The value of shared space to understanding pain

The recent essay “What Screens Can’t Show” is about seeing the concentration camp-related work of German painter Gerhard Richter online versus in-person. The essay focuses on the particular, incredibly powerful pieces of art. But the extremity of the case also explains well an element of what’s missing in all of life right now.

“The internet has made pandemic life much easier for those who can use it for work and school, or just to stay in touch with loved ones. But something is always lost in the translation to a screen. A deep encounter with art becomes possible only when viewer and object share the same space. Scrolling through digital versions of art is what [German philosopher Walter] Benjamin called an ‘absent-minded’ activity, and we need to be as present as possible when we look at paintings like Richter’s, paintings that attempt to represent the presence of suffering itself.”

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