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The Role of Artists and Scientists In Times of War

by Matjuska Teja Krasek

This letter was initiated by the contribution written by Dr. Michele Emmer entitled Only Bombs Are Intelligent? (published in LEA, June 99). I read it on the very day Slovenia celebrates its National Day.

After the December 1990 referendum in which Slovenes opted for its own state, on June 25, 1991 the Slovene Parliament announced independence, and Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia. A day later, on June 26, the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, organized a celebration which was partly disturbed by the sinister sounds of low-flying military planes. These planes, which until then had protected Slovenes, belonged to the Yugoslav army and announced the beginning of a clash of arms.

It is not the purpose of this article to analyze historic circumstances that had led to these events, nor is it to point at the guilty side. There had been several alternatives that could have helped solve the Yugoslav crisis at the time (one of them had been the idea of the confederation of all Yugoslav republics). When the crisis occurred, talks among the republics proved unsuccessful. The result was a clash of arms, first in Slovenia, then in Croatia, followed by the war in Bosnia, the crisis in Kosovo, NATO’s bombardment of Yugoslavia, at the moment conflicts in Macedonia. It is my opinion that the horrors and the loss of numerous lives could have been prevented, and I do hope that the governments of Serbia and Montenegro will be able to find a creative way to solve this difficult situation and find a solution which will benefit all the parties concerned.

Since the war in Slovenia lasted for only ten days, it might seem that it is not worth mentioning. Yet when it started noone could predict its extensiveness, its duration and consequences. It is not important how many people had lost their lives on one or on the other side; each person, be it soldier or civillian, is irreplacable. That person’s family had lost a beloved member.

Even though Slovenia experienced "only" a ten-day war, its taste will probably remain in our souls forever; it is the taste of deepest fear and uncertainty.

I myself believe in the power of beauty, thus in the power of art, science and man’s creativity in general. I think that artists and scientists are able to contribute to the world’s peace with their own artistic creations and scientific discoveries, but also through teaching others. As a pebble, thrown into water, creates waves which spread outward, this activity starts within one’s immediate surroundings, one’s family, and spreads further. We are all foremost people, working on a one-to-one basis, illustrating our acts by our own example, showing how to become a better person, a better neighbor – day by day. It is true that nobody is perfect, but everybody can strive to become better. Everyone can grow and work on creating better relationships with others. A mere smile can lighten a gloomy day and chase away dark thoughts.

In peace we need to try to prevent war. We need to initiate creative dialogue between people. I feel that coexistence is possible despite different views. The truth is subjective, true, but what we need is tolerance. Not in the sense that everything is allowed, but in respecting the integrity of others, and respecting their way of life. We have to be tolerant ourselves, at the same time spreading and teaching tolerance and respect to others (not only the young). People have to learn not only to listen, but also to hear; not only to hear, but also (at least try to) understand. We need to learn about each other, from each other, and to believe in the power of knowledge and wisdom. After all, we all share this planet, and depend on it. Because of this we have to protect it and also take care of each other. Only in peace we can develop our creativity and thus help to build a better life for all of us.

A lot can be achieved through our work. Both scientists and artists strive to discern the laws governing man’s sojourn on our planet. We are obliged to spread what we have learned, and to share it with others. This is our contribution to greater awareness. Whenever injustice occurs, whenever there is violence aimed at the weak, we need to expose it and to act.

In nature there are very complex, and yet very orderly systems that work in synergy. Just as complex are relations between people. It may be possible to improve their lack of order by introducing an orderly structure into their lives. It is my wish to improve this degree of order in relations between people through my pictures. These pictures pertain to certain scientific realizations about nature as an ordered entity, about symmetry in the broadest sense of the word that contains order and harmony between different elements within a whole.

(Some of my work can be viewed on http:/leonardo.info/gallery/gallery331/krasek.html, or on www.ijp.si/Krasek).

We are also obliged to show people around us, and share with them, the feelings of beauty, joy, love, happiness, friendship, compassion and kindness in general. I try to incorporate these feelings into my paintings, too, transmitting them to others in this manner. I also try to elevate the level of order in these times of chaos perceived and felt in the world around us. I do not see the role of art at the beginning of the 21th century in reflecting such circumstances and poor relationships among people. This seems too passive. I do agree with the late physicist David Bohm who has written:

    Many artists have tried in their work to express
    the present state of confusion, uncertainty and
    conflict, probably hoping that if these are
    given a visible shape and form, then somehow
    one can obtain mastery over them. This is a
    resurgence of a primitive "magical" way of
    thinking, a way that may have been the best
    that primitive man could do, but that is surely
    inadequate today, even if it was perhaps
    somewhat useful in earlier times [1].

What progress have we really achieved after the era of the so-called primitive man if our instincts and passions still manage to get the better of us? I feel that this world is in a VERY, VERY DIRE need of an effective mechanism, which could keep those who should definitely not be in power from attaining it.

As long as our hands are clenched into fists, we cannot create. Wars are fought by adults, yet they always affect children as well. And yet, do people who have the power to decide upon wars ever ask themselves what kind of adults the children who have experienced war will be like? Who will they trust, will they be capable of loving anyone? Who, and in the name of what, has the right to rob them of everything that is beautiful and kind? As long as we buy our children toys in the shape of guns and tanks, as long as we let them watch violent cartoons, videogames and war zone reports created by "responsible" adults, we cannot expect a different behaviour from them once they grow up into adults themselves. Let me just mention one positive example that merits our attention, the "Against War and Violence" project by the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, Austria. The project lasted from April 26 to May 21, 2000. Aside from art works by twenty authors it also included an educational aspect – a children’s workshops on the theme of war and violence. Some of the art works and texts from this project can be seen at the gallery’s home page.

Adults have to offer our children the world that will stimulate their creativity, develop their minds and positive feelings, and also develop the responsibility for others and the world, the planet, and the universe we all live in. Maybe we will live to see the day when noone will want to become a soldier, and instead of using it to fabricate arms money can be spent for helping those struggling in miserable circumstances.

The fact that at the conclusion of the 20th century, when we are so proud of technological achievements of our civilization, we have to deal with the question of what to do in times of war seems very tragic and incomprehensible to me. Artists, scientists and all others have to unite and proclaim, STOP THE VIOLENCE! TALK TO EACH OTHER! in the hope to be heard by those who are still using weapons, regardless of what their reasons for using them may be. I feel that our sojourn on this planet should be organized in such a way that any violence against our fellow man would be inconceivable to all. Should we not celebrate the miracle called life every single day?

May we justly call ourselves intelligent creatures? Or is it that such beings may start to live on this planet only after the humans will have destroyed each other?

1. D. Bohm, On Creativity. Ed. by Lee Nichol. (London, New York: Routledge, 1998. First edition.), p. 30.

Matjuska Tejakrasek
Ob zici 7
SI-1000 Ljubljana
+386 1 519 96 21
E-mail: tejak@yahoo.com

Article translated in English by Nives Sulic - Dular.

Art & War Project Description and Call for Papers

Posted 1 November 2001
Updated 31 October 2007

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