Tuesday, March 14, 2017

And I Saw Guernica #SOL17 Day 14

Pablo Picasso. Guernica, 1937. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía collection, Madrid

During my recent trip to Madrid, Spain, I visited the Reina Sophia Museum where Pablo Picasso's anti-war painting Guernica" is on permanent display. Getting to see "Guernica" fulfilled a longtime dream of mine and without question was the most moving art-viewing experience of my lifetime. 

Picasso painted "Guernica" after the Basque town Guernica was bombed by German Nazis and Italian fascists at the request of Franco during the Spanish Civil War on April 26, 1937. The morning after the bombing, Picasso saw a newspaper report of the atrocities and sought a way to paint a memory that would become engrained in the collective consciousness and remain there long after we see the painting. 

When I showed an image of "Guernica" to my students, they first noticed that animals and humans all "scream" from the painting. Next, they mentioned the twisted and impaled bodies. One student mentioned decapitated bodies and heads without bodies. We talked about the "hash" marks and various meanings. Perhaps they are graves. Perhaps they are news reports. Perhaps they represent a tally of the dead. 

I included "Guernica" as part of a "Poetry and Art in Conversation" unit and introduced the unit with the painting, to which I'll add T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." Both works resonate as powerful modernist works that articulate the fragmentation of war and critique its value. 

"Guernica" is a large painting, and its size contributes to the emotional experience of seeing it. I also find it fascinating that the Reina Sophia Museum was once a hospital. It's corridors are arched, giving it a cathedral-like quality that invites reverence from visitors.
The "Guernica" gallery at the Reina Sophia. Google image
labeled for noncommercial reuse. 
As with many museums, Reina Sophia does not allow photography, so I found an image online for this post. It does not begin to do justice to Picasso's masterpiece. First, the color is off. "Guernica" has a grayish-blue hue to it, and a photo does not reveal the many hidden images Picasso sketched into the painting. 

As I began sharing my experience of seeing "Guernica" with my students, I felt myself overcome with emotion. "Guernica" is now a part of me, and is as embedded in my memory as strongly as Eliot's words at the end of "The Hollow Men":

This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

7 comments:

  1. I once saw "Guernica" myself, but had forgotten much of the history of this masterpiece. Your recounting of both the experience and the history are amazing. And what's more, the way you've brought this work into your students' understanding of the world is truly laudable.
    -Lanny

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  2. I once saw "Guernica" myself, but had forgotten much of the history of this masterpiece. Your recounting of both the experience and the history are amazing. And what's more, the way you've brought this work into your students' understanding of the world is truly laudable.
    -Lanny

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  3. Thank you for sharing this powerful experience here and also with your students. Your unit sounds fascinating and I'm sure your students take away so much from it. You've inspired me to break out an old, dusty art book to look at Guernica and other works by Picasso. Perhaps someday I'll be lucky enough to see them in person.

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  4. Art can leave an indelible mark on you. Your students are fortunate that you include this rich medium into your teaching.

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  5. I saw Guernica years ago when it was at MOMA - powerful. Even in memory, it has remained powerful.

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  6. A powerful image that resonates today. The sketched in drawings--Picasso's style is what most moves me. Their temporariness gets to me. It is all so fleeting--more so with war.

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  7. Honestly, I got shivers at your words "I also find it fascinating that the Reina Sophia Museum was once a hospital." I was already on edge, thinking about Picasso's reason for the painting. What an extraordinary painting to see! Now Guernica is on my must see list, too. I wonder who is painting about Syria?

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