Term Paper: Themes in Howl and Guernica

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[. . .] This is another way that "Howl" expresses themes of freedom and happiness.

Many people associate the sound of a howl or the act of a howl with a wolf or a dog. Many people imagine a wolf or dog howling at the moon. Other animals besides dogs and wolves howl, such as howler monkeys, jackals, and coyotes. People have been known to howl as well. A howl is a long, loud cry. Howls express pain -- physical or otherwise. Other emotions that drive howls are anguish, rage, and distress. If we are howling, either out of pain or out of pleasure, we are alive and we are having strong feelings.

Poetry is a form of creative expression; it is a creative way to share one's feelings, experiences, and questions in words. There are times when words do not and cannot effectively describe a feeling or a situation. Sometimes a feeling can only be expressed in dance or in song or in a howl. This is a howl of words. Ginsberg howls for the changes that have happened in America, for the changes that need to happen, and for the changes that will happen. He howls for the freedom to change and move in new directions as an individual and as a society. Ginsberg howls with religious excitement and with a more open sense of morality. He is howling his life experience of loneliness and isolation that does not just apply to his individual experience, but also to that of his entire generation. (Ginsberg, 1956) He is howling for his generation. The expression of his generation is a howl -- a long one, with many themes to be read and interpreted.

The genre of the piece is poetry, what would later be called beatnik poetry. "Howl" is a form of verbal jazz. It is an early form of spoken word, an evolutional predecessor of rap. Yet, the poem also retains elements of classical poetry, lyrical poetry, and epic poetry, forms which are quite old in human terms. Jazz is a part of the style of this poem whether read aloud or silently. The poem as a kind of howl is a form of jazz. The poem may not have existed at all and would certainly not have existed as readers know it today without the existence and presence of jazz. The repetition of words, sounds and lines -- the combination and juxtaposition of imagery and allusion -- these all speak to the movement, feeling, and rhythms of jazz.

Ginsberg also pays homage to the styles of other writers such as Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac in his howl. (Ginsberg, 1956) Ginsberg borrows some of the structure and emotional energy from Whitman's poetry and from the burgeoning styles of Kerouac that grew to be classic, iconic, and definitive of the beat generation. Ginsberg's style though, while paying tribute to other forms of poetry, writing, and music, has his own style. This howl is like the first cry from a newborn baby's lungs right after birth. This poem is the howl that signals a new style and a new perspective, as well as the courage to articulate it and share it with others.

In Pablo Picasso's 1937 masterpiece, "Guernica," there are several elements that alert the reader to the artist's feelings regarding war. War is almost immediately associated with themes of freedom (or lack thereof) as well as themes of morality (and ethics). The scene is a horror. Some critics of Picasso's work see his cubist style as horrible in general, though in the case of this question, the word "horror" refers to the emotional and psychological content of the piece, though it is literally a horror the viewer beholds. When looking at the piece all at once, one senses a tension, an urgency, chaos, and grief. The immorality of war directly decreases the happiness of the Spanish people, which is central to the themes and composition of the painting.

This depicts a moment full of many actions occurring simultaneously throughout the work. One the left, a mother roars into the heavens over the death of the child, presumably hers, whose corpse she holds. One the far right, a man seems to wail as flames consume him. Just right of the center, concerned people enter the house with candlelight, with looks of shock and worry upon their faces at the scene they interrupt. A horse, which almost looks as if made from newspaper, stands in the middle of a residence trampling a man, pinned to the ground, to pieces. If the horse were made of newspaper, as it loosely resembles, that would be an interesting choice by Picasso, perhaps metaphorically stating that the news is not the news it is reality.

The choice could express a moment of art imitating life and life imitating art. The content of the painting shows the horrors of war on the average citizen's everyday reality. The primary colors of the piece are black and white. Perhaps this is how the issue is for Picasso: black and white; war is wrong and peace is right. It is that simple for Pablo Picasso. There is also some blue. It is 11 feet tall and 25.6 feet wide, painted in oil. (Raento & Watson, 2000) The piece effectively communicates Picasso's perceptions of war and moral position on the issue. There is so much vigor and energy in the piece; even though the painting is of unhappiness and actions caused out of immorality, his energy in the creation of painting, in some way is also life affirming.

This painting is one of Picasso's most famous works, and partially because it is one of his most powerful and direct political statements. In the name of happiness, and in the name of life affirmation, Picasso adamantly opposed the war in his country. He shows the tragedies of war and show the worst effects, specifically on the innocent people. Over time, this painting gained iconic status and brought attention of the Spanish Civil War from people around the whole world. (Raento & Watson, 2000)

On the subject of "Guernica," Picasso once wrote, "Painting is not done to decorate apartments; it is an instrument of war." (Raento & Watson, 2000) This is a dense statement with multiple meanings. First, Picasso removes art from the leisure realm or educational realm. He says that the true purpose of paintings is not simply to adorn the home to create atmosphere. This statement also removes art from the capitalist transaction. Picasso meant that art is not mean just to be looked at, sold, bought, and then domesticated. Art, he contends, is wild.

Artists fight their own wars with their arts. Artists war with ideology, culture, history, the present, and the spectrum of experiences of the human condition. To produce art is to endeavor to make a crusade for whatever issues are at the forefront of that artist's mind, world, experience, and/or reality. (Raento & Watson, 2000) Sometimes artists are at war with themselves; those artists, often times, are the ones that self-destruct.

Pablo Picasso's statement pulls back the curtain, so to speak, on the agenda of art. It is not a passive activity. It is not a neutral activity. Art is as blunt and brutal as warfare waged by military forces. Art has the power to influence thought and action. In order to be considered art, a piece must do just that. The degree of the influence depends on the efficacy of the artist and the art, as well as the individual viewer. Yet, art's job is to offer perspective, to offer the experience or opportunity for a new perspective. Once the viewer has accepted the offer for a change in perspective, the viewer becomes in a state more likely to deeply assimilate the messages of the art and once within that person, the art works upon that person. The change can be minor or major, yet the fact remains that the change occurs. This, and others, is the power of art.

"Howl" and "Guernica" have many differences between them. One is a poem and the other is a painting. One was written by an American in the 1950s and the other was painted by a Spainard in the 1930s. Both pieces of art are political statements that express several themes. The paper illustrated the ways in which some of the themes in these works included life affirmation, religion, freedom, happiness and morality. Enduring works of art are able to possess and transmit many messages to audiences, as do "Howl" and "Guernica." It was challenging to compare such different works of art, but ultimately rewarding because they had more in common than at first glance. Poets have the ability to paint with words, and painters have the ability to make pictures "worth a thousand words." Thus, though they are not immediately similar, they do have some commonality -- in their themes and in the fundamental intentions of poetry and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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