What most distinguishes humans and their closer relatives from the wider world alive or inert is that we arrange things under our touch into novel patterns--with discernible intent. This intentional aspect is the deepest divide between that evolved world out of which we emerged, and the designed space we intend as our legacy.

Intent shapes the undirected glory of nature into the directed histories of human experience, and colors their many seasons: to build and raze, to love and hate, to war and bestow peace, to despise and adore. And then again. To gaze. To puzzle. To see. To offer.

These last intents transfix those who sustain the why's? and how's? of their early days. Gazers, puzzlers, skeptics, doodlers and other suchlike keep as many of their early antennae on-line as they may, and add such others as age may provide. What animates such people is collecting and sharing the faintest, least likely tremors reaching them from whatever improbable distance, .

Together, they people an axis of outliers: scientists, philosophizers, artists. Cosmologists image the faint halo of the explosive origins of our universe; logicians tickle out conjectures shown to be both true and unprovable. And artists may resonate either with nature's deeper chords, or with social and cultural seisms not yet felt at the surface of our societies. Each has an hour in time.

Max Beckmann felt underfoot the terrific fissures training up toward the brittle glitter of Weimar Germany. Reeling out of nervous crisis, he began painting omens of the fascist earthquake about to upend all Eurasia. He was among those earliest hounded by Goebbels' RMVP(1), and one of few to end in a kind of peace, in the post-war havens of St. Louis and New York.

To paint what he felt but could not yet see, Beckmann wrenched out of socket all the imagery and motifs of his society painter past, to build a vocabulary of brutality, violence, cynicism--and final majesty, as in his triptychs, preeminently, that of Departure. Acting on this intent, he repaired to and extended much the same optics as had Francisco Goya, one hundred and twenty years earlier.

Goya in middle age faced an Iberia of inept royalty, compromised nobility, and terrorized peasants. His Spain was newly bleeding under the armies of Napoleon and his marshals, implacable guerillas and George III's interdicting expeditions.

There was no unspoiled beauty, no innocence left in a bleak arena harrowed by violent arms. Goya looks out of his works fully aware where this must lead: Yo lo vi (2).  His Family Of Charles IV, the Caprichos, Los Desastres De La Guerra, his Black Paintings--all betray his growing aim: to draw the desolating line that truth demands. At whatever loss of surface charm.

It is this shaping of figuration to envision the as-yet indiscernible, that makes masters. Goya, Beckmann, the Picasso of Guernica and Massacre In Korea--each took time's bet that a stark truth depicted in strength would have more of majesty than rouged, perfumed finesse.

The enormities of our own hours demand that some rally to this standard. Denials of human rights. Societal alienation. Terrorism at every scale. Neo-imperialism. Racism. Genocide. Ecological despoliation. The whitening-over of religious infamy. Corporate corruption moving now past mega and giga into tera terrain--all call for the judgments of a just art.

The legacies of Goya and Beckmann and other colleagues stand there as examples. The audacity of their remedies will inspire new ones honed even to these unprecedented hours.

H. B. Casanova


(1) Der Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda
       (The Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
(2) "I saw this."


H. B. Casanova

Updated Through

September, 2014

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