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

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

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