London — The times that try us can also be the times when words fail us. Caught between platitudes and histrionics, between the craving for normality and the need to articulate the perils of the moment, we fall back on the daily drone of commentary and the circumlocutions of politics. Into the space opened by this inadequacy come the howls of tribal fury: the shrieking tweet, the burning building, the rattle of gunfire. Or, if it can manage to rise to the moment, art.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But if we want to sense the terror inflicted by bombing on civilians with unparalleled immediacy, we look at Picasso’s Guernica. If we feel the need to look at the unwatchable, say, a firing squad emptying their rifles on a civilian, we find our way to Goya’s The Third of May 1808...

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