The effects of the capitalist crisis are being felt at every level of society. As reported in a Time magazine article in April, this also includes the preservation of historical sites. As the cash-strapped European states race to cut public spending and slash budgets, the historical achievements of mankind crumble under paltry allotments for cultural preservation.

The artist’s task is not merely to mirror reality in an unthinking way but to impart a special meaning and feeling to what is being depicted: “The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason,” wrote Leonardo, “is like a mirror which copies everything placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.” [part 1]

The true genius of Leonardo has only really begun to be understood in our own times. Yet surprisingly little is known about his life and person. But in the beginning he was severely disadvantaged.The known facts about his life are simply stated. Born in 1452 in the little Tuscan town of Vinci in the hills above the Arno, Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a lawyer. He never knew who his mother was, though she nursed him as a baby. [part 1]

In the 1950s, amid prosperity and a booming economy, Allen Ginsberg defied conventions and the mainstream by openly standing forward as a homosexual, a socialist and a sharp critic of the capitalist American society he lived in. For this he was persecuted in a famous obscenity trial, which he ended up winning. This is portrayed in the feature film Howl from 2010.

Hieronymus Bosch was one of the most remarkable and original painters of all time. His works were painted five hundred years ago, yet they seem astonishingly modern, anticipating surrealism. This is the art of a world in a state of turbulence, torn by contradictory tendencies – a world in which the light of reason has been extinguished and where animal passions have gained the upper hand, a world of terror and violence, a living nightmare. In short – a world very like our own. Alan Woods examines it from the standpoint of historical materialism.

Alan Woods, of the International Marxist Tendency, speaks to University of Arts' London students at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, where a replica of Picasso's great painting of the massacre at Guernica is on display. Using this powerful masterpiece as a starting point, Alan explores what makes great art; to what extent is great art a reflection of the period from which it comes; and can propaganda be great art?

“If sharks were people,” Mr K. was asked by his landlady’s little girl, “would they be nicer to the little fishes?”

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?

In his The Mona Lisa Curse, the Australian art critic Robert Hughes subjected present-day commercialisation of art to a withering criticism. His programme was a damning indictment of the general tendency of art to degenerate into flashy triviality to the degree that it subordinates itself to money-making and capitalist market economics. It condemned the British artist Hirst for "functioning like a commercial brand" and destroying any true understanding of art in the public's mind by placing importance on the price tag alone.

Yesterday we received the sad news of the death of comrade Javed Shaheen, who passed away peacefully in his sleep. Javed was a very famous poet and one of the pioneers of Progressive writers' association of Pakistan. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the International Marxist Tendency. We publish here an obituary by Alan Woods.

The prophetic description of anonymous warfare, the blankets of darkness and death dropped over civilian populations still resonate. To the degree we realise the truth expressed in this work, Guernica stands as possibly the greatest painting of the 20th Century.

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