Wednesday, 23 May 2007
War, Art and Philosophy
I'm beginning to wonder at the power of my blog; the post before last I mentioned the fabulous singer songwriter Loudon Wainwright III and next minute he pops up as a guest on the Radio 2 Acoustic and Traditional Music Show (I hesitate to call it folk music because of the stereotypical images of beardy wholefood Fair isle types). But that is the power of our art: in Amsterdam I was already musing on war and its effects thanks to the weaving of Spanish Civil War themes into the Case of the Missing Family by the excellent Thomas Hamburger, so it was only a short trip in my mental landscape to the Second World War and walk across the real landscape of Amsterdam to the house of Ann Frank, the daughter of the Jewish family forced into hiding when Holland was occupied by the German Army.
The tale of their hiding is told in the Diary of Anne Frank but is set in context in the preserved house in which the family hid; the fact that you know the end of the story makes the journey to the inevitable end even more poignant. The house is a big tourist draw and was full of people of all ages who started the morning chatting and pointing out things of interest to each other; by the end of the trip the crowded rooms were eerily silent as people mulled over the implications of what they had witnessed.
That's war then, but what about art and philosophy, I hear you cry. The Van Gough Museum was a disappointment to me, too full of people to fully appreciate the magnificent collection of his and his contemparies' paintings; however the exhibition of Max Beckman's war time paintings in the gallery annex was not full of people - if you've seen his paintings you will know why, you wouldn't want them on your bedroom wall unless you were ready for some pretty disturbed dreams. His war years in Amsterdam as a German were very different to that of the Frank family, but it was worth the mental and emotional effort to compare them.
Philosphy? Our hotel, De Hotel De Filosoof, is the home of the society of practical philosophers. This group attempt to apply philosophy to modern day ills in a similar way to a therapist might do - I guess it's a bit like cognitive therapy: learning to think about problems in a different way. And this philosophising brings me full circle back to Radio 2 and the (oh go on then, call a spade a spade) folk music show. It is hosted by Mike Harding a Lancashire comedy singer, made famous for his rendition on Top of the Pops of the single Rochdale Cowboy, sat upon a stuffed Alsation dog. But I bet you didn't know he was a philosopher too. I once heard him sharing an account of how he awoke in the middle of the night, threw back the curtains and stared up at the vast starry expanse above him asking the eternal question of himself:
"What is it all about?"
His responded in blunt Northern tones:
"It's got bugger all to do with me."
And went back to bed.