Utopia, Dystopia: Which Way?

In the world of artistic expression, the continuum of utopia arching to dystopia fascinates those who feel the prompting of their intuition. “How can I express my feelings about the human condition in my art?” Indeed, as most of humanity stands in perpetuity at that same junction with one arrow pointing to chaos and the other to paradise (alas, with the words worn away), which way do we go? With our inner voice muffled by the din of our terror-stricken traveling companions, we are paralyzed: the wrong choice we sense will be disastrous.

The Garden of Delights (c. 1500), by Hieronymus Bosch, a triptych depicting paradise, earth (P-B) and hell, pulls no punches about what the experience of human suffering is like and what causes it. His imagination has created shocking images that centuries later would satisfy today’s adolescent gamester. Bosch could be said to be have given birth to what has become the noir world of violence in graphic novels, comics and film. Violence for the sake of violence? We all know better than that. Whether any artist knows it or not, she is the instrument through which Creation expresses its enigmatic design. Everything and everyone has a purpose.

Bosch’s contemporary who also depicted the truth of false-self behavior but also the beauty of the True self was Albrecht Durer. His woodcut, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (c. 1497-1498), is more realistic than Bosch’s bizarre and nightmarish scenes. Durer’s skill as an artist is obvious and remains unequaled today. Looking at his Self-Portrait (c. 1500), we feel the deeper reality that lies beneath the illusion of the old narrative. Durer was an unparalleled master at the art of woodcutting to create prints.

Now we return to the present world of graphic arts where “Northern Renaissance woodcut precision meets graphic novel guts.”  To return to our earlier observation concerning the purpose of art we hear from a contemporary graphic artist. Most of us have seen his work in comics and film (see a partial listing at the end of this essay). Frank Miller says, “‘I love to provoke, because part of the purpose of art is provocation,’ he said. ‘And part of my job is to wake people up.’”  Not all that different from the self-described mission that both Buddha and Jesus were engaged in.

And like both Buddha and Jesus, Miller tells parables or as he says, “I’m a guy who tells yarns.” All parables come with a double message, both a warning and a promise. “Mr. Miller’s visceral tales are hard and fast, charting the spectrum of lusts: blood, money, sex, drugs.”  We can find these same tales in the Old Testament, they are timeless, and they keep coming back because we have yet to wake up.

Comics
All Star Batman
Robin, the Boy Wonder

Graphic Novels
The Hard Goodbye
Holy Terror
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Films
Sin City
300
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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