Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kaethe Kollwitz: Peace is what she awaited

My favorite artist is Kaethe Kollwitz. I will never forget the first moment I saw her work. I felt something inside me stir. It was a connection to the abyss, to the darkness of grief- I knew she had seen something that I had also seen.

Born in East Prussia, she married a Berlinese physician and went on to have children, one of whom would die in WWI. It's apparent that grief also colored her world. Kollwitz birthed art of the soul, from the depths of places so frightening that few dare allow themselves to really experience it.  She used Freud's idea of sublimated grief. And not surprisingly because of its evocative nature, her art was banned by Hitler for its pacifistic theme; no doubt remnants of a bereaved mother on a mission for some peace.

Look at her work. I mean, really look at it. Silence your mind and see, feel, hear. Use all your senses. It's the most powerful, painful, and poignant art I've ever experienced.

She clearly knew the secret too.

She wrote:

[I] made a drawing: the mother letting her dead son
slide into her arms.
I might make a hundred such drawings
and yet I do not get any closer to him. I am seeking him.
As if I had to find him in my work.
And yet everything I do is so childishly foolish and inadequate...
I am shattered, weakened, drained by tears.
I am like the writer in Thomas Mann:
he can only write, but has not sufficient strength to live what he has written...
Yet new flowers have grown up which would not have grown
without the tears shed this year.

There is in this a little of what Goethe says in Tasso:

Men do not know the souls of one another.

Only the galley slaves know one another,

who side by side are chained, and gasp for breath.

Her writing, like her art, seared through my consciousness. Kollwitz saw suffering everywhere around her. She captured it in her art. She expressed it with her words. She was, perhaps, one of the most powerful women of her time. Truly, she was enslaved by her grief; yet, she shared her soul in such a profound way that it has reached through time and generations, touching those living in a very different world, that really has changed very little in that love and loss are timeless and unconstrainable. And in that way, death still taunts us, and I suppose it always will.

Kollwitz died on April 22, 1945. Those around her said she'd been dreaming of death during her last days; she welcomed it. Peace, rest at last, is "what she longed for and awaited".


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. It is beautiful, raw, human.

I must see more of her work now.
Wonderful and enlightening post!

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

I knew you would appreciate this, Angie. I'm thinking of you always...


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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