Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disasters in Our Ears

Many of us paint away for long hours with the radio playing in the background. How can we concentrate amid the news of war, disaster, and tragedy? How should we respond? Keep working or drop everything?

There are two famous stories of creative people working despite the tragedies happening on their very doorsteps.


The Greek mathematician Archimedes (above by Domenico Fetti) was grappling with a geometrical problem when the Roman soldiers broke down his door during the siege of Syracuse. According to legend, the last words that he uttered before he was killed was "Do not disturb my circles," It may just be apocryphal, but it's a good story.

The composer Sergey Rachmaninov was working on one of his piano concertos during the crisis of World War 1. He said “I became so engrossed with my work that I did not notice what was going on around me….I sat at a writing table or the piano all day without troubling about the rattle of machine guns and rifle shots.” On Christmas eve, 1917, he crossed the Finnish border and left forever the country of his birth.

Lawrence Roibal’s response to the Haiti earthquake, drawing on the newpaper itself.

13 comments:

My Pen Name said...

not exactly the same thing, but when the british were burning washington dc (in response to our burning York(now toronto)), the head of the patent office came out and said 'please don't burn this building' he went on to explain to the officer that the works of dr. franklin and many inventions beneficial to mankind were in the building. The officer spared the buildling.

Not exactly the same thing but it was the singing of "Silent Night' by germans - that started the "Christmas truce' of 1914 - showing power of that song to invoke men to lay down their arms and trust the 'enemy' whom they had been killing just hours before.

My Pen Name said...

Oh, ps, the first war mentioned was of course, the war of 1812

bonequinhoda bic said...

Great post !

Erik Bongers said...

A good point.
Actually this is very timely for me.
I have created a 40 page comic book for the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and last week they started printing the book (300.000 copies). Since this is my first comic book, I was a little nervous about this.
However, I haven't heard anything yet from the Commission. Reason being: Haiti Earthquake. At a time of great disaster like this, the commission's PR dept. that I'm working with, drops their normal activities and gets involved in the aid coordination.

So, dare I say that this earthquake with a probable mortality of 100.000, is 'bad news' for me, as my project is on hold?

Steve said...

If this were a "disaster in our eyes" -- not through television, but to BE there -- our hearts would open in a different way. Taking in the news through listening (radio) while we do something else (artwork, perhaps), our hearts respond in another way. If we had a friend or relative there, we'd feel yet another response. These are all intervals along a continuum of recognizing our connectedness, of seeing into the convenient illusion of separation.

Haiti, and much of the world, needed us to share our attention, concern and resources well before there was an earthquake. Earthquakes, by defintion, shake us up.

jeff jordan said...

We had a 6.5 earthquake here in Eureka last Saturday. Believe me, you can't paint thru one of those! I was painting before it hit, tho......

Just a blip compared to Haiti...........

craigstephens said...

Just yesterday I was working on a painting at school during my prep period and the fire alarm went off. As I didn't have any students in my room at the time and I knew it was a drill I figured I had a minute or two to finish the thought I had regarding the piece. I ended up leaving the building about ten minutes later. I realize that I wasn't dealing with Romans, World War I or a disastrous earth quake but my administrators were still a little miffed at me. I was amazed at how quickly the time went by even with the alarm blaring.

Brooks Hansen said...

I was living in New York City on 9/11, working on a novel about Napoleon. The towers went down in the early part of the morning. I went out and tried to give blood, but the lines were too long. They said come back later. I returned to my apartment and wrote my novel.

In part, I didn’t want to overreact and give the terrorists their victory. In part, I was already so leery of our Administration that my greater dread was of what they would make of this horror, not what the terrorists would do next. In part, and for the most part, I wanted to return to the world that I still controlled.

Larry said...

I remember a drawing teacher telling us that if you're lucky enough to have a long career making pictures, you'll be able to look back at your body of work and recall the parallel events of your life. What was on your easel or drawing board when your children were born or you lost a parent. Maybe as Brooks said, it's a desire to return to what we can control, or maybe it's just that freelancers don't have the luxury of stopping everything to celebrate or grieve the way someone with a nine to five job does. What ever the reason, probably a combination. I found that to be true.

अर्जुन said...

CENSORSHIP, alive and well…

Whimsical Trovers said...

I pretty much dropped everything when the earthquake hit Haiti. This is partly because I know a lot of Haitian Americans and I was immediately overwhelmed with IM and emails (I have a friend who works in Haiti, so there was concern for her and hopes that she could find out about people), and also because I've been involved with Haiti relief efforts (pre-earthquake) over the years.

However another member of our collective sat down in front of her radio in her studio and promptly began sketching pictures that she is now painting and we plan to sell for Haitian relief efforts.

Our collective has a few members, myself included, with a spiritual and artistic background rooted in Voodoo. It's the American tradition, but it does connect us to Haiti, and as artists we immediately felt an obligation to DO something. We as Americans share a common past with Haiti, even though most of us don't know that. So Art will become the touchstone.

This isn't the same as creating through a tragedy or despite a tragedy-- it's more like using a tragedy for the energy to do something good with it. We can't ignore it, though. It's too close to our actual work.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments.

To "Censorship," Yours is the first comment I've had to remove from the blog (other than ad spam). I can't leave up comments that use the f-word, make personal attacks, and make highly partisan political remarks.

Julie said...

I listen to podcasts, not because I intend to improve my mind with them, but because they quiet what the Buddhists call the monkey mind.

For layout and the initial idea, I need silence, or at most, Baroque or trance music. My intellect must be engaged.

After that, however, my intellect is a liabilitly. It is too critical, too clumsy, not fey enough. It can listen to the news, or to Harry Potter, or to French lessons. That keeps it out of the way of the painting.