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It’s only since the nineteenth century that art became its own autonomous domain, separated from education and politics. Before that, the art world was shaped by the tastes of rich patrons, the Church, the Salons, and the art Academies. In the early nineteenth century, the French writer, Théophile Gautier, coined the term “l’art pour l’art”, or art for art’s sake. Although this concept doesn’t describe all art during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it had an enormous impact upon the attitudes of modern artists, critics and viewers. And yet, there were significant exceptions. Even the most modern of the moderns, Pablo Picasso, made a spectacular political statement in his painting Guernica. This painting represented a cri du coeur against the bombing of Guernica by German and Italian forces at the behest of the Spanish Nationalistists in 1937.  Picasso’s Guernica brought the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War to the public’s attention and stood as an anti-war symbol for years to come.

Today I’d like to introduce a contemporary American artist, Michael Bell, who perpetuates the long-lost tradition of seeing art as a means of educating the public and of changing society for the better. Michael Bell’s paintings seamlessly combine aesthetic talent, educational value and political activism. Michael is best known for painting some of the most famous–and infamous–celebrities of our time, such as John Gotti and other actors from popular gangster movies like “The Sopranos,” Goodfellas” and “A Bronx Tale.” The artist has also won numerous awards in the field of art education as one of the pioneers of the Visual Journaling movement. He gives free workshops that educate the general public about art and art history.

Michael also participates in charity benefits. He raises thousands of dollars for worthwhile social causes from his painting sales. As an art critic who also writes about domestic abuse, what caught my attention most was his contribution to raising public awareness about domestic violence. On October 1, 2005, Michael Bell received the Good Shepherd Community Service Award at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for his activism in raising domestic violence awareness.

Michael Bell’s series of paintings, Voices of Violence, expose the vicious cycle of love filled with pain, abuse and reconciliation, which many victims go through. These paintings follow the gaze of the model, ex-mafia wife and Hollywood stunt actress Georgia Durante, as she attempts to cope with years of abuse and free herself from the painful cycle of love filled with violence, which isn’t really love after all, but an expression of dominance and possession. Michael’s painting Love and Pain (see above) executed, appropriately enough, on two separate, fractured canvases, reveals the ambivalence that victims of domestic violence experience, as they remain hopelessly attached to the very person that causes them most pain. Please find below the link to the youtube video I made featuring Michael’s Voices of Violence paintings:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici#p/a/u/0/NS75xHKgjp4

It’s relatively rare for an artist in our times to use his talent for the social good. Even though, truth be told, art is not just for art’s sake. Art is a human creation by talented human beings for the benefit of other human beings. For as long as we continue to view art as completely detached from our nature, our struggles, our mistakes and our goals, we’ll alienate viewers, as they’ll become detached from the world of art as well. An artist through and through–as well as an educator and a humanitarian–Michael Bell eloquently states: “All I am is what I create. It’s my blessing to share with the world.”

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

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