people relate to these works, especially the classic art of the Picassos and Daumiers, says Kirchheimer, “depends on the viewer. There are people who will be deeply moved if it’s great enough art. There will always be people affected by it and who will say, ‘Look at that, it’s just like today.’”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Lewis Beale
Lewis Beale is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Newsday and many other publications.

More From Lewis Beale

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.