A Point of View: Why tyrants are afraid of art and beauty
Beauty - and art - may seem unnecessary luxuries, but they are as essential to our survival as food and water, argues AL Kennedy.
A while ago I was at my mother's house and - as I walked into the hall - there was a tray set out and on the tray was a dish of rose petals. A single petal wasn't in the bowl, it was on the tray. Without thinking, I put the petal into the bowl because I'm anal retentive and controlling and don't really enjoy, or even understand ornaments. I live in hotels a lot - mostly the only ornaments there will be a kettle......
Art is a power, and much of its true power is invisible, private, memorised and held even in prison cells and on forced marches, so you can see why totalitarians of all kinds dislike it. You can see why Soviet Russia and Bible Belt America had to resist rock and roll, why Nazi leaders would ban the work of decadent artists, Jewish artists, black artists, of all the untermenschen - while secretly appropriating its glamour and comfort for themselves - or why suspected communists would be prevented from making films in McCarthy's Hollywood, why the Bamiyan Buddhas had to be destroyed, why the Dubrovnik world heritage site had to be shelled, why it would seem amusing and powerful to compel musicians to play while people screamed in gas chambers, why in most years, somewhere books are burned, or why the Khmer Rouge would ban the word for sleep, or kill a girl - as it was put - "because she was too beautiful". The control of our art is very often to prevent us from being too beautiful, independently sustained by beauty from uncontrollable sources - beautiful for ourselves, beautiful for others.
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