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The Art of On Violence

One of my dad's first responses to our new website was asking why a website on Violence discusses art. For this week’s art post, I want to explain the images at the top of our website and why art is the perfect springboard to talk about Violence.

From the beginning of art to the present, from the first oral traditions to the modern Hollywood blockbuster, almost all art, especially great art, concerns Violence. Take our first image in the upper left hand corner. To find it, we googled “Cain and Abel.” This image was among the first that came up; an image both terrible and beautiful.

The terror is that Violence has been with us from the beginning. Cain and Abel and their iconic story of the first murder -- historically accurate or not -- is the symbolic beginning of Violence. One of the many meanings you can take from this story is the terrible thesis that murder has been a part of humanity since day one.

But what strikes me most about the above image, and the thing that gives it its particular beauty, is how Abel, even though he is soon to die, still lifts his hand up in the most beautiful way. A symbol of hope. A gesture of forgiveness.

If the left hand image is the alpha of Violence, then it’s omega is the photo to the right, taken during the Iraq-Iran war. It evokes both the global and foreign affairs issues that would ensnare the U.S. in Iraq and the tensions that threaten stability throughout the entire region today. Sunni versus Shia. Iran versus Iraq. One man carries an AK-47 and the other an RPG-7, the weapons of the modern insurgency battlefield.

As modern as this photo is -- the war only occurred less then thirty years ago -- this image presents is an anachronism of warfare: soldiers fighting trench warfare. We chose this image for our website because we believe America, in too many instances, fights the wrong style of warfare on the wrong battlefield. This picture hints at how military paradigms change, or refuse to change.

Cain and Abel photo are well known in symbols in our culture, but the soldiers in the second image are wholly anonymous. Lost in the fog of war, we see the anonymity of all warfare, and feel the terror, pain, and excitement of all soldiers. I am reminded of a line from Donne’s meditation “and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The alpha and the omega of Violence. Where we were and where we are now. And we bring them together, with hopes to change the future.