Imaging Conflict

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Cain and Abel
war, thoughts of war, the Bible, stories in the Bible, murder, sacrifice, nature of war, metaphor for warfare, military service, effects of war on the military soldier, thoughts of war, expressing pain and anguish through art, WWII, Second World War warfare through the ages, terror of war, conflict, Cain and Abel,brothers,sons,murder, root of evil, meaning in art, power, violence, archetype, threat of war, interpreting art, etching, aquatint,
description

It is a fact, then, that in the heart of every man there lies a wild
beast which only waits for an opportunity to storm and rage, in its
desire to inflict pain on others, or, if they stand in his way, to kill
them. It is this which is the source of all the lust of war and battle.
--Schopenhauer, “On Human Nature” (Chapter 1, Human Nature)

Cain and Abel, was produced in 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War. It marks a transition for Reinblatt, since at that time he had gone from military service to civilian life. But it also indicates that his thoughts about war have not disappeared, but have only gone back to their source.

Cain and Abel depicts the two brothers in the print’s title. According to Biblical legend found in the book of Genesis, Cain and Abel were the first sons of Adam and Eve. When they were called upon to make sacrifices, Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God, while Abel’s was accepted. Because of this, Cain kills his brother Abel, thereby becoming the first human within the Judeo-Christian doctrine to commit murder.

Reinblatt’s decision to depict Cain and Abel as a way of coping with the reality of war tells us that he was considering the nature of war, rather than its specifics. That is, the story of Cain and Abel is a story of fratricide, meaning the murder of one’s sibling, and as such it acts as a powerful  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  for warfare through the ages.

To many people who served in the various armies of the Second World War, it must have seemed as though they were being asked to kill their own brothers and sisters of the human race. Reinblatt confronts us with the guilt and the terror of this reality through his art.

But more than this, Reinblatt is trying to get to the root of evil, as it were, the place where selfishness, malice, and wrath come from. In his depiction of Abel’s murder, Reinblatt’s usual attention to detail is gone. While he made sure to include fragments of the environment in his depictions of military builders, Reinblatt’s Cain and Abel only gives us enough information to enable us recognize the violence of the act: a scream; a raised weapon; a dominant body over a powerless one. And while the title of the work refers to a specific crime from a specific mythos, the characters in Reinblatt’s drama are unspecific, generic, and general. In fact, they can be substitutions for any criminal and victim in human history.

“Be careful,” the work suggests, “you yourself can become Cain just as easily as you can become Abel.”

additional resources Things to Think About
Advanced Activity

Links to Social Studies/Psychology/English

Content in art

The story of Cain and Abel is an ancient story told in many cultures and religions, with some variations. It can be interpreted as a parable about the birth of conflict when the world was “young”. In essence, it is an important  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  for our times which abound with conflict on many levels.

Conduct some research into the origins of this story and its variations.

Continue your research into other works illustrating this story, and artwork from Asian or African cultures that show similar themes.

Cain and Abel 1 Cain and Abel 2

Online Activity
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Contrast and visual rhythm

 

Studio Activity

Elements of design

Artists use  principles of designGuidelines artists use in composing designs and controlling how viewers will likely view and react to their images. Balance, contrast, proportion, movement, emphasis, variety, unity and repetition are examples of the principles of design.  to convey the substance of their  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter and content. This is similar to using the right words to tell a story. Reinblatt uses a range of  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  features as devices (or visual “language”) to tell the story in this work.

Zoom in on the Reinblatt image and look for the following elements and  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  principles. List and discuss with a friend or fellow classmate/artist how you think the use of each art element and principle of design enhances Reinblatt’s idea of “conflict”:

Principles of Design:

  • Rhythm
  • Space: positive and negative
  • Point of view
  • Variety/contrast
  • Balance
  • Value
  • Emphasis
  • Economy
  • Spatial illusion

Elements of Art:

  • Line/implied line
  • Shape
  • Form

 

Create tableaux

Through use of these art elements and design principles, Reinblatt achieves a tension that is so effective viewers might want to hold their breath! This artwork could be seen as a “tableau”, or a still picture, that might change at any minute.

  • If you are working in a group, recreate Reinblatt’s scene as a still picture (or tableau).
  • Appoint a director to look carefully at the original image and to organize two people in position.
  • Think about what the scenes before and after this one might look like. Invent these and move among the three scenes as a sequence. REMEMBER: these are tableaux. There is no action or contact!
  • You might make drawings of your interpretation of what is happening both before and after this image. Try to continue to work in Reinblatt’s style.  Print out the artwork shown here as a model for your own.
References

Author unknown.  undated.  The Quebec Connection. Press release.  Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning