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The Human Condition – lecture, 23/10/13

The Human Condition is what most people to refer to as our ‘humanity’. Everyone has it, although some more than others. It’s how we reflect on ourselves and everyone around us in order to understand how our feelings relate to each other. 

Empathy is a large part of this, which Toulouse-Lautrec understood. He regularly made a lot of work using prostitutes as models. He paints them objectively, not passing any judgement, just portraying a slice of their life.image

Image Source: http://www.theartwolf.com/articles/50-impressionist-paintings.htm

 He shows them as people, who do many of the same things that everyone else does. In this way he makes the viewer empathise with the subjects and realise that they aren’t bad or sinful as many make them out to be, they‘re just people; people who live, love and worry as much as anyone else.

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Image Source: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/henri-de-toulouse-lautrec/in-bed-the-kiss-1892 

Kathe Kollwitz is an example of an artist who knew how to get a viewer to sympathise with an image. She mostly portrayed grief and loss, poverty, hunger and the horrors of WWI & WWII for the families of those who went to war, something which was rarely shown. This suffering is a part of the Human Condition, the capacity to not only feel hope and happiness, but also the ability to feel loss, loneliness and longing. You, as a viewer, are encouraged to feel their sorrow, put yourself in their shoes and realise that losing someone can utterly break your spirit.

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Image Sources: http://www.all-art.org/art_20th_century/kollwitz1.html

Existentialism is closely related with the Human Condition. It’s difficult to define, but one of the propositions is the idea that everyone is responsible for his or her actions. What they do, defines them as a person and it is their own doing, not hereditary or ‘human nature’. While this can seem conflicting with the Human Condition, they do also work together, as someone attempting to get across a part of the Human Condition can cause someone to reflect, in an existentialist manner, on what they are, how their actions have defined them or other people and perhaps convince them to change their self definitions through action. 

The Human Condition and Existentialism became very important within film and animation. Charlie Chaplin created great sympathy for characters such as the Little Tramp and the unnamed Jewish barber character in The Great Dictator, who were hard done by, working class men. As an auteur, His own working class background informed his performances, and gave believable and relatable performances, with storylines that were familiar to many of his target audience.

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Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Dictator

Since then, film and animation have become more corporate. They became focused to giving a product, to entertaining rather than deliver a message or a point of view.  There were, and many still are, reflections on the sexist, racist, conservative and patriarchal views of the people who worked on and/or funded them, creating new stereotypes, and re-enforcing old ones.

Further Resources 

http://www.rogallery.com/Kollwitz/Kollwitz-bio.htm

http://www.empathy-and-listening-skills.info/

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