On April 6th, 2015, I began an email exchange with Noam Chomsky to learn his thoughts about the function of the arts within society. I asked if the arts inherently cultivate healthy habits of mind. His response,
The arts, at their best, definitely cultivate habits of mind. But they are not necessarily healthy. Nazi art was very effective. Riefensthal, Celine, etc. Same with “Birth of a Nation,” and much else. The aesthetic quality may be impressive, but not necessarily the moral quality.
Professor Chomsky’s answer led me the Simon Wiesenthal center and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California. Initially the focus was on Nazi propaganda, but my search shifted to art as spiritual resistance in the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps.
Archivist Margo Gutstein directed me to an exhibit titled The Enduring Spirit, which displays art created by prisoners in a concentration camp called Terezin. The camp was used to create propaganda films to deceive outsiders into believing that the Jews were being treated well; therefore, the Nazis allowed cultural activities such as theater and drawing.
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis taught art as spiritual resistance. Through the ruthlessness of the holocaust, Friedl used the arts as a tool for sustaining hope and preserving human dignity. She was an established artist, teacher, and art therapist, and her legacy is that her theories and lectures are the foundations of modern art therapy.
Thank you Professor Chomsky, Margo Gutstein, and Aaron Breitbart, the Simon Wiesenthal center and the Museum of Tolerance for revealing many features of the power of art. Art is Power; however, it is up to the individual to decide what to do with that power.