15 October, 2010

The Inner Meaning

"There are more valid facts and details in works of art than there are in history books," Charlie Chaplin.

Some readers know that I have been bottle feeding a litter of kittens whose mother was killed by a coyote. Two different times, I've had the experience of bringing a kitten back from
the threshold of death. These limp, comatose pets fit easily in one hand, and I bathed them, forced Pedialyte by soft syringe and just held them.

What is it that
animates the body just moments before death, and yet vanishes at the point of expiration?

Käthe Kollwitz
Woman with Dead Child, 1903

We are considering The Artist's Ideas, a series on the things that are understood in art but not stated outright. Tired of words and heavy thinking? Here is a visual way to understand this subject. The drawings of German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) are easily understood just by looking. I queried her images on Google, and was immediately struck by her poignant meanings. Ugly truths, but tender beauty is revealed by the hand of this master. I understand there are about forty schools named after Kollwitz in Germany.

Käthe Kollwitz
Blogger view.

Käthe Kollwitz
SP, 1898


Jean Spitzer said...

One of my favorites. Great choice for this point.

Casey Klahn said...

I had never really looked at her work before, but I was researching drawing (back in an older post here) and it was a rich discovery. She's a gem.

Jeanette Jobson said...

I love how she forces the viewer to see a side of life that is often hidden.

So much of art is the sanitized version of life. Pretty faces, slim bodies, healthy children, cute animals, pastoral scenes. Beauty is sought over reality. But I like the grittiness of depicting reality.

I recall doing a drawing a couple of years ago of a haggard women with a mouthful of rotten teeth hauling water on a yoke around her neck. The feedback I got on that was very mixed. People associate art with beauty - perhaps beauty is too strong a word - more a composition of form and colour that is pleasant to look at and creates a connection or some memory for the viewer.

irinapictures said...

I like her works so much and I am afraid of her works so much. What was the life of this woman who felt so sharp, how her heart could contain so much pain and did not blow up.

Casey Klahn said...

Heartfelt comments that I can't do justice to until later. Will comment back soon!

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

Kollwitz's work always grabs me by my guts and doesn't let me look away. Portland Art Museum has a few of her pieces and they bear witness to the horrors she saw and knew.

Great post. Great subject. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Powerful authentic work! Thank you for sharing it. I can relate to this more than "sterilized" art that lack pathos. Sounds like you're doing a great job keeping the kittens alive!

Casey Klahn said...

Hi, Kvan and Kathy. These are powerful, and I sit in awe at her abilities.

bridget Hunter said...

Thankyou for bringing Kollwitz's drawings to my attention. Having held two people I loved as they died - its a split second between the spark of life and the emptiness of death - but its so obvious that they've gone. Her drawings convey this so very well.Very moved by them.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Burke at Hipbone Studio in Portland often uses her work in his lectures. She conveys powerful emotions through not only subject but by presenting images where muscles are contracted and limbs are foreshortened which adds to the tension/suspense/grief/etc. Sarah P.

Anonymous said...

A life that is often hidden indeed, but one we know is always there.
I believe all artists struggle to remind us of this, even when we're not aware.

Delilah said...

Oh Casey,
I have feed tiny kittens who's eyes were not opened and they didn't even have fur yet. I hope they all make it and find homes.

Casey Klahn said...

Bridget, Sarah, Joni and Delilah, Thanks all for the insights and comments. I like to respond to every comment, and dislike it when others don't respond to mine. But, sometimes, I like to let the comments hang, if I think they are deep or the subject is such. Anyway, my thanks for being readers and artists, too.

Jala Pfaff said...

Does this mean the kittens have died? :(

Kollwitz's work is awesome in the real meaning of the word. I have always admired it, though of course I get depressed looking at a book full of it. She said more with a bit of charcoal than any other artist I can think of.

The irony of schools being named in her honor now in Germany...

Casey Klahn said...

Hi, Jala! The kittens are great. I am happy to have given away most of them, and we kept 2. Of course, we dropped the ball on the last two litters and are inundated with cats living outside on the farm.

I am of the opinion that Kollwitz wasn't basically an anti-war artist as respects WW II. I even wonder what she had to say about the First World War? Her war images were actually related to the Peasant's War, in the Sixteenth Century. Her other subjects were laborers, mothers and children.

I see red flags (no pun intended) in her whole story, given that her dad was a Social Democrat, who were pro - WW I, and then prohibited by Hitler in WW II. She had done her deeds well before WW II, having made her definite mark by 1917, when she was 50 years old.

Anyway, I don't see her as some kind of progressive figure or anything. I see her as an artist concerned with the human condition, especially among the impoverished.

Is her story perhaps more available to German students because of her pre-WW2 credentials?

Debbie Mathisen Przedpelska said...

Just saw this post and can not agree more. Ive visited the Käthe Kølwitz museum in Berlin and I trembled. A "terrifying" experience, never felt so much in front of art before.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for sharing that, Debbie.

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