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Timken Exhibit Shows Art Inspired By War’s Cruelties

George Bellows'

Credit: Timken Museum of Art

Above: George Bellows' "Massacre at Dinat," depicting the German invasion of Belgium during World War I. It is currently on display at the Timken Museum of Art.

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Three artists from three different centuries, all responding to the atrocities of war.

Jacques Callot documented the Thirty Years War in what's considered an objective series of etchings of the French invasion of Lorraine in 1633. Callot's works inspired Francisco Goya over 100 years later to take a more subjective view of Napoleon's invasion of Spain in the Peninsular War, depicting demons on the battlefield. Unlike Callot and Goya, American George Bellows didn't see war firsthand but was inspired by news reports of the German attack on Belgium in World War I.

"(Bellow's) lithographs are among the toughest to behold," University of San Diego art professor Derrick Cartwright said. "He’s depicting human cruelty in such a profoundly naked way. You can’t look at those and remain neutral."

Cartwright curated the Timken Museum of Art's "Witness to War" exhibit, collecting works from all three artists. But given how intense some of the drawings are, he sought to include music in the exhibit space that could help ease viewers into the stark depictions of war. So the Timken turned to San Diego Symphony special project director Nuvi Mehta to find some excerpts for the show. Mehta first tried music that was directly inspired by the wars Callot, Goya and Bellows were reacting to.

"There are artistic truths that can go back and forth if they’re from the same time period. But it didn’t work as well as I thought," Mehta said. "It’s so spot on that I felt I was taking away from the artistic experience a little bit. When you add that extra ingredient, you take away the observer’s chance to let their mind and body feel."

Instead he chose pieces by composers Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich that seemed tragic and tense.

"I was seeking music that expresses the anguish within the human condition in a more general way," Mehta said.

Cartwright and Mehta joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on their collaboration.

The Power of Images + Music

Where: Timken Museum of Art, 1500 El Prado, San Diego

When: Thursday, April 13, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $45


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