Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Käthe Kollwitz - Feminist Artist

Käthe Kollwitz was a female artist working in Germany. She was born in 1867 and died in 1945. She's generally known for her German Expressionistic style while working in drawing, etching, lithography, and wood cuts. The drawing on the right is a self-portrait done from 1891-92.
She, like most artists, had been drawing since she was little. She officially started taking private art classes with members of her community when she was 14. She needed to do this because the Königsberg Academy did not allow female students, like most art academies of the time. She married a physician, moved into a working-class neighborhood, and had two sons. That neighborhood and her husband's patients were her models. She based her work off of these hard working people and also decided to start making prints, because they were less expensive and more graphic. (The Women's Museum, 2010)
Kollwitz suffered many losses in her life that may have contributed to her studying the suffering of people. "...a series of personal tragedies which included the death of a son in the First World War and the loss of a grandson in the Second. Documenting the suffering that results from war and poverty led Kollwitz away from the expression of individual torment..." (Chadwick, 2007)

Whitney Chadwick writes of her:"Käthe Kollwitz was committed to an art of radical social content unrivaled in her day. Her choice of graphic realism as a style, her exclusive use of printmaking media, and her production of poster ad humanitarian leaflets, all contributed to her devaluations of her work and is dismissal by art historians as 'illustration' and 'propaganda'."
Chadwick also writes: "Kollwitz replaces the archetypal imagery of female abundance with the realities of female bodies marked by a poverty which often prevents women from nourishing their children or enjoying their motherhood. " (Chadwick, 2007)

In the lithograph above is titled Death Seizes the Children and it was done in 1934. You can see how she's dealing with the death and suffering that she sees around her. You can also get a sort of mothering feeling from her. She is concerned here with the suffering of the children, as a mother would be. This print also has this sort of graphic, shock value to it. It's something to make you step back and take notice of what she's commenting on.

Kollwitz won fame with Attack which is commenting on the Weaver's Revolt done during 1895-97. This was based on a play by Gerhart Hauptmann, The Weavers, and was about the revolt of the Silesian weavers in 1844. This proved to be a hugely politically effective work when it was displayed in 1898. The Kaiser refused to give her the medal that she had won for it. (Chadwick, 2007) The Kaiser said, "I beg you, gentlemen, a medal for a woman, that would really be going too far... Orders and medals of honor belong on the breasts of worthy men!" - Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1898 (Johnson, NA)
This print had done what Kollwitz intended. It was socially acclaimed and clearly showed the conditions that she saw around herself. Also, the Kaiser's comments show the thoughts of men from that time as well. Even though her artwork was being socially acclaimed, she did not deserve a the medal she earned because she was a woman.

The next woodcut is called The Widow I. You can see how emotional the German Expressionists were through something as stark as a woodcut.
Kollwitz is showing the people the impoverishment that is in society. She wants them to act up and take notice of what's going on around them. She may not necessarily be a feminist artist, but she's doing what other feminist artist are doing when it comes to pointing out social injustices. She does play on the care taking ideas that some feminists share, and also the mothering aspect.

An artist doesn't need to be a feminist artist in order to be an important woman in art history. I think Käthe Kollwitz proves this. The feminist ideas don't need to be so heavy handed that the feminist message she's trying to get across is as clear as day. Kollwitz is also one of the persona that the Guerrilla Girls have taken on. So this, agian, proves that you don't HAVE to have a FEMINIST message to get across through artwork. You just have to have a message and a cause that is worth spreading.

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. 4th. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson World of Art, 2007. 286, 290 - 292. Print.

Johnson, Denise. "Modernism." The Slide Projector. Chaffery College, NA. Web. 31 Mar 2010.

The Women's Museum, . "National Museum of Women in the Arts." The Permanent Collection. National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2010. Web. 31 Mar 2010.

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